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Visual Language and Visual Learning Center

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The Visual Language and Visual Learning Center (VL2) explores the relationship between learning and one of our central senses--vision. VL2 researchers seek to understand more about how visual processes, visual language and social experience effect the development of cognition and language as well as reading and literacy.  VL2 especially pursues new perspectives by studying deaf individuals and sign language as a window into the flexibility and structure of the human mind.

The research falls into five areas.  They are:

  • Visual and cognitive plasticity

  • Language development and bilingualism

  • Reading and literacy in visual learning

  • Translation of research to educational practice, and

  • Integration of research and education

They study visual learning processes across the lifespan to help improve education in both formal and informal settings. They work across multiple disciplines to understand how vision is used in learning, especially language learning, from infancy to adulthood. VL2's research program is structured developmentally (infant/toddler, children and adults), with specific themes addressed at each developmental stage.

The center is based at Washington DC's Gallaudet University, a major institution of learning for deaf and hard of hearing students. In December, 2011, Gallaudet University enhanced the Center’s resources by opening a Brain and Language Laboratory designed to study how people learn and convey language. Called BL2, the laboratory pursues new knowledge about biological mechanisms and environmental factors that work together to forge the capacity for language. The lab’s centerpiece is an f-Near Infrared Spectroscopy that tracks in real time how blood moves in the brain in reaction to different stimuli. Among other aspects of language learning, this kind of neuroimaging can be used to study the acquisition and neural processing of American Sign Language, the optimal conditions for bilingual language development and the effects of early bilingual language exposure on the developing brain.

The Center's ultimate mission is to improve the education and lives of all visual learners, be they deaf or hearing. It hopes to benefit the lives of the young visual learner who is learning to read, the teacher trying to create new strategies for visual learners, the parent of visual learners and the school that seeks to build programs for visual learners. It also highlights the unique gifts and needs of visual learners, especially young, deaf children learning natural signed languages. 

Education & Outreach

The VL2 Presentation Series bring prominent and distinguished researchers, scholars and advocates to Gallaudet. Topics range from cognitive science and deaf people to developing sign language assessment tools. In addition, VL2 is dedicated to the integration of research into classroom practice. Research-to-practice initiatives ensure that the center's work is brought to life in K-12 classrooms and beyond.

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  • still shot of video on YouTube of student using sign language