The Power of Visual Learning: Unlocking Operational Excellence

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Table of Contents

Last Updated on May 31, 2024

In the complex industrial landscape where operational performance is paramount, training is one of the main levers for improving operational excellence, along with machinery upgrades and capital investment. Having your team working individually and collectively to elevate performance and maintain critical safety standards is consequently a key driver to excellence across sustainability, profit and culture. 

In training, traditional “word-based” methods often fall short of establishing the desired excellence, culture, precision, knowledge retention, access, and collaboration needed for success. While these can be attributed to a range of logistical and interpersonal factors, a fundamental reason for this is that learning “spatial technical skills” from words and diagrams is asynchronous.

The opportunity of visual learning via modern 3D CGI simulations through touchscreen interactive instructions that combine visual and kinaesthetic learning, can offer transformative outcomes in a variety of industrial contexts to enhance performance in operations, maintenance procedures and processes. 

This article dissects the sciences behind why visual learning and particularly touchscreen-based CGI Sims offer enhancements in a range of industrial contexts as an approach to training, learning, and skill acquisition.

Tapping into the Brain’s Processing Powerhouse

The human brain is remarkably attuned to visual, spatial and environmental information, given this is how we have evolved for millions of years.

The brain has specialised regions dedicated to visual processing, spatial awareness, and memory encoding. It is for this reason that leveraging 3D CGI spatial instructions can harness the full potential of these innate neural pathways, activating regions such as the occipital lobe for visual processing, the parietal lobe for spatial attention, the temporal lobe for memory encoding into the limbic system such as the amygdala and hippocampus for emotional embodiment of instructions. 

Even compared to 2D imagery, 3D CGI instructions have been shown to activate 30% more neurons in the visual cortex, enhancing recognition and recall capabilities. Thanks to modern technologies, including powerful GPUs (graphics processing units like those from NVIDIA), the quality of the CGI simulations has increased in realism, flexibility, affordability, and nuance, therefore being able to radically transform industrial training and development. 

This heightened neural activity from quality materials translates into a profound improvement in comprehension and retention rates, with studies indicating a minimum 25% increase in knowledge retention and comprehension. For industrialists seeking to optimise their performance and people, even a 25% performance increase is a compelling competitive advantage. 

The Brain’s Visual Processing Power

The human brain processes visual and spatial information before converting it into language. Both humans and animals think primarily in mental and visual models. Animals, without language, learn and behave in the world every day. A cat, for example, without language, operates and learns sophisticated behaviours throughout its life.

Language-based learning is less innate. The visual system and brain regions dedicated to spatial processing operate at a much higher bandwidth compared to language processing areas. The optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the retina to the brain, has a data rate of approximately 8-10 million bits per second. This information is then processed in the visual cortex, a region of the brain dedicated to visual perception and processing. The visual cortex has a massive parallel processing capacity, with an estimated 108 to 109 (100 million to 1 billion) neurons and 1014 (100 trillion) synaptic connections. This allows for rapid and efficient processing of complex visual and spatial relationships.

In contrast, language processing occurs at a much slower rate. The auditory nerve, which transmits sound information to the brain, has a data rate of only around 100,000 bits per second. Language processing then involves non-parallel sequential processing in specialized brain regions, such as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, which are much more limited in their processing capacity compared to the visual cortex.

Visual information is literally millions of times faster to digest than words. Try it yourself, for example, consider a simple scene like getting dressed, leaving the house and going shopping. This takes milliseconds as a visual mental model, including the spatial mapping, but would take 10s of pages of text. We think in pictures and representational models first, then we translate that to words of any symbolic language, ‘dumbing it down’ somewhat into that language model.

Enhancing Spatial Awareness and Mental Rotation Abilities

In complex industrial environments, spatial awareness and the ability to mentally rotate objects are critical skills for executing intricate procedures with precision. 3D CGI instructions engage the parietal lobe, a region responsible for spatial processing, fostering these essential abilities. Even basic 3D models activate 30% more neurons in the visual cortex than 2D images. By immersing learners in modern realistic 3D environments, using materials and textures, they can develop a deeper understanding of spatial relationships and gain invaluable experience in navigating complex scenarios.

