Colours and lights make for a multimodal experience, just as learning should be. Picture from freeimages.com

Multimodal Learning for Restless Brains

I’m always studying something. It’s something that leads friends and family to think I’m some kind of superlearner.

Oh, I wish that were true.

Firstly, I’m always studying because I enjoy what I choose to study. And despite that fact, in many ways, my natural thinking pattern isn’t particularly conducive to long periods of close study. I get bored easily. I daydream. I’m impatient. I’m always thinking of the next exciting thing to learn, not the one I’m currently trying to grasp.

To be fair on myself, these are pretty universal human traits. Most people reading this will see a little of themselves in there, too! So how did friends and family come to think of my erring brain as a particularly effective learning machine? Largely thanks to a few tricks to get around those anti-focus tendencies. In particular, one big trick.

Multimodality

In pedagogy, multimodal usually refers to multi-sensory learning – including visual, audio, kinaesthetic aspects and so on. But the crux of it is variety, satisfying your brain’s craving for stimulation and novelty. In fact, your different modes don’t have to cover the whole spread of senses. They just need to provide an ample range of media and context to give the restless brain regular scene changes.

One thing that really helps me, for instance, is to have both a hard copy and an electronic copy of a text. I switch from one to the other, reading on multiple devices, and in multiple places. I can dip in and out, ten minutes here, ten minutes, there, and my brain doesn’t even have a chance to get bored. It’s a gem of a trick that works for course materials, reference texts and literature.

Multimodal PlanNing

To get the most out of multimodal learning, it’s best to be organised; the first step is always a plan of exactly what you want to get through.

Right now, I’m ploughing through a mountain of book chapters and papers for two linguistics assignments due soon. I know what I have to read and take notes on, and have a tick-list of the material in Evernote.

But to make sure I get through it, in spite of my natural tendencies, I ensure the material is multimodal. I have my reading in a number of formats – PDFs on my phone, tablet, laptop, hard copies in my bag , audiobooks and video summaries where possible – basically, everything, everywhere. Reading in one format and one place to start with, then picking up in a completely different modality elsewhere, really helps stymie reading fatigue.

And a nice side-effect? The range of environments helps beat the context trap, too, not tying your recall to a single backdrop.

When my essays are submitted, and I’m free to return to my language learning materials, one thing’s certain: it’s going to be multimodal!

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