astd article



By Jan Kuyper Erland
Mem-ExSpan, Inc.

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This is reprinted with permission
American Society For Training and Development's
"Performance In Practice". Winter 2000-2001

We live in a world continuing mishaps and mistakes:  inventory numbers are typed in wrong.  Hospital admissions mismatch or misplace patients’ records.  Dentists make inaccurate mold impressions for dental work.  Technicians fail to notice that machines are not set properly.  An inept sales clerk takes nearly 30 minutes to process a sales order with irate customers vowing to shop via the internet next time. 

Have you ever stopped to consider what is the root of these problems?  It appears the answer lies in how we process and apply information.

There are many avenues information enters our brains (various estimates go to well over fifty!).  The two that are the easiest to measure and assess are the visual and listening pathways. The good news is that these avenues can be improved with diligent training. My  former article, “Jazz Up Your Short Term Memory” (Summer, ASTD Performance In Practice), focused on listening exercises.  This article explores visual pathways so you can “get it done right the first time.”

Having good accuracy with visual detail is an obvious asset.  Most of us assume we have it, but don't stop to consider what happens if we become careless or don't process visual information accurately.

There are many different visual perception, memory, and cognition categories.  Visual aspects include the following: 

  • spatial (art & design, basketball plays, golf putting, laying floor tile)
  • figural (pictures, graphics, design)
  • symbolic (reading, writing, mathematics, musical notes).
Unfortunately, we assume we are all “equal” with one another as to how we process visual information.  And, we may think that we are “high average” in most areas.  Unfortunately, we aren't.  Depending upon our innate abilities, work and life-style, we have a defined visual proficiency factor.

Depending upon innate ability, work duties, and lifestyle, we each have our own personal visual proficiency factor.  Psychological testing in various visual areas offers descriptive indicators that range from very superior, to  severe deficit. 

We can be high in one visual area and low in another.  Or, we could fall low in a couple of areas, or have any combination of strong and weak areas.  Consequently, those of us with very superior scores in all visual areas are few. 

Therefore, we can only guess how we fall on this vast visual perception spectrum. It spells out that we may then read slowly, made clerical detail errors, misspell words, not recognize technical problems, or have limited written communication ability.

Recently, I tested an applicant for a copy editor position.  When a low average visual profile was revealed, he responded, “What difference does it make?”

 It makes a lot of difference.  Detail errors are the blight of any office, as productivity lowers.  Those having top visual capabilities are preferred.  Today, my accountant found some insidious copy errors in a statistical file.  Grateful that they were found, the changes were quickly adjusted.  It is easy to overlook errors a tight myriad of figures.  How many times are inaccuracies not noticed or corrected?

I may have to interview several candidates before finding one with high visual abilities.  It is worth the time investment, because it will pay out in work efficiency and will eliminate constant project and editorial rework.

As an example of how we use our visual pathways, let's look at how we learn a new computer software program which  requires using all three visual attributes. 

Begin by asking:  How will I go about learning this new program?  Will I read the  manual, have someone teach it to me, access and practice the “Help” menu, use trial and error, or simply stumble through it? Will I remember what I did that worked for me, so I can repeat the process easily?  Can I remember the location and purpose of the various menus, sub menus, and in the correct order?

Tips that can help you learn the software program while improving your visual pathways include the following: 

  • Practice the new program daily.
  • Take brief notes forming codes and review them daily.
  • Memorize each sub menu by diligently practicing each feature.
  • Learn keystroke codes, repeating the codes two or three times to increase speed.
When working with graphics in the software program, keep your collection in just two directories.  Become familiar with file names, and locations of the directories. Learn the file names, locations, and sort out favorites.  Learn to size the graphics. Combine different fonts, sizes, and graphics for interesting combinations.  Place at different angles.  Line them up for symmetry.  Be meticulous by developing a good eye for spacing balance.

Practicing these types of exercises can increase your ability to process information visually. Finally, self monitor your visual ability improvement processes by establishing your own quality assurance process of double-checking your work.

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Jan Kuyper Erland, M. S. Program Content Developer, Intervention Consultant
Mem-ExSpan, Inc.
The Bridge To Achievement ®