Multisensory learning is a method of receiving information that is effective for all students because the information coming in is connected to other senses in the body. Simply put, multisensory learning is when a student has multiple senses stimulated at the same time. When learning, the body can use each sensory system in order to receive information:
- Vision (sight)
- Auditory (hearing)
- Gustatory (taste)
- Olfaction (smell)
- Vestibular (balance/movement)
- Somatic sensation (touch)
Currently, most teaching techniques just engage either the vision or auditory system of students- the use of the slideshow & lecture combo is becoming widespread. Seeing your colleagues use those methods may make you feel like that’s how you’re supposed to engage your students, but what major benefits are you and your students missing out on when their other senses are neglected?
- Students learn differently and require different stimuli
As you likely have noticed, not all students process information in the same way. Most students have a learning type- a way of receiving information that is optimal to their given personality and cognition.
Some students are strong auditory listeners and can understand concepts by listening to an explanation, while some others may need to draw out concepts with a pencil and paper. Some students are excellent at tracking information with their eyes and prefer to watch a play, while some other students learn best by physically acting out a play. Speaking to students and going through examples with them as they follow along may be effective for some, but others may find themselves lost.
Even the students who do respond well to the watch-and-listen technique may not be processing information as well as they could be. Multisensory teaching techniques express information that can be received by multiple senses. This way, each student, regardless of learning type, is provided with a means of understanding information.
- Faster Cognitive Development
Multisensory learning environments also enhance brain function. Each sensory system has targets in the brain that stimulate cognitive function:
- Somatic/tactile learning promotes fine motor skills
- Vestibular/kinesthetic learning promotes body memory
- Olfaction & gustatory systems provide strong sensations that remain strongly connected to the information they are associated with
It is not surprising that when students hear information, and it is connected to another sense, they can conceptualize and later apply that information better than students who just watch and listen.
Multisensory teaching techniques stimulate the brain in a variety of ways so that each sensory system becomes more developed and higher functioning. This improves essential functions of the brain such as listening skills, movement, vision, tactile recognition, and conceptualization.
- Students will be more involved in learning
It’s easy for a student to zone out. The school day is nearly 7 hours long and it is difficult for students to pay attention to hours of information when it comes to them the same way class after class and day after day.
Students are attentive when multisensory teaching techniques are practiced because of how much the brain is being stimulated at once. If a student is doing something tactically or physically while listening to instructions and seeing information then there is not much of an opportunity for the student’s attention to stray.
Teaching in a way that causes many of the senses to work together not only allows students to make stronger connections to the information, it demands more focus but in a more enjoyable way for students.
Tools for multisensory teaching
SOMATO (Somatic sensation + Vestibular + Vision)
SOMATO is a keycap surface system that allows students to “feel their words.” Basically, it makes typing more like handwriting. Requiring no change of typing behavior, this up-and-coming tool makes typing more interactive and stimulating via the use of tactile character recognition. SOMATO allows each key to be individually recognized by the student’s fingertips using bumps and ridges and, therefore, adds a new sensory dimension to typing. For all ages
TouchMath (Somatic Sensation + Vestibular + Vision)
TouchMath’s 3-D Numerals use physical numbers so that math can be touched. These physical numerals are 5 inches in length and have TouchPoints that help students develop numeral/quality association. The product comes with activity sheets that can be printed from a CD. For Pre-K – 1 + special education
Education Place (Vestibular + Auditory)
Education Place is a website with a variety of instructions for different activities that can be performed in the classroom. There are dozens of different categories and fields of activities and there are activities for all ages. These activities allow students to learn by doing. Students learn to communicate and brainstorm with each other in order to reach their goals. For all ages
Author: Will Klingner is a student at the University of Richmond that is interested in helping children with learning. He has had experience with teaching children reading and writing skills as well as being a swim instructor in the summer.