Neuroplasticity and Learning

3D CGI simulations can enhance neuroplasticity and new learnings, the brain’s ability to reorganize neural pathways more efficiently. This is due to the engagement and direct excitation across a wide array of simultaneous regions in brain systems. Quality visual learning can directly engage the occipital lobe, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe, the amygdala, the hippocampus fed directly through the optic nerve and into the visual cortex. 

Increased neuroplasticity and synaptic growth facilitate enhanced skill acquisition and the development of procedural memory. This can be valuable in allowing learners to more effectively integrate new knowledge and abilities into their existing neural networks. 

Boosting Memory Formation and Procedural Learning

The hippocampus, a brain structure crucial for memory formation and spatial navigation, is activated by 3D CGI visual instructions, aiding in the acquisition and retention of procedural knowledge. This enhanced hippocampal activity not only facilitates the learning of complex procedures but also supports the development of spatial navigation skills, essential for navigating intricate industrial environments. 

The hippocampus is a large, deep limbic area involved in memory, learning, and emotion. Its biggest job is to hold short-term memories and transfer them to long-term storage in our brains. It also plays a role in emotional processing, including anxiety and avoidance behaviours. Activating directly into the hippocampus is a powerful way to ensure information is retained.

Where safety is paramount in navigating complex operational environments with machinery, trains, conveyors, forklifts, plant and people – strong navigational and spatial learning is a critical skill. For example, keeping out of the ‘line of fire’ of energy or moving componentry and machines is an intrinsic requirement, with noncompliance sadly leading to tragedy in multiple instances. 

Engagement, Motivation, and Skill Transfer

Engagement and motivation are critical factors in effective learning, and 3D CGI instructions excel in this regard. Studies have shown a remarkable 60% increase in engagement and motivation when using these visual aids, promoting knowledge retention and fostering a positive learning environment. 

Moreover, 3D CGI instructions activate the mirror neuron system, a neural network involved in imitation and procedural learning. This activation aids in the transfer of acquired skills to real-world scenarios, ensuring that the knowledge gained translates seamlessly into practical applications.

Visual, Kinaesthetic, Auditory and Multimodal Learning

It is widely recognized that 55%-65% of learners are visual learners, especially for men. This is one reason why visual advertising is so powerful and successful, with evocative and emotional imagery used to sell everything from beer to bolts. Incorporating 3D visual instructions into training programs, leaders can cater directly to the learning modality of this majority demographic. 

Next, combining these visual aids with touchscreen interactions triggers kinesthetic modalities, representing 20%-30% of learners. Rather than just ‘watch’ a video or read words, learners are forced with modern CGI Sims to engage and use their hands to make selections on their touchscreens or devices. This engages and triggers muscle memories. Adding auditory modalities and elements, such as voice, clicks and environmental sounds, deepens and broadens the multimodal learning experience to embed knowledge quickly and effectively and caters to diverse learning styles. 

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. Benjamin Franklin. 

Activating the Visual Processing Powerhouse

Realistic visual instructions with CGI Sims activate the occipital lobe, responsible for visual processing, the parietal lobe, which governs spatial attention, and the temporal lobe, crucial for memory encoding. This targeted activation of neural pathways results in measurable improvements, with studies indicating a 20-25% increase in comprehension and retention rates. 

3D CGI instructions have been shown to activate 30% more neurons in the visual cortex compared to traditional 2D images and plans, enhancing recognition and recall capabilities. This heightened neural activity translates into a profound improvement in comprehension speed and retention rates, facilitating the acquisition of complex procedural knowledge. For the industrial workplace, this reduces the cost and time of ‘street to seat’ learning (off of the street and into the operator’s seat) as well as improves safety, consistency, interactions and thus performance. 

Engaging the Mirror Neuron System

Consistency in behaviours is a key metric in the workplace. It is not good enough to have Team A perform at 100-minute cycle times and Team B at 120-minute cycles, for example. This is often the result of different trainers and information inputs. 

