Doodling aids learning?

Todd Vandenbark

In a recent post on A List Apart, author Sunni Brown wrote about how a struggling biological sciences student used “draw rudimentary visual representations of every concept in” her textbook to aid in learning organic chemistry. This went against all the conventional wisdom about learning tools of the time, yet she aced her final exam. This student went on to become Dr. Scofield, “a celebrated immunologist, earning accolades for one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs related to HIV transmission. She credits much of her success, then and now, to her world-turning decision to doodle.”

In addition to being an inspirational story, this post goes on to describe how doodling actually aids learning, including increasing focus, and unifying the “three major learning modalities: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.” Next, Brown goes on to define and describe strategic doodling, a way of tracking  “auditory or text-based information” and displaying it back to an audience. After providing examples of doodles for this process, she wraps up her post with suggestions for applying doodling to group work, such as understanding and rethinking a structure or process, or planning for the future.

In our visual-oriented culture, this is a new approach to traditional brainstorming — creating lists of ideas without prejudging them. In a context where no participants suffer from visual, auditory or cognitive impairments, this approach is refreshing and worth considering. Yet nearly one-fifth of Americans suffer from some form of disability. How can a person with visual impairments see, let alone utilize, a doodle? What must be done to make sure a person with auditory impairments can hear ideas offered spontaneously from other participants in a large-group seminar?

Creating and using new ways for increasing group-creativity and problem solving is part of what keeps a committee, library, or other organization moving and growing. As we try them, let us not leave anyone behind. If a quadriplegic like Stephen Hawking can has the genius to revolutionize the structures of both the universe and the atom, what hidden gifts are waiting to be discovered in our neighbors, coworkers and colleagues who also happen to struggle with impairments of one kind or another?