A multisensory learning approach is a term many schools use to describe teaching methods that involve engaging more than one sense at a time. Involving the use of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic-tactile pathways, a multisensory approach can enhance memory and ability to learn. This can also include taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing and movement. The students are able to experience a lesson through multiple pathways that can best stimulate their brains and engage them more deeply in the subject matter. There is a long history in the educational literature dating back to Montessori, John Dewey and Grace Fernald, just to name a few.
A multisensory approach is the most effective teaching method for students who have difficulties in learning. Although every lesson won’t necessarily use all of the senses at the same time, most multisensory lessons engage students with the learning material in more than one approach.
However, multisensory learning can be particularly helpful for students with learning difficulties and cognitive limitations who may have difficulty in one or more areas of education. For example, a differently-abled student may have trouble processing visual information. This can make it challenging for them to learn and retain information through only reading and visual stimuli. Using other senses, such as tactile or auditory, these students can make a stronger connection with what they’re learning.
Ultimately, using a multisensory approach in a learning environment helps to meet the varying needs of all students giving them each a chance to succeed.
Multisensory instruction techniques and strategies stimulate learning by engaging students on multiple levels. They encourage students to use some or all their senses to:
- Gather information about a task
- Link information to ideas they already know and understand
- Perceive the logic involved in solving problems
- Learn problem solving tasks
- Tap into nonverbal reasoning skills
- Understand relationships between concepts
- Store information and store it for later recall
Using a multisensory teaching technique means helping a student to learn through more than one sense. Most teaching techniques are done using either sight or hearing (visual or auditory). Sight is used in reading information, looking at text, pictures or reading information based from the board.
The hearing sense is used to listen to what the teacher says. The vision may be affected by difficulties with tracking or visual processing. Sometimes the student’s auditory processing may be weak. The solution for these difficulties is to involve the use of more of the senses, especially the use of touch (tactile) and movement (kinetic). This will help the brain to develop tactile and kinetic memories to hang on to, as well as the auditory and visual ones.
Students with learning difficulties typically have difficulties in one or more areas of reading, spelling, writing, math, listening comprehension and expressive language. Multisensory techniques enable students to use their personal areas of strength to help them learn. They can range from simple to complex, depending on the needs of the student and the task at hand.
4.6.1. Kinaesthetic affective approach
Kinaesthetic learning occurs as students engage in a physical activity: learning by doing, exploring, discovering. Kinaesthetic learning is one of four learning styles defined by Neil Fleming and co-workers (see Fleming, N., and Mills, C., 1992, Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection, Published in: To Improve the Academy, Vol. 11, Page 137): visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinaesthetic. Although only 15% of the population is strongly aligned with a kinaesthetic learning style, preliminary research has shown that kinaesthetic learning results in increased learning outcomes for all students.
Kinaesthetic learners prefer to learn by direct experience, and learning transpires as a result of what was done rather than what was said or read. Kinaesthetic learning is closely related to Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy (or domains) of learning: cognitive skills, affective domain, psychomotor skills. These three domains complement and reinforce each other in the learning process. The psychomotor domain encompasses physical movement, coordination and a variety of motor skills.
Aspects of the psychomotor domain include:
- Perception–using sensory cues to guide motor activities
- Readiness to act–includes mental, physical and emotional readiness – prepared to act upon a sequence of instructions.
- Guided Response–learning a complex skill through imitation and trial and error; following instructions.
- Mechanism–learned responses become habitual, movements performed with confidence and proficiency.
- Complex overt response–performance of complex movement patterns.
- Adaptation–movements can be modified or adapted to fit special situations
- Origination–creating new movement patters to fit a situation.
In essence, kinaesthetic learners process information best when they are physically engaged during the learning process.
Often, those with a kinaesthetic learning style have a hard time learning through traditional lecture-based schooling, because the body does not make the connection that they are doing something when they’re listening without movement. Their brains are engaged, but their bodies are not, which makes it more difficult for them to process the information.Much of the time, they need to get up and move to put something into memory.
4.6.2. Kinaesthetic Learning Strategies
- Stand Up Instead of Sitting Down. We already know that sitting for extended periods of time is bad for the health. But for a kinaesthetic learner, standing up will also improve their comprehension and retention. When we stand up, our body is more engaged and connected to the learning process. Investing in a book stand or standing desk may help raise concentration levels for longer periods of time.
- Combine Study Session with Exercise. Instead of sitting down with their notes, students should get up and do exercises, burpees or jumping jacks in between chapters. Combining activity keeps learners energised and helps cement the ideas they are studying. As a kinaesthetic learner, they need a physical outlet for their excess energy, even when they need to study.
- Utilise Small Movements. It’s not always possible to stand up and do high knees during a study session, but one can still use kinaesthetic study strategies to keep engaged. Bouncing a tennis ball against the floor and catching it every time learner answers a question. They can also twist a rubber band around the wrist or a pencil while they read. Even if the motions are small, they’ll help learners stay focused and attentive.
- Use a Pen. Use a Pencil. Use a Highlighter. Underline important vocabulary or concepts while reading. They should highlight and colour code passages that connect to one another. Using a pencil to draw flow charts in their books help break down the passages into small pieces. Adding sticky notes that show main ideas is also useful. Using effective reading strategies combined with movement makes studying easier for kinaesthetic learners.
- Try Tension and Relaxation. When learners are in a study situation that truly limits their ability to move, teachers could use tension and relaxation technique to stay focused. In intervals of five to ten seconds, they should tighten a particular muscle and then relax when the seconds have passed. This technique helps to release unwanted tension, which is something kinaesthetic learners often experience during idle times.
- Get Creative. If a topic becomes difficult for learners, we can approach it from another angle. Teacher can use materials learners can manipulate, like blocks or figurines, to visualise a battle scene or explore mathematical concepts. Drawing pictures about the topic they are learning or designing a video or storyboard is also very helpful. Main idea is, that learners are likely to better remember something they built than something they read.
Kinaesthetic learners need to move their bodies in order to learn. These students are often called “fidgety”, and some teachers might interpret their behaviour as distracted or bored. However, a kinaesthetic learner’s movement does not imply a lack of attention—in fact, it means that they’re trying to process information in the most effective possible way.
Try these strategies for reaching kinaesthetic learners in your classroom:
- Allow kinaesthetic learners to stand, bounce their legs, or doodle during lectures. You will get more out of them in class if they can move around a little bit.
- Offer various methods of instruction—lectures, paired readings, group work, experiments, projects, plays, etc.
- Ask your kinaesthetic learners to complete relevant tasks during the lecture, like filling out a worksheet or taking notes.
- Allow kinaesthetic learners to perform movement tasks before and after lectures, like handing out quizzes, writing on the chalkboard, or even rearranging desks.
- If you feel the kinaesthetic learners slipping away from you in class, pause the lecture and have the whole class do something energetic: marching, stretching, or switching desks.
- Keep your lectures short and sweet! Plan several different activities throughout each class period in order to be mindful of all your students’ learning styles.