Visual learning including realistic 3D CGI directly and powerfully engages the mirror neuron system, a neural network involved in imitation and procedural learning. Mirror neurons are a class of neuron that modulate their activity both when an individual executes a specific motor act and when they observe the same or similar act performed by another individual. The mirroring process underlies our ability to learn others’ actions and intentions, as well as facilitate learning through observation and imitation. It is how a baby or child learns from their mother and those around them and thus is a foundational survival component of the human organism. 

By activating the mirror neuron system, realistic visual instructions facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills at lightning speed, deep inside the cortex. Knowledge gained is translated seamlessly into learned behaviours. Mirror neurons have been shown to contribute to imitating body movements, distinguishing gestures, and aiding in the process of rapid mentalizing procedures. 

Engagement of the mirror neuron system is particularly powerful when observing individuals with whom we have a strong and positive emotional connection, triggering the amygdala and other limbic processes that trigger the sense of survival through ‘belonging to a community’ with powerful anxiety and avoidance responses. In this way, leveraging realistic CGI in simulations with relatable characters in instructional design offers a powerful approach to facilitating mirroring of desired behaviors and accelerating learning outcomes.

By capitalizing on the principles of mirror neurons and well-constructed visual representations, these simulations create powerful experiences that foster knowledge acquisition and skill development with high effectiveness.

Precision Perspectives for Learning 

A key advantage of modern CGI systems over using video-recorded media is the ability to capture varied and emotionally engaging camera angles and viewpoints of the subject matter in action at low cost. This enables quality content creators to capture a large number of animated, emotive and informative cameras angles. Learners get to observe and mirror behaviours from multiple perspectives that best embed the knowledge. Real-time CGI Simulation systems enable and endless array of camera angles of the simulated behaviour at low cost and can be updated and recaptured quickly and efficiently. 

It has been observed that video-recording subject matter experts performing a task may seem efficient, it is not always generating the result of engaging content. The SME themselves may not be engaging, camera angles may be limited and details may be overlooked for logistical reasons. Updating can also be a little cumbersome in some instances, requiring on-site interruptions, camera, lighting and microphone setups. Videos alone also create a ‘watch me’ format as compared to an ‘involve me’ multimodal medium. 

By engaging in content and replicating tasks from various angles with quality camera usage, and using third-person views of relatable characters, learners better internalize the demonstrated behaviours, enhancing skill acquisition. Video-media tasks may be suitable to simple, and non-critical tasks. 

Safety Scenario Simulations

CGI simulations can circumvent limitations of real-world training by allowing for the safe and controlled simulation of scenarios involving potential risks or safety hazards. This is appropriate where large, dangerous or complex machinery and interactions are involved. Studies have highlighted the value of simulations in presenting both correct and incorrect approaches in a range of scenarios, promoting safety awareness and efficiency. 

Team leaders can choose how far to demonstrate the consequences of incorrect behaviours and action, from simply ‘wrong’ (red X) to simulated impacts and safety consequences (incidents and impacts). Learners can gain a more comprehensive understanding and emotional relationship triggered deeper into the learners’ limbic cortex of experience of optimal techniques and procedures without compromising safety or adding risk. 

Teamwork, Culture and Divergence

Effective learning extends beyond individual technical skills and encompasses team interaction, technical empathy, cultural nuances, tonality, and sentiment.

Quality CGI simulations offer a platform for embedding cultural elements into the learning experience. Carefully crafted simulations incorporate subtle cues, such as body language and communication styles through to body language and interpersonal behaviours to reflect the cultural norms and behavioural expectations of individuals within the team. This can foster a deeper connection between learners and cultural transformation.

Some industrial workplaces can include individuals with suitable ‘skills’ but lack an integrated cohesion and teamwork, even to the point of a “toxic work environments”. For example, the team ‘ in the ops centre’ may lack technical empathy with the teams ‘on the ground’, or Team A may be unaware and unsympathetic to the difficulties and nuances of the role Team B. Some environments can struggle with, for example, multiple genders or nationalities or other cultural integrations, and how to behave in such situations. 

