Last Updated on February 4, 2022 by Editorial Team
Kids or anybody normally use visual and auditory senses to gain knowledge. But, these are not the only two senses we have. There are senses of balance (vestibular), smell (Olfactory), Touch (tactile), and Kinesthetics (bodily movements done to attain a goal), etc. too. Due to neurological shortcomings, if the visual and auditory senses are compromised, the multisensory approach comes to the rescue and offers learners an alternative way of acquiring basic skills. To provide you with a better understanding of the utility of this approach, we discuss here the advantages, disadvantages, and examples of the multisensory approach.
Multisensory learning – an approach proved effective
In a multisensory learning approach, interventions involve drawings, stimulating materials, visual inputs, working models, and activities. Learning by reading from the book and making notes in the lecture room require complete replacement or supplementing with additional resources as per the kids’ level of grasping ability. Multisensory approach has provided the required cushion to learners with special needs. Here are a few benefits that have been established by researchers:
- Learning through multisensory ways augments all four process standards – communicating, reasoning, problem solving and establishing connections. These help in grasping concepts in an ingrained manner. In a study on Representations, Fennel & Rowan, 2001 confirmed that the use of manipulatives, both materials and virtual type, offered a suitable enabler to kids to express their math learning.
- Visual inputs like pictures, movies or videos make more relatable representation of any idea. The visual and audio combined with tactile or other approach can give a tangible presentation of a concept. Students are more likely to remember what they saw or hear than what they read. Songs and rhymes supported by animation promote deeper learning; don’t we all remember all nursery rhymes even till the end of our lives? This simple example shows longer retention of learned skills the multisensory approach offers.
- Improvement in performance levels is another benefit as well as important indicator of multisensory learning. The multimodal approach goes beyond text-books and invokes brain to learn and perceive in order to develop skills.
- Preparation for real-life scenarios is a side role but very interesting impact of multimodal way of learning. Students are acquainted with basic skills using the role plays, materials of common use and other practical methods. Thus, with multisensory approach activities, they can get closer hang of real life situations and be prepared for various occupations, vocations and other platforms of skills’ demonstration.
- Allows learning to continue even if a few senses don’t react or respond to situations helps achieve more inclusive model of education. It also improves attitude towards learning and makes information seeking behavior (Wilson’s model) more exploratory.
Examples of multisensory learning: What it looks like in practice
All the above benefits hint at an extensive use of practical approaches in learning using multisensory methods. The students feed their need to learn by using a combination of senses; the same can be exemplified as:
- Making models: Teachers may engage students in making models to direct the mind to think on practical application of the concept available in textual form.
- Learning by virtual manipulatives: While physical manipulatives give limited choices to test and try, the users can test and try several combinations on computerized simulations to deepen the learning.
- Bringing extra dimension to scene: People can learn better when they get to touch and feel in addition to listening and watching. That is why, using processes where learners can experience more deeply can make good example of multisensory learning. Tasting food to understand sweet and sour, touching object to understand rough and smooth, etc. or doing role plays to grasp stories are some demonstrations that include multimodal way of teaching.
- Collaborative learning methods: Working together with students to work on a project or prepare as a team, and including ways to enhance learning offer practical examples of multisensory approaches in education.
- Discussion and demonstrations: In order to make multisensory learning effective, one may need working back to forth. Discussing the outcomes first and the use of materials in teaching method is the first step towards multimodal ways of imparting skills. Users gain more traction in the learning process and also be clear on the use of materials when they are pulled into discussions surrounding the teaching method.
Multisensory Learning- What’s the catch?
Why multisensory learning has not replaced the conventional modes completely? Anyone can be intrigued by this question given the level of effectiveness this approach has delivered. The answer lies in the challenges people face while implementing this approach; these are:
- Requires extensive training and planning beforehand, (Smith, et, al, 2001): Easy and seamless intervention of multimodal approach needs collecting resources and materials, first of all. The teachers need extra and different kind of training to manage multisensory way of teaching. It requires a lot of additional cost, which institutes find hard to bear.
- Learners tend to stray away from the learning objective due to distractions: If not intervened properly, the methods may tilt to playfulness and may disrupt the disciplined learning process.
- Tactile and kinesthetic ways may go weaker and visual and auditory senses strengthen: Whatever learned through alternate means may prove futile, if those senses deplete over time. Thus, if learned through kinesthetics may not make sense growing old or when the movements are restricted.
- The ways of testing knowledge are not well-defined: Though learning process may be effective, but ways to test the knowledge are still in nascent stage. Thus, the multisensory ways of acquiring skills may find it hard to get recognized by the authorities. Lack of time also discourages authorities; they may not get the support of the agencies involved to implement the whole process of imparting and testing skills.
The Bottom Line
Jumping over the idea and weighing it from all angles differ in the way those yield results. Testing multisensory approaches of learning for their benefits and practical utility is important to ascertain their use, practicality, and relevance. Before making the case for multisensory approach, one has to critically evaluate all examples, benefits, and de-merits to gain confidence and clarity. Mull over the points above and find if your attempt at making academics and occupations can be beneficial for your chosen set of conditions or not.
 Representation: An Important Process for Teaching and Learning Mathematics, Journal McDaniel College, 2001
 Virtual vs. concrete manipulatives in Mathematics Teacher Education, (Hunt, et al, Current Issues in Middle Level Education, Clayton State University, 2011)