Students express themselves in many different ways, through speaking, writing, illustrations, expressions, dance, memes, you name it. The same is true when it comes to learning.
Students display a variety of learning behaviors, with some favoring more traditional reading and writing practices, others preferring more visual learning cues, and some leaning towards more hands-on lessons. In recognition of this diversity, educators are increasingly tailoring lesson plans and curriculum to accommodate a wider range of learning styles. This education strategy, known as multimodal learning, combines different learning styles to create a dynamic and engaging environment for all students.
In a STEM context, multimodal learning is a highly effective strategy for getting all students on board with the subjects of STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. As we’ll see in more detail, multimodal learning leans into and even embraces the different knowledge backgrounds and learning preferences of students, giving everyone an equal learning opportunity.
What is multimodal learning?
Multimodal learning is an education strategy that aims to teach students using multiple approaches and different types of media. It should come as no surprise that the deepest learning comes when students are fully engaged in lessons. Multimodal learning takes this reality to heart, using a dynamic approach to teaching that engages students through visual, auditory, reading & writing, and kinesthetic methods. In short, multimodal learning equips teachers to meet the varied needs of students, no matter how they learn best.
How does multimodal learning fit into the VARK system?
Multimodal learning is closely tied to the VARK model, a learning theory that proposes students tend to learn best in one of four ways: using visual, auditory, reading & writing, or kinesthetic cues. We covered the topic more in-depth in our learning styles blog post, but the gist of the VARK model is that students often fall into one of four learning styles:
Visually minded students absorb information best when it is presented in a visual way. Teaching tools for visual learning include things like graphs, infographics, diagrams, maps, charts, etc.
Aural / Auditory
Students in the aural/auditory mode learn best through talking and listening. Traditional teaching approaches like lectures, presentations, and group discussions are typically a good fit for these students.
Reading / Writing
Students that fall into this VARK mode learn best through words, both read and written. Activities like reading textbooks and stories, and writing essays and reports enable these students to process and retain information.
Kinesthetic learners are tactile learners. They absorb information through hands-on activities and interactive lessons. Kinesthetic learning methods include demonstrations, experiments, simulations, and more.
Multimodal learning complements the VARK system by acknowledging that learners often exhibit a blend of sensory modalities and learning preferences, rather than strictly adhering to a single VARK category. Multimodal learning can be seen as a more flexible and inclusive approach compared to the VARK model. For example, some students can transition seamlessly between different learning styles (known as Type One Multimodality), while others benefit from multiple learning approaches being used simultaneously (Type Two Multimodality).
Overall, a multimodal approach not only engages students from each VARK mode, but it is also a good fit for naturally multimodal learners.
What are the benefits of multimodal learning?
Educators have compelling rationale for increasingly turning away from traditional lecture-style lessons, looking instead to diversify lesson plans and integrate interactive elements into the classroom. Dynamic approaches to education, such as multimodal learning, offer big benefits to students. Here are three of the most compelling reasons for implementing multimodal lessons and activities in the classroom.
Appeals to a wider range of students
Since students learn in different ways, teaching using a single teaching mode inevitably leaves certain students out. By taking a multimodal approach, no student is left behind, whether they are a visual, aural, reading and writing, or kinesthetic learner (or a blend of more than one). Multimodal teaching aims to meet students halfway, or where they are, making knowledge and skills more accessible.
Enhances knowledge comprehension and retention
In addition to appealing to a wide range of students, multimodal learning can actually help students absorb information and understand concepts on a deeper level. This is because students use more senses and engage different parts of the brain in multimodal lessons, which can help them to better understand and bridge ideas, as well as remember what they learned.
Creates a dynamic educational environment
A big benefit of taking a multimodal approach to learning is that it creates an immersive (and fun!) environment for kids to learn in. With different media and hands-on activities at their disposal, students are invited to participate in their own learning. This helps foster an inclusive and stimulating environment for all youngsters, no matter their preferred learning style(s) depending on the context, content, and their own experiences.
Examples of multimodal learning to use in a STEM lesson
With so many teaching tools and technologies available today, it’s easier than ever to build a curriculum based on multimodal learning. Educators can appeal to their students’ different learning sensibilities by integrating things like videos, computers, infographics, group discussions, and hands-on activities into their everyday lessons. Here are some multimodal learning examples from Sphero that can give STEM lessons a boost.
Ethics of Computing
This Sphero activity combines multiple learning styles to teach kids about right and wrong in a computer science context. Start by giving students a brief overview of what having a code of ethics means—through a lecture, video, or reading—and connecting it to the field of computer science.
Next, ask students to create charts for categorizing ethical computing activities and unethical ones and ask them to write down as many examples of each as they can in a few minutes. (You can also create the chart as a class.)
From there, initiate a class discussion about the various examples and why they are ethical or unethical. Finally, put the ethics of computing into action using the Sphero BOLT by programming the robot following the computing code of ethics.
BOLT Buzzer Quiz
Games are a great way to introduce multimodal learning into the classroom, as they are both highly engaging and educational. The BOLT buzzer quiz is no exception. This activity invites students to program BOLT robots with infrared lights so they can be used as game-show-style buzzers. The activity consists of first building the code for the quiz host BOLT and the buzzer BOLTs (one for each team).
This involves working as a team, reading instructions, and building visual programs on a computer. The goal is to program the buzzers to alert the host robot when they have been hit. In the quiz, the host can then ask the fastest responding team for their answer to the question. Educators can choose the quiz topic and questions to play with the programmed BOLT buzzers.
This space-themed Sphero activity combines learning about the planetary system with geometry and navigation in a fun, tactile way. Start the lesson by teaching students about the planet Mars using a documentary video, a presentation, or through text.
From there, start a discussion about the planet’s surface and topography, leading into an explanation of the X/Y coordinate plane. Using a printable gridded map of Martian terrain, ask students to note a series of landmarks and their coordinates.
From there, create a large grid on the classroom floor using tape and invite groups of students to program Sphero robots to navigate the terrain and reach specific landmarks. Students can also write a “captain’s log” to track the Sphero Mars rover’s missions and their takeaways from the activity.
These multimodal STEM activities, and many others, engage students through visual, aural, reading & writing, and kinesthetic learning. They are also designed to get students to work together, which not only helps to instill new knowledge and technical skills, but also improves social relationships and communication skills.
To learn about Sphero’s educational tools and their multimodal strengths, check out our resources for educators.