Realistic character-based CGI simulation offers one method to entrain the teamwork and cultural tone and collaboration required in a complex operation. By giving team members neural cues intrinsically digestible into the brain’s native language, leaders can enhance the mimicry of behaviours and cultural expectations.

By having these cultural layers overlaid with skill acquisitions, available immediately on the team’s touchscreens and devices for any specific skill, this supports both operational efficiency at individual and teamwork levels. 

Repeatability and Consistency for Skill Mastery 

3D CGI simulations accessible on any device provide a controlled environment where learners can repeatedly observe and practice desired behaviours without the risk of deviations or inconsistencies. 

Research highlights the value of repeatability in scenarios where learners master complex or a wide array of procedures for tasks. This consistent environment reinforces learning through repetition, optimizing the mirroring process and facilitating the internalization of desired behaviours. 

This can be especially important in the Low Frequent and sometimes High Risk (HRLF) events. It is one thing to remember the tasks we must do everyday, but it is another to recall those once-a-year events that may occur. With a word-based system, this may require a look-up of one or more 100-page documents, which may be ‘too hard’, or too slow in an emergency. 

We also know that ‘admitting you forgot’ the procedure can be a real issue in the workplace, with the sense of dignity or pride at stake for operators. Thus, providing learning tools that form deep and strong memories, faster retention is powerful, combined with rapid lookup and rapid re-learning and refreshing of procedures and behaviours equally powerful for HRLF or ‘its been a while’ scenarios. 

Boosting Engagement and Motivation

Engagement and motivation are critical factors in effective learning, and 3D CGI instructions excel in this regard. These visual aids activate the brain’s reward centres, located in the limbic system, which play a crucial role in driving motivation and engagement.

Studies have shown a remarkable 60% increase in engagement and motivation when using 3D CGI instructions, promoting knowledge retention and fostering a positive learning environment.

The emotional engagement facilitated by quality 3D CGI instructions, especially with third person empathetic characters, strengthens memory formation through the activation of the amygdala, the brain’s emotional processing centre.

By creating emotional associations with the learned material, these visual aids reinforce long-term retention and promote deeper connections between learners and the subject matter.

Leveraging the ‘Pixar Peak’

Emotional engagement plays a pivotal role in fostering long-lasting knowledge retention and skill acquisition. This is very difficult to achieve with word-based instructions and is highly variable relying on the personalities of trainers.

Quality CGI simulations have the direct ability to activate the amygdala, the brain’s emotional processing centre. This phenomenon is evidenced in the coined concept of the “Pixar Peak”.

Carefully crafted characters and stories create incredible audience empathy and emotional engagement that is used extensively in contemporary computer-animated films from studios like Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks. Think about your favourite characters, from Dorey in Finding Nemo to Shrek, or the Na’vi in Avatar. The sense of ‘perceptual realism’ creates strong emotive reactions, including buying the movie and the merchandise and repeating their parlance in everyday life (“I can speak whale”). 

The Pixar Peak represents a climactic height in empathy levels when presented with engaging characterizations. This style combines lifelikeness and abstraction with a delicate balance that resonates deeply with viewers, or learners. While these CGI films can cost from $150-$200m, similar to modern computer games, the prudent use of modern 3D CGI simulation platforms is significantly less can deliver even greater returns to the industrial organisation. 

By leveraging these principles in training with 3D CGI simulations, organizations can tap into the powerful emotional resonance these products can create. This emotional engagement not only enhances memory formation and retention but also fosters a deeper connection between learners and the material, promoting engagement, motivation, belonging, better knowledge transfer and culture.

Integrated simulations to build teamwork, safety culture and efficient clinical services: A case study (

“Interactive computer-based simulations as exploratory learning environments in science and mathematics” 

“Integrated simulations to build teamwork, safety culture and efficient clinical services: A case study”,

M. Van Rooij in the article “Carefully constructed yet curiously real: How major American animation studios generate empathy through a shared style of character design,”

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