What is Multi-Sensory Learning and How to Activate It
Education systems vary widely all over the world, but on one thing they are more or less the same. Learning usually means reading up, mugging up, and then throwing that all up on to your exam sheets so that you can pass.
That may be a good way for acquiring degrees, but not for gaining knowledge. For example, studies after studies in recent times are pointing to the fact that most of what we learn at school does not help us once we are out of it – partly because we don’t remember most of it.
Are the things that we are taught really not worth learning then? The problem is not with what we learn, but how we do it.
Ever heard of multi-sensory learning? About time you do, because this is one of the most effective ways of learning new things and retaining what we learn, and are being increasingly co-opted by classrooms around the world.
What is multi-sensory learning?
The old saying goes that no matter how well we train, we learn best on the job. That is because when we are in the middle of a situation, all our senses are employed in it and is collecting information that just rote learning can never provide us.
There are primarily four ways through which our brain can learn:
- Auditory – learning through hearing
- Visual – learning through seeing
- Tactile – learning through touch and textures
- Kinesthetic – learning through movement
Multi-sensory learning is employing all these ways as and when possible to focus on the subject you want to learn. When we simply read or listen, we make use of just one part of our brain, connected to that particular sense. When we have a mixture of input methods, different parts of our brain are activated together. The neural connections that are formed during multi-sensory learning are therefore much stronger and help you remember those lessons better.
How to activate multi-sensory learning potential
- When you look at the information, try to visualize something. It could be an image, some shape, a colour – anything. For example, imagine a certain date you need to memorize written over a blue box shape.
- Use this ancient Vedic mathematic technique for numbers: give each number from 0 to 9 a visual anchor that corresponds to each of those numbers. For example, when you say 1, imagine the moon, because there is only one moon in our known world. When you say the number 3, imagine the word Wednesday, because that is the third day of the week. Vedic maths had its own fixed set of image-correspondences but they are obsolete now. Make your own rules!
- Whenever possible, look for actual images associated with the information you are learning about. If it is a historical period, look up artifacts and images depicting that period.
- While studying, read the material aloud, to yourself or to a (willing) audience.
- Play specific musical pieces when you are studying, then after your study time is over keep playing that piece in other times. This also works if you play it during sleep.
- Repetition in itself is an important tool of learning. Repeating information aloud over and over again to yourself gives the knowledge some extra reinforcement.
- Repeating in different volume, tones, and modulations are also effective ways.
- This is especially helpful when you are learning about materials and material objects. Touching the material (whenever it is safe) will tell you several things more about it than just reading or hearing about it.
- Performing artistes like actors and dancers can experiment with different surfaces. A smooth wooden floor and a rough cement patch have very different challenges and need to be negotiated with different physical skills. This tactile training actually helps hone the performer’s overall skill.
- When learning new words or names, spell them with your finger on some part of your body like the arm or forehead.
- This pathway employs your muscle and nerve memory and is especially suited for physical activities like sports, cycling, dance, playing instruments etc.
- When you perform a movement over and over again your brain starts to turn that movement into a habit, a kind of auto-response. This is why it is said when you learn to swim/bike once, you can never forget it even if you try, because your body remembers it.
- Write out whatever you read by hand. This employs movement, visualization, and tactile sense together.
Multi-sensory learning is a revolutionary way of maximizing your learning potential. Although it has gained more and more traction in kids’ learning over the past few decades, adults rarely employ those methods. But what works for kids actually works for adult minds as well. Why not give it a try?