Science confirms multisensory learning enhances memory

Science confirms multisensory learning enhances memory

You might have heard the saying that people remember:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they hear and see
  • 70% of what they say
  • 90% of what they say and do.

These percentages, represented visually in D.G. Treichler’s Cone of Experience, illustrate that memory is most effective when more than one of our senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) are engaged in the learning process. While Treichler qualified that the statistics were not 100% scientific, his idea helpfully illustrates the importance of a multisensory approach to learning.

What is multisensory learning?

Multisensory refers to any teaching or revision method where more than one of the senses is engaged. Of course, more than one sense is always engaged in any of our daily experiences because our brains are always hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and seeing even when we aren’t consciously aware of it. Adopting a multisensory approach to learning, however, requires intentionally teaching and studying in a way that appeals to more than one of the learner’s senses.

Suits all learning needs and styles

Multisensory learning is not just for kinaesthetic learners who learn best when they engage their sense of touch through movement (actions and gestures), performance (doing a task themselves), or tactile stimulation (such as feeling the differences between two shapes or textures). Multisensory learning is actually the best way for parents and educators to appeal to the variety of learning styles and learning needs in the classroom and the home.

Most of us rely on one or two senses more than the others or have a preferred learning style. However, that combination is different for everybody and even though we know what works best for us doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from multisensory learning. Similarly, for students with learning difficulties such as Dyslexia and ADHD, multisensory learning encourages concentration and helps these students to understand, recall and synthesise knowledge in the way that they learn best.

#Brain #Memory

Our brains are wired for multisensory learning. Studies using fMRI, which detects blood flow within the brain, have shown that students with the strongest literacy skills are those with the greatest interactivity between different parts of the brain. This tells us that several areas of our brains are involved in the acts of moving short-term memory to long-term memory. Likewise, multiple areas of the brain are used to help us retrieve memories so that we can apply that knowledge to new situations.In a 2008 study, Shams et. al. argued that multisensory learning helps our brains to categorise knowledge and file it in several places so that it can be retrieved easily. This is similar to taking a photo and adding #Paris #Romance #EiffelTower #Croissants #Picnic to your caption. When looking for that photo, you only need the vaguest notion that it was a picture of the Eiffel Tower and that you could smell croissants. Type those tags into the search bar, and voila!

So, does that mean that I should listen to music or burn a scented candle when I’m studying?

Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Distraction and sensory overload

As every learner knows, when too many of our senses are engaged, our senses become overloaded and our ability to concentrate and remember is compromised.

A recent study by Rau Pei-Luen Patrick et. al. affirmed that we receive information using multiple senses but when a task requires one sense more than others (such as reading relying mostly on sight), too much input from other senses (such as a noisy classroom or study space) becomes distracting.

The multisensory home

Walk into any classroom and you’ll notice that several senses are involved in each learning task. There are posters on the walls, a variety of digital and paper technologies, different coloured whiteboard or smartboard markers, and students can use coloured pens and highlighters. Even in high school, students alternate between reading in silence, reading aloud, taking notes, writing essays, doing experiments, making art, drawing flow charts or mind maps, and watching videos to involve multiple senses in the learning process.

But what about the place they do their homework?

How do we eliminate distractions as well as engage multiple senses?

Rau Pei-Luen Patrick et. al. noted that while there are undeniable trends in the data, what works for one student is quite different to the next. The key is to intentionally engage several senses while learning to assist memory. Here are some ideas to try at home:

  • Light a scented candle when studying. Recalling the scent can help you to remember what you learned.
  • Most people find that lyrics are distracting, so try playing soft instrumental music or white noise instead. If you don’t like instrumentals, try listening to music with lyrics in another language so you can’t recognise the words.
  • Colour-code concepts or subjects using coloured pens, textas, highlighters, or coloured paper. For example, highlight verbs in green and adjectives in blue, metaphors in pink and similes in yellow, or write names in red and dates in blue.
  • Get creative with illustrations, diagrams and models. This can work for maths and the sciences, as well as text-based subjects like English and History. Bonus tip: use paint or chalk to enhance the textures and colours.

How can a tutor help?

At Nepean Tutoring, our tutors are perceptive and understanding, and they target their tutoring methods according to each child’s unique learning styles and needs. Our client testimonials speak for themselves. If you would like to see how a tutor can help your child’s learning, we’d love to chat to you.

D.G. Treichler, “Are you missing the boat in training aids?” Accessed online.
Pei-Luen Patrick, Rau., et. al. “Distractive effect of multimodal information in multisensory learning.” Computers & Education, vol. 144, January 2020,
Shams, Ladan., et. al. “Benefits of multisensory learning.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 12, no. 11, 2008, pp. 411-417,

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Is knowing your times tables overrated?

Is knowing your times tables overrated?

It is a common misconception that since calculators are used more often in schools and since calculators are freely accessible on our phones (and even our watches!) that learning multiplication times tables by heart is as outdated as an accountant using an abacus.

