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Learning with All Your Senses

Multimodal enrichment

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How do we learn best? New scientific evidence suggests that learning that incorporates the use of multiple senses and movement—known as multimodal enrichment—may be the way of the future when it comes to teaching and learning for all ages.

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Coming back to our senses

Multimodal enrichment (a.k.a. multisensory learning) transforms the traditional classroom into a more natural setting, using all of the sights, sounds, odours, tastes, and proprioceptive information that comes with it. It may engage some—or all—of our senses at once.

There are five different sensory “modes” known to kick learning into hyperdrive: linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial.

Utilizing one or all of these modes can help enhance learning in multiple skill areas, including letter and vocabulary acquisition, reading, mathematics, music, and spatial navigation.

One of the most longstanding examples of multimodal enrichment is the Montessori method, where the role of hands-on experience with physical objects and specialized learning materials that engage multiple senses is emphasized.

New research published in the January 2023 issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences explains the mechanisms by which multimodal learning are processed in the brain and produce enhanced learning benefits, explaining why multisensory methods such as Montessori work.

The researchers involved in the new study have great hopes for the future of multimodal enrichment. They believe their findings may inspire new hypotheses about learning, which will lead to the optimization of learning and teaching strategies in the future, for both humans and artificial systems.

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Sense-based learning in the classroom—and beyond

Dr. Bibi Pirayesh, an educational therapist and founder of One of One Educational Therapy, knows first-hand that using your senses is essential to learning for kids with learning disabilities.

“You experience life through all of your senses,” says Pirayesh. “From a young age, it’s important that kids are engaging their senses and their entire bodies in their learning.”

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Adults can benefit from these methods, too

At Peace of Mind Psychological Services in Johns Creek, Georgia, director, speaker, and clinical psychologist Dr. Brianna Gaynor says they begin with the understanding that everyone learns differently.

They help employees identify and then apply the learning style that works best for them. Then, they enable employees to learn in a way suited to them, which means they provide manuals with visuals and meetings for auditory learners, but they also understand that those who learn by doing may have to be shown how to complete a task.

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Multimodal enrichment in practice

Pirayesh says the type of multisensory method she employs depends on the learner and how they learn best.

“The main principle is that we try to move away from the two-dimensional page when possible, which requires an incredible amount of abstraction,” says Pirayesh.

There are myriad ways to apply the magic of multimodal learning. Here are just some examples.

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Movement

Physical movement can be integrated into learning in multiple ways. One study found that the use of directional gestures that imitate the trajectories of Mandarin Chinese tones while learning the language can assist with subsequent tone recognition.

Movement is also an important tool for Pirayesh. For instance, she’ll have learners move before sessions to engage the brain: she may have students draw or walk the infinity sign or move across the midline of their bodies by, for example, bringing up their left knee and touching it with their right hand and vice versa.

“This can be challenging for kids who struggle but very helpful to integrate the brain,” says Pirayesh.

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Think-pair-share strategy

In this active learning strategy first introduced by Professor Frank Lyman in 1981, students are given time to think or jot their thoughts down. Then, they’re paired with one other student or a small group to discuss what they just thought about. Lastly, some students are selected to share what they discussed in their pairs or groups.

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Case-based learning

In this strategy, which refers to the use of real-life examples when introducing or going through a concept in class, the instructor’s role is to facilitate a discussion where the students analyze and problem-solve as a group.

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Multimedia research projects

The sky is the limit here. Students can use visuals, props, puppets, dramatic play, video presentations, and so on to demonstrate their understanding of a topic.

Jumpstart your learning journey with these natural learning supports

L-theanine

An amino acid found in green tea, L-theanine has been shown to relieve stress disorders, improve mood, and maintain normal sleep. A 2021 study concluded L-theanine may contribute to improved attention, which may help enhance working memory and executive functions.

Green tea/matcha

A 2020 study concluded green tea consumption may be linked to better cognitive function, in particular in memory and executive function.

Omega-3

Linked to better neurological outcomes in older adults, the exploratory results of a 2022 study found a higher omega-3 index to be associated with better abstract reasoning and larger hippocampal volumes in middle-aged adults.

Vitamin E

Some research has demonstrated that high-dose vitamin E may delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, although further research is needed to determine its long-term safety and efficacy.

Curcumin

The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin may help improve brain function and manage dementia. It has also been found helpful in managing a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions and lowering cardiovascular disease risk.

Screen time: how much is too much?

Educational therapist Dr. Bibi Pirayesh is commonly asked to comment on the amount of acceptable screen time for kids. She responds by encouraging parents to carve out time for multisensory activities.

“Parents should try to be really intentional about creating time for multisensory activities for kids, because nothing else does that,” says Pirayesh. “Even a book is more multisensory than a screen.”

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