How to Use Gestures to Learn Faster

Gestures make it easier to learn.  When people are speaking and gesturing at the same time, they process information better.  From New York Magazine

"University of Chicago psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues have found that when toddlers point at objects, they’re more likely to learn the names for things; that for adults, gesturing as you try to memorize a string of numbers prompts better recall; and that when grade-schoolers gesture, they’re better at generalizing math principles.

The authors found that the students in both gesture conditions were more likely to succeed on follow-up generalization problems, which required understanding the underlying principle beneath the first problem and applying it in novel situations. It’s a case study in how gesture 'allows you a space for abstraction,' Goldin-Meadow says. 'You’re not as tied to the particulars of an item, of a problem, a word, or an experience.' You’re not just talking with your hands, in other words; you think with them, too.

Researchers haven’t yet pinned down exactly how this connection works, but Goldin-Meadow believes part of it is that gestures reduce what psychologists call 'cognitive load,' or the amount of mental energy you’re expending to keep things in your working memory."


Gestures are a good illustration of how humans think with more than just our brains.  The brain can process more information with gestures than without them, which makes them pretty fundamental to human capabilities. 


Takeaways:

  • Users moving their hands inside of a digital experience has cognitive consequences
  • Giving users alternative, embodied ways to learn information will help them retain concepts
  • Gestures are effective because they allow working memory to offload effort