It may surprise you that knowing your times tables is still a relevant and essential skill for students to master. While times tables are taught in primary school, many students reach high school without an adequate understanding of multiplication. This unnecessarily increases the challenge of learning long division, equivalent fractions, ratios and percentages which are foundational mathematical skills used in everyday life.
Calculators are handy for checking big sums or making complex calculations but being reliant on them while learning the foundations of maths reduces a student’s ability to understand the logic behind the calculations they’re doing. Knowing their times tables by heart means that children understand the basic components of the more complex mathematical problems they will encounter. How many $1.00 cans of tomatoes can I buy for $5.00? How many ¼ cups of flour do I need to make 2 cups? If each banana weights 200g, how many bananas will I get in a kilogram?

When children know their times tables from memory, that brain space spent calculating simple multiplication is freed up to understand more complex calculations. Rote learning cops a lot of criticism, but for learning times tables repetition is the only way to go. Where rote learning falls down is when we memorise information without understanding it. However, by teaching and revising multiplication in a multitude of creative ways, repetition can be a fun and effective way to learn.

Mathematical study at home is equally as important as regular reading practise. It is essential that parents and carers spend time with their children revising these concepts to increase their children’s exposure with basic concepts which builds their confidence when tackling more complex ones in class.

So where do we start?

  1. Start where they’re at. If we bombard them with concepts they aren’t ready for or concepts they feel anxious about because they haven’t grasped simpler concepts, go back to basics and work up from there.
  2. Make it visual. Arrange pegs, LEGO, or plastic army soldiers in rows to demonstrate how 2 x 8 = 16 and 8 x 2 = 16. Once this is understood, show that 16 ÷ 2 = 8 and 16 ÷ 8 = 2. This method of physical arrangement is called an ‘array’. And it doesn’t just have to be 3D items, you can draw on paper too, but make it colourful.
  3. Regular revision. Use flash cards with the sum on one side and the answer on the other and run through a few each day. Use a deck of cards and for every two you place down, ask the student to multiply them. Say the full sum aloud each time to get all the components and patterns to stick. Play speed rounds to promote quicker recall and increase the challenge.
    If your child is struggling, the support of a tutor is incredibly valuable for helping them master mathematical ideas and grow their self-confidence. The wealth of life experience provided by parents, teachers and tutors also give students perspective on how vital mathematics is to real life and how it links to the things they’re passionate about. With enough encouragement and support, students can understand and even enjoy maths and will reap those benefits for the rest of their lives.

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Why Study Shakespeare?

Why Study Shakespeare?

February is the month of love, romance, and all things pink, red, rosey, and chocolatey. Love songs, classical poetry and cheesy greeting card rhymes abound even after Valentine’s Day is over. Here’s one you’ve probably heard of:

‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.’

Those are the opening lines to William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

There are usually two responses when you ask school students if they like Shakespeare: the majority groan at the sound of his name and tell you how boring or confusing his plays are, and a minority, usually drama students, will express delight at your question, tell you their favourite play and ask for yours.

Did you know that Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ was inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Or that ’10 Things I Hate About You’ is a modern adaption of The Taming of the Shrew? Or that ‘She’s The Man’ is a re-telling of Twelfth Night? Most primary students have never heard of Shakespeare, though they could probably tell you that Romeo and Juliet is a love story. This tells us that Shakespeare’s stories are an integral part of our society and culture, whether or not we know or like his work.

The point of studying Shakespeare, like all literature studied at school, is to teach wisdom and knowledge though experience. Fiction is experiential knowledge as opposed to theoretical textbook knowledge. You might call fiction ‘heart knowledge’ compared to a textbook’s ‘head knowledge’. That’s not to say that textbooks aren’t helpful, but their purpose is informative compared to immersive.

Fiction, whether that be novels, plays, or films, develops our sense of empathy and our understanding of times, cultures and experiences which are not our own. As young adult novelist John Green said, ‘reading is always an act of empathy. It’s always an imagining of what it’s like to be someone else.’ To follow a plot, we necessarily have to imagine how character’s feel and understand why they do what they do. We learn to like or dislike characters by trying to empathise with them.

Fiction forces us to experience the lives of others, to encounter people and situations that we might never experience. When we read, we bring our own experiences to these new encounters and gain wisdom for how to deal with, or how not to deal with situations and people. Shakespeare’s tragic heroes and villains are a great example of what happens when we let pride or jealousy get the better of us or when we don’t surround ourselves with wise counsel.

Sure, Elizabethan verse can be hard to decode without Sparknotes, but once you become more familiar with the language, you’ll quickly understand how funny, compelling and thought-provoking his plays were and why they have come to be part of school syllabi around the world. To start, you might find it helpful to search a Royal Shakespeare Company production on YouTube or watch a movie adaptation to get your head around the story before diving into the original text. For younger students, Andrew Matthews’ A Shakespeare Story books are great chapter-book style summaries of Shakespeare’s more well-known dramas.
It takes practice to understand literary texts and often a guide can be helpful. Nepean Tutoring boasts a host of experienced English tutors who have worked with students of all ages, and across HSC and IB programmes.

To build your child’s confidence and literary analysis skills, look no further than the enthusiastic tutors at Nepean Tutoring. If you have any questions, simply Contact Us and we’ll take care of the rest.

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