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  • Rebecca Savill

Multi-sensory learning

In this short series of blog posts, we'll explain the research around some of the most established theories in learning science.


What it is


Multi-sensory learning is just what it sounds like; the process of acquiring knowledge and skills through the use of multiple senses and environments.


Why it is beneficial


Research suggests that studying in multiple sensory and environmental contexts can improve information retention and memory recall across reading, language, mathematics, science, music and spatial navigation(1).


How does it work


This approach is highly effective in improving information retention as it engages multiple regions of the brain simultaneously. Our brains evolved to learn in a multi-sensory environment and so it makes sense that this approach aids in the encoding, storage, and retrieval of information(2).


In one study, researchers found that participants who studied vocabulary words in a multi-sensory manner by drawing images or using gestures were able to recall more words than those who used a single approach(3).


Another study found that students who learned maths concepts through physical manipulation of objects and verbal explanations were better able to apply those concepts in new situations than those who only received verbal explanations(4).


Research has even found that movement during the learning process helps improve recall and the academic achievement of physics students(5).


Are there limitations?


As you can imagine, there is a limit to how much you can stimulate your different senses before you become too distracted to learn.


One study explored this effect on people trying to read paragraphs of text and found that additional irrelevant auditory, visual and tactile stimulation made it harder and slower to read(6).


It is important to ensure that the different senses, environments or movements you use to enhance learning are relevant to the information you are trying to learn and don’t become random distractions instead.


Find out more


This is just a quick overview about multi-sensory learning to get you started and using the technique. More information can be found in the following places:


Books

  • A Teacher's Guide to Multisensory Learning: Improving Literacy by Engaging the Senses by Lawrence Baines - 2008


Websites


References

  1. Brian Mathias, Katharina von Kriegstein. Enriched learning: behavior, brain, and computation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2023; 27

  2. Shams, Ladan., et. al. “Benefits of multisensory learning.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 12, no. 11, 2008, pp. 411-417

  3. Katja M. Mayer, Izzet B. Yildiz, Manuela Macedonia, Katharina von Kriegstein. Visual and motor cortices differentially support the translation of foreign language words. Current Biology, 5 February 2015

  4. Wakefield E.M., et al., Learning math by hand: the neural effects of gesture-based instruction in 8-year-old children., Atten. Percept. Psychophys. 2019; 81: 2343-2353

  5. Johnson-Glenberg M.C., Megowan-Romanowicz C., Embodied science and mixed reality: how gesture and motion capture affect physics education., Cognit. Res. Principles Implications. 2017; 2: 1-28

  6. Pei-Luen Patrick, Rau., et. al. “Distractive effect of multimodal information in multisensory learning.” Computers & Education, vol. 144, January 2020



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