Does input from multiple senses help children learn?

In yesterday’s seminar, Dr Natasha Kirkham presented her recent research on multimodal learning in primary school children. She writes:

“It is a well-receivednatasha-kirkham idea throughout the world of primary and secondary education that the more information contained in a learning situation, the easier the learning.  For example, instead of using rote repetition learning of the times tables, modern teaching can include songs, videos and even dances that support the maths content.  This has been referred to as “multimodal learning,” and it has been used as the basis for educational programs in literacy and numeracy, dealing with both typically and atypically developing children. Multimodal learning covers a lot of ground, from specific teaching technologies (smart boards) to general teaching philosophies (teaching content using different modalities at the same time). However, as intuitive as this idea seems, there has been very little research into whether multimodal learning is of any real benefit in education. In fact, our findings suggest that children’s age and the type of modalities being used (visual, auditory, touch)  must be taken into consideration. Evidence for the usefulness of multimodal cues on learning is strongest in young children (e.g. 5 to 6 years), and during incidental learning contexts. Other contexts suggest that as you get older, multiple cues are not only less useful, but can be detrimental.”

You can read more about Natasha and her team’s work on incidental learning  (ie learning which happens without specific instruction) here, here and here

You can also follow Natasha on Twitter @NatashaKirkham

For a fun play-along video which shows what our brains do when information from different senses conflict, have a look here at the McGurk effect and for a remarkable example of innovation in the face of an absent sense, enjoy this Blind baseball

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