Multi-sensory learning refers to using more than one sensory modalities for learning. The sensory modalities at play during learning are auditory, visual and sensory-motor. Sensory motor can be further divided into fine-motor and gross motor. Many forms of instruction use more than one modalities.

Why Multi-sensory instruction is important?

Imagine memory as a book shelf. Are you going to find a book quickly if you have randomly placed the books? You can sort the books according to the subjects and reserve a shelf for each subject. By arranging the books in alphabetic order, you are increasing the organization.Such an organization is increasing the possibility of finding a book.

The same is true for learning. Creating more pathways to the information, you are increases the chances of retrieving the specific memory later. Thus, multi-sensory learning approach intents to create more number of pathways to the information learned. The pathways are the sensory modalities. Let’s consider learning a how to spell a word. When the student looks at the word, he is only creating one visual pathway. When, reading the word aloud, he is creating an auditory pathway by hearing the word, and sensory motor pathway by using the muscles of his mouth to sound the word. By writing the word, he is creating a second visual pathway and sensory motor by getting the tactile feeling of the written word. The more ways we experience the word the more pathways we create and the more likelihood for remembering the word.

The purpose behind multi-sensory approach is to give student more experiences of what he is learning. Enabling the student to learn and retrieve the information with ease.

How to determine the learning style of the student

Learning style refers to the different ways of learning: visual, auditory, or sensory-motor. Most students use more than one modalities for learning. They might show affinity towards a characteristic of all three learning styles.

Visual Learners: learn through seeing

  • Benefit from diagrams, handouts, illustrations, maps, etc.
  • Aware of the body language, facial expressions of others
  • Take notes during lectures or readings
  • Doodle while listening
  • Follow written directions better than oral ones
  • Close their eyes when memorizing or remembering
  • Prefer watching television, movies, and video games
  • Enjoy jigsaw puzzles
  • Vivid imagination

Auditory Learners: learn through listening

  • Benefit from discussions, lectures, talking through ideas
  • Remembers dialog, jingles, or lyrics easily
  • Talks out loud when problem solving or mumbles when reading
  • Prefer listening to CD’s, tapes, or the radio
  • Follows oral directions easily
  • Likes to talk on the phone

Sensory-motor Learners: learn through moving and touching

  • Enjoys working with tools
  • Bears down hard on writing implements
  • Likes to touch or feel textures of things
  • Fidgets
  • Difficulty following oral directions
  • Prefers sports, active games, or making things
  • Enjoys jigsaw puzzles and mazes
  • Counts on fingers or writes in the air
  • Comfortable with personal contact (hugging, handshakes, etc.)

Some people say that they find it easy to learn when information when presented visual form than when presented orally. This person may be possessing visual learning skills. There are also people who say they are bad at map reading. These people may be auditory learners, who benefit from oral instructions than when presented in a visual form. The fact is that these groups of people who show preference to a sensory modality can improve their respective ways of learning by accompanying the another modality into learning. For example, a visual learner can improve his learning and retrieving capability when combined with spoken explanation.

Though the relative strength for people vary from one modality to another. There are students who show marked difference in their learning capability through a sensory modality. For example children with dyslexia, show difficulties in language in the written form. Students with auditory processing disorders will show difficulties in handling oral instructions. Therefore these students show a significant lack their ability to learn through one or more sensory modalities.

If a child is having a specific learning disability, it is important for their teacher to be aware of the types instruction that is challenging for the child. This will help the teacher choose or modify the ways of instruction that suits for her. Once you find out ways to teach using multi-sensory instruction, you will come up with more ideas to better teach your individual student. With time, the student will be able  to find out her own ways to learn. You are opening up the door to learning, she will walk through the door and open many more.


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