By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School-based Psychologist
Does your child’s full immersion of educational technology products offered in schools, classrooms and at home generate improved learning outcomes? Data has long supported the notion that instruction delivered in a multisensory format can increase the speed and/or turbocharge they way in which students learn new material. This article is written to support parents who are looking for a healthy balance between full immersion in technology products to taking a more minimalist approach.
Parents may be interested in learning that research into the process of how the mind stores and remembers information shows that exposure to materials from a multisensory approach can result in “superior recognition of objects compared to unisensory [monosensory] exposure.” In layman’s terms, multisensory teaching and learning involves tapping into and interacting with the student’s five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. When students must utilize all of the sensing organs associated with each sense and send information to the brain to help them understand and perceive the world around them; a larger portion of their brain reserves is activated leading to an dramatic escalation of the learning process.
What is Multisensory Learning?
What is multisensory learning? Educators define multisensory learning as a technique “also known as VAKT (visual-auditory-kinesthetic- tactile) [that] implies that students learn best when information is presented in different modalities. Please see Mercer and Mercer (1993) as cited by Moustafa for additional information. But does the offering of instruction in multimodal formats offer the same benefits exponentially ? Some researchers would answer, “yes.” There have been a number of studies finding that multimodal and/or multimedia learning greatly increases the retention of course material.
Advantages of Multisensory Learning
Parents may ask, what are the advantages of multisensory learning? Scientists with expertise in neuroimaging of the brain have found that “multisensory exposure enables stimuli to be encoded into multisensory representations and, thus, will later activate a larger network of brain areas than those invoked after unisensory encoding.” This finding could be interpreted to mean that when students are encouraged to learn from classroom materials presented that engages many of their five senses, a larger more vast area of their brains are forced to engage, and in the process, an enhancement of learning takes place, more so that when a unisensory teaching approach is implemented.
What is Multimodal Learning?
Parents may wonder, what is multimodal learning? Research published by the Inside Higher Education blog defines multimodal learning as “the learning [that] occurs when learners encode into their memory using both visual and auditory information.” Once again, building upon the early concept of multisensory learning, an example of multimodal learning would take place as students “listen to an instructor discuss research [auditory sense] and watch [visual sense] the instructor display the result of the research on the board, ” and I would add, take handwritten notes or type notes on the keyboard [tactile sense].
Recent studies undertaken by the Research Institute of America found that online or e-learning can enhance the retention of information be 25 to 60% in comparison to to retention rates of 8 to 10% based upon traditional modes of teaching. It is unclear at this time whether the researchers included within their methodologies face-to-face coupled with e-learning or e-learning (digital platforms) alone.
The multimodal theory of instruction came about because it recognized that “learners represent different generations, different personality types, and different learning styles, teachers and instructional designers should seek to use multiple approaches including face-to-face methods and online technologies that address the learning needs of a wide spectrum of students. ” Please see Summer 2009 issue of Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology for additional information.
Kid tech immersion: Teacher views
Teachers have observed, according to a Pew Research Center study, that students are more inclined to help one another when they are using technology in the classroom. According to the same study, 92% of the teacher respondents said that the internet has improved and increased their access to content, resources and materials.
Kid tech immersion: Student views
What do children, kids, and young adults think about full immersion of educational technology and technology integration in the classrooms as an effective method of teaching and learning? A CompTIA study reported that about nine of 10 students surveyed indicated that their use of educational technology products and services while in class helps them prepare for the digital future.
Kid tech immersion: Parent views
Your child’s educational technology immersion or technology integration into the classroom and home may not automatically lead to increased rates and levels of learning. This challenge was identified by many educators, teachers, professors and administrators. Such that, a blended instructional modal was introduced in the early 2000s.
Disadvantages of Multimodal Learning
Critics of multimodal use of educational technology products in the classroom according to the Institute of Higher Learning, “argue that they are distracting to everyone involved and can lead to worse classroom performance.” Some of negative aspects of full immersion of educational technology in the classroom has been:
- Students are forced to multi-task: watch the instructor (visual), listen (auditory senses), comprehend (brain encoding and decoding), take notes (tactile senses) which lower their effectiveness;
- Students may experience shorter attention spans than prior generations;
- Students perform at up to one half grade lower when cellphones are permitted for use in the class; and
- Students perform better on tests and exams when they take handwritten notes, rather than when they attempt to take notes using their computer keyboard.
Mixed Mode, Blended Learning and Hybrid Learning
In theory, multimodal learning as an outgrowth of multisensory learning has its benefits. However, in practice, particularly as it relates to the distractions it presents and the level of multi-tasking required by students engaged in an active classroom environment, a mixed mode, blended learning or hybrid learning format may hold the most promise. In fact, educators have looked to blended learning as an effective instructional strategy that involves the “practice of using online services and educational technology products combined with in-person learning and face to face instruction when teaching students.
In fact, blended models may represent the best model for which to provided individualized and differentiated instruction to students at home and in school. Blended learning may serve as the best instructional delivery approach used by parents and educators alike that incorporates different instructional methods to teach students. These methods may include traditional classroom and/or home school settings, independent study courses, virtual learning , and/or online e-learning derived from a digital online platform.
Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowledge.com is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com
Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students, U.S. Department of Education, on the internet at www2.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdTech/effectsstudents.html.
K. Purcell, How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms, Pew Research Center, February 28, 2013.
Luriia, A.R. (1987) The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About a
Vast Memory. Harvard University Press
Moustafa, Brenda, Multisensory Approach and Learning Styles Theory in Elementary School. Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED432388.pdf
Richmond, A. and Troisi, J., “Technology in the Classroom: What the Research Tells Us, The Institute of Higher Learning,” December 12, 2018.
The ABCs of Technology in the Classroom: A Lesson From CompTIA Research, CompTIA, August 31, 2015.
Trends from SITT 2020: Part 4 of 5 Multimodal Multitasking, University of California- Davis, November 5, 2020.
Shams, L. and Seitz, A. “The Benefits of Multisensory Learning,” Trends in Cognitive Science, Vol. 12, No. 11.