New studies confirm that winning schools, publishers, and Economics instructors will need to deliver a full line of visual tools and modern educational video so that the currently underserved 65% of students who prefer to learn visually, can do so more effectively.

Although there is no unanimity on how students learn, there are many widely accepted learning models. Within these models, numerous studies identify the power of visual imagery in learning. A few examples are Barbe, Swassing, and Milone (1979), Fleming and Mills (1992), and Fleming (2016) .

Visual learning for economics infographic

The VAK Model

Barbe, Swassing, and Malone developed one of the most popular and widely studied learning models, the VAK model.1

Their model identified three sensory learning modalities or manners by which people learn — Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic [VAK].

Auditory learners learn through listening.

Kinesthetic learners learn through moving and touching.

Visual learners learn through seeing. They prefer to have information presented visually.

All people learn through a blend of these three modalities, relying on one or two modalities more than another. 

One of this study’s key hypotheses was that students get better results when instructors teach in a way that directly responds to students’ learning preferences.

Various VAK studies identified that most learners have a strong preference for learning visually. Some estimate that 65% of people learn this way.2

65% of People Learn Visually

Why is this? Words are abstract and relatively difficult for the brain to retain, whereas visuals are concrete and, as such, more easily remembered.3

Visual learners learn more easily from videos, photos, illustrations, icons, symbols, sketches, diagrams, graphs, maps, posters, and displays.

In 1992, Fleming and Mills built upon the VAK learning model, adding the Read/Write modality to it. This learning preference emphasizes text-based input and output – reading and writing in all its forms.4

To this day, Neil Fleming continues to develop the VARK learning model.

Economics students want economics videos on phones

A sample output of one version of a contemporary VARK test illustrates how students’ learning preferences are reported using the four measures:

VARK and introductory economics for visual learners

Visual Learning in Economics

In a 2015 study of their Economics 101 and 103 classes, Sarah Wright and Anthony Stokes of Australian Catholic University found that the largest group of their students preferred to learn visually. Wright and Stokes then addressed their students’ learning preferences. They found that student satisfaction and performance improved.5

Traditionally, Economics instructors have responded to students’ visual learning needs with chalk talks and powerpoint presentations that feature illustrations, graphs, figures, and images.

Lectures do not work well for visual learners

Given students’ strong preference for visual learning, actively delivering modern visual learning tools, with technology that is more advanced than a powerpoint presentation, seems like a “no-brainer.”

Why Economics Instructors Lecture

Why do lectures, powerpoint presentations, and traditional textbooks (in either hard-copy or pdf form) currently prevail in the Economics classroom and in student dorms across the country?

One explanation is provided by Goffe and Kauper in their 2014 paper, “A Survey of Principles Instructors: Why Lecture Prevails.”6

According to this 2012 survey of 275 Principles of Economics instructors, one-third of the instructors said that students learn best from lecture.

Another third reported that students do not learn best from lecture, nevertheless, lecture is cost-effective.  The rest answered that students find lecturing sub-optimal and prefer other alternatives.

 Lecture advocates often cited the inputs and costs of teaching while advocates of alternatives often cite student outcomes.

In this study, fully two-thirds of instructors figure there is a better way to teach than the lecture method. The other third feel that students learn best from lecture. We wonder how the lecture fans actually know that lectures are best.

As longtime educator Patricia Vakos observed, “The fact remains that 65 percent of the population consists of visual learners; therefore when teachers lecture, they are reaching less than half of the class.”7

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching advanced the study of visual learning tools by systematically examining the effectiveness of educational videos. Based on twenty-two related studies and their own work, C.J. Brame concluded that “video can be a highly effective educational tool.”8

The case for educational video’s use as a visual learning tool is clear. Yet, visual learners’ needs remain underserved as long as educational video is slow to launch.

Getting Economics Videos In Front of Visual Learners

If it’s such a no-brainer, why aren’t videos already proliferating?

One reason is that qualifying, professionally-produced, educational videos for introductory economics courses are scarce. Like most investments, professionally-produced educational videos need to be funded and generate both a return of capital and a return on capital.

Most prospective producers fear the seven-figure budget necessary to produce the several hundred short videos required to cover most introductory economics principles. Professional video production that meets Vanderbilt’s video production specifications costs money. Lecture capture and talking-head video productions do not satisfy visual learners’ needs.9

Unfortunately, school budgets are already over-stressed, and the last thing students want to do is pay for more course material, so funding video learning tools like Econblox videos appears tricky.

Introductory economics videos from Econblox

Another reason for slow adoption of video visual learning tools is that Economics instructors mistakenly believe that integrating such new multimedia content into their curriculum will take too much time.

I’ve had extensive discussions with Economics instructors over the past few years. Most instructors with whom I have discussed this topic really want professionally-produced video to support their teaching, yet, they have no time to advance video projects.

Although it’s true that most professors, instructors, and teaching assistants have already maxed out their work week, adding video need not be time-consuming. 

Strong Economic Incentives for Publishers and Instructors Exist

Econblox offers one solution. Econblox provides an economic incentive for individual instructors to invest the extra time required to add video to their courses. In this way, instructors not only respond to their students’ visual learning needs, but also reduce students’ existing textbook or digital material costs by more than 50%.

Although our independent school offer will satisfy early-adaptor Economics instructors who want to feature in-house content, we think that major Economics textbook publishers will feel compelled to add professionally-produced video and other interactive tools to their existing digital platforms.

In doing so, adopting publishers will make it easy for their well-established and vast client bases to turn on a switch thus incorporating compelling Introductory Economics videos into the publisher’s digital platform, chapter-by-chapter. Voila. No extra work required. Loyal customers saved.

When this happens, visual learners will perform better, and the early-mover publisher can meet and beat their digital competition. Econblox also helps publishers do this.

Economics professors should be paid for extra duties

Creative Commons Economics Textbooks Continue Their Advance

What happens if textbook publishers do not continue to enhance their digital platforms?

Then the free, world-class OpenStax Principles, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics textbooks and their kind will continue to erode textbook publishers’ competitive positions, revenues, and profits.  After all, text is text.

If publishers do not lead the way, Economics instructors will independently find a way to license affordable, professional educational video for their students.

In any case, the winning schools and publishers will be the ones that first satisfy the hugely underserved needs of visual learners.


1 Barbe, W.B., Swassing, R.H. & Milone, M.N. (1979). Teaching through modality strengths: concepts and practices. Columbus, Ohio: Zaner-Bloser.

2 Sreenidihi and Helena (2017). Styles of Learning Based on the Research of Fernald, Keller, Orton, Gillingham, Stillman , Montessori and Neil D Fleming. International Journal for Innovative Research in Multidisciplinary Fields. Retrieved 09/26/2018 from

3 Kouyoumdjian, Haig, Ph.D. (2012) Learning Through Visuals. Psychology Today. Jul 20, 2012.

4 VARK - A Guide to Learning Styles. Retrieved 09/25/2018 from

5 Wright and Stokes (2015). The application of VARK learning styles in introductory level economics units. Issues in Educational Research. Retrieved 09/25/2018 from

6 Goffe and Kauper (2014). A Survey of Principles Instructors: Why Lecture Prevails. The Journal of Economic Education, Volume 45, 2014 - Issue 4. Pages 360-375. Published online: 09 Oct 2014.

7 Vakos, Patricia. Why the Blank Stare? Strategies for Visual Learners (2003). Prentice-Hall eTeach. May 2003. Retrieved 09/25/2018 from

8 Brame, C.J. (2015). Effective educational videos. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 09/25/2018 from

9 Brame, C.J. (2015). Effective educational videos. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 09/25/2018 from

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