Learning is an individual process, and what works for one person may not work for another. Your child deserves to experience education that aligns with core strengths and reinforces other skills necessary for personal and professional growth.
Many classrooms teach from either a visual or an auditory style, yet sight and hearing are only two of the senses. What about smell, touch and taste? This is where multisensory learning comes in.
A Multisensory Approach to Learning
Taken together, the full range of senses helps students learn material in a more concrete manner. Studies show that only certain parts of the brain activate during learning; therefore, visual learning will activate a different part of the brain than would olfactory learning, for example. In a report by D.G. Treichler, as cited in the journal “Trends in Cognitive Sciences,” he stated that “People generally remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear.” Combining the senses, therefore, is of benefit to students of all learning styles.
Using the Five Senses to Stimulate Learning
Here is an overview of the five senses and how teachers can incorporate each one into learning:
Humans are primarily sight-oriented. Everything, from the foods we eat to the clothes we wear, shows signs of visual influence. We also take cues from visual stimuli as we absorb new material. In fact, as Dr. Haig Kouyoumdjian states in a Psychology Today article, “…our brain is mainly an image processor, not a word processor.” Teachers can use visuals in the classroom via infographics that use large images to reinforce key concepts, and colors that stimulate mental activity.
Sound is all around us, and it can act as a distraction as often as an aid. Hearing helps people learn associations, whether it’s the sound of myrtle warblers in a pine tree or ice cracking in the middle of a lake. Hearing teaches right from wrong, and safe from dangerous, and it is a crucial part of learning throughout life.
In terms of active learning methods, your child will benefit most from engaging in relevant group discussions, reading out loud and experiencing a positive feedback environment. Studies have also shown that background music can help reinforce concepts, provided it is considered calming not distracting. To that end, non-commercial noise such as instrumental music, nature sounds and other vocalizations can help students focus their attention to the task at hand.
As with the other senses, taste plays a role in learning key associations. Taste can teach us about cultural and local cuisine just as it can teach about international cuisines. Like sound, it helps us learn safe versus poisonous foods and salty versus sweet foods. It can also help in the classroom when learning about chemistry, geography, mathematics, history and so on.
In fact, one study at the University of California, Los Angeles showed that sampling foods with varying differences allowed students to apply scientific explanations to account for the changes. After the testing period, students were able to recall their experience and associate what they tasted with what they learned. Teachers can continue this learning through food stations or communal cooking that not only gives students direct practice, but encourages them to work together to achieve the desired outcome.
The sense of smell is powerful, and some studies reveal how the slightest odor can trigger a memory from years before. In fact, a study published in Neuropsychologia in 2012 showed that scent activated more parts of the brain than sight alone, indicating the strong effect scent can have on learning and overall memory. Scent can bring up negative connotations, though, so teachers should take care to introduce only relevant scents when students are engaged in learning. Incorporating nature trips can be effective in learning, not only for word/term association but for calming effects as well.
The last category is highly useful for experiential learning because it involves direct contact. Touch is a powerful sense after all, and it can release a series of emotions and memories that aid in learning. Since roughly 30 to 40 percent of people are considered tactile learners, the ability to touch while learning could be vital to their success. From building models to exploring ropes and knots, hands-on learning provides context and allows your child to reflect and engage.
The Connection with Experiential Education
In the classroom, active learning helps students recall and associate. Experiential learning follows the same process, with hands-on, direct learning that gives students the opportunity to engage and reflect on what they learned and what it means to them. Incorporating the senses in a multisensory manner activates more of the brain and allows students to develop the skills necessary to succeed.
Adventure Learning and Learning Through the Senses
Learning that takes place outside of the classroom readily incorporates the senses. From the scent of a wild rose to the sound of water splashing over a waterfall, there are numerous experiences to be had. Adventure education takes place outdoors, often in more remote areas that are distanced from city distractions. In these environments, students can gain context from an environment when they incorporate all their senses. Experiencing new material is rewarding, and it lets your child remember more material and attach more meaning than with passive absorption alone.
Find an experiential learning program that incorporates multi sensory learning. Contact us today to learn more!