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Multisensory Learning: Definition & Theories

Multisensory Learning: Definition & Theories
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Today's classrooms are home to learners who are diverse in many key ways, including ability and learning style. As a teacher, you need to be prepared to address student needs at many different levels. An understanding of multisensory learning is key when teaching learners of all ages.

Example of Multisensory Learning

Imagine trying to use only words to explain a tree to someone who has never seen one. What would you say? Would they really understand a tree? If you showed them a picture, they would understand a little more. Now imagine you also brought them a piece of bark, a leaf, and a twig to feel, see, and smell. By involving more of their senses (sight, touch, and smell) you are enriching their understanding of a tree. You are employing multisensory learning techniques.

Definition of Multisensory Learning

Multisensory learning is learning that makes use of several senses at once. Think about the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Each of these senses accesses information in a unique way, and the brain coordinates the input from all the senses to learn about objects in the environment. With more senses engaged in a lesson, the learner is more likely to remember the information.

Brain-Based Learning in General

Research on the brain and learning tells us that information that the brain receives visually (sight) is stored differently than information received from the auditory system (hearing), the olfactory system (smell), or the tactile system (touch). So, if more senses are involved in learning the information, more of the brain is involved in storing the information. When the time comes to retrieve the information from the memory, the brain can access it more easily.

Consider this: if a learner is participating in an auditory activity (that is, they are expected to be listening to a lesson or lecture) their senses of sight, smell, taste, and touch are not turned off. The learner may be trying to focus only on what they are hearing so that they can pay attention to the lesson, but they have to filter out the information received by their other senses. Instead of asking our learners to ignore several of their senses, we can provide multiple senses with input relevant to the lesson at hand. This creates an opportunity for focused learning.

Remember, the brain also requires movement in order to process learning and maintain attention. Incorporating movement into learning activities is a great way to activate the senses. The more that movement is included in multisensory learning, the more successful the learning will be.

Incorporation of MultiSensory Learning

As you plan lessons, be aware of opportunities to incorporate all five senses. There are two main applications of multisensory learning.

One application is the use of multisensory experiences that are directly applicable to the content at hand. For example, in a social studies lesson on Mexico, you could taste Mexican food, listen to Mexican music, and bring in plants native to Mexico for learners to handle and explore. Your learners will have an easier time remembering Mexico's chief exports if they have enjoyed some of them in class.

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