Multimodal Learning: What Is It and How Can You Use It to Benefit Your Students?


Multimodal Learning: What Is It and How Can You Use It to Benefit Your Students?

Teachers are champions of diversity. Every day, they stand before their classes, looking out over a sea of races, personalities, ideologies, and capabilities. And every day, these same teachers renew their commitment to extract each face from the masses and provide the individualized education that every student deserves. As teachers tear down the barriers to education, however, the range of needs that they observe in their classrooms becomes greater. Multimodal learning is an effective way for teachers to design a more inclusive learning experience and unlock all students’ potential.

What is multimodal learning?

Multimodal learning engages students with content using multiple modes, or mediums of communication. It hinges on the VARK model of learning styles, which holds that different students learn best through visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic interactions with content. Visual learners require pictures and graphics. Auditory learners need to hear content through face-to-face interactions. Students who learn best with reading/writing prefer to work with texts. Kinesthetic learners take a hands-on approach to learning. While some students demonstrate a preference for one learning style, other students perform best when working with a combination of two or more modalities.

In multimodal learning, teachers prepare a robust assortment of aids and activities to target many modalities throughout a lesson. This means supplementing content delivery with a variety of media, assessing students’ knowledge with differentiated applications of content mastery, and tailoring feedback so that it matches the content presentation and assessment as well as students’ ability to interpret the teacher’s remarks.

What are the benefits of multimodal learning?

Multimodal learning benefits students because it:

1. Engages all students in the learning process.

Teaching with one mode risks alienating students who cannot fully comprehend the content in the chosen delivery method. With multimodal learning, every student is guaranteed to have at least one of his or her learning preferences met at some point during the lesson.

2. Improves the quality of learning.

Regardless of how many or which learning styles students prefer, research has shown that learning through multiple modes of communication improves retention of the content.

3. Reflects the complexity of real-world interactions.

People rarely experience the world in one dimension; rather, they are immersed in pictures, sounds, words, and movements through almost every moment of their day. Learning that mirrors students’ experiences outside the classroom is more likely to hold meaning and relevance to students.

4. Develops students’ skills in all modes.

Similarly, students who show a tendency toward unimodal learning are not likely to experience life exclusively through the lens of that one learning style. Introducing students to all modalities prepares them for the real-life challenges they will face as they venture beyond the walls of the classroom into universities, relationships, and careers.

5. Expands the creativity of teachers and students.

In multimodal learning, teachers get to flex their creative muscles by researching and piecing together the best resources to supplement their lessons. In the absence of existing resources, some teachers even go so far as to create the media themselves. Likewise, students get to demonstrate their knowledge through thought-provoking projects that challenge them to approach problems in new ways and highlight their unique abilities.

6. Maintains novelty in the classroom.

Students need variety. Without it, learning becomes predictable and causes them to disengage from the content. Multimodal learning makes every lesson feel new and exciting because it offers increased sensory stimulation and frequent transitions.

7. Inspires cooperative learning.

When teachers focus on content delivery and assessment on individual strengths, every student has the opportunity to become an expert in the content in a unique way. Allowing students to discuss or present concepts according to their learning styles affords them the chance to reinforce their learning and gain a new perspective through peer interactions.

Ways to incorporate multimodal learning

Though it may seem like a complete paradigm shift in lesson planning, using these tips can help teachers make a seamless switch to multimodal learning.

  • Incorporate visual aids. Look for graphs, charts, artwork, diagrams, and other representations that will catch students’ eyes and make them see the content in a new light.
  • Bring in mixed media. Videos, podcasts, games, and educational technology tools can broaden students’ perceptions and enrich their understanding of class concepts.
  • Take advantage of blended learning opportunities. Teachers who are just beginning multimodal learning can ease themselves into it by continuing direct instruction in their familiar style and introducing mixed modes in the virtual realm through their learning management system.
  • Give students autonomy over their learning. In multimodal learning, the responsibility of attending to learning styles rests on the students just as much as the teachers. Choice boards give teachers built-in differentiation and encourage students to know their strengths and identify their personal paths to success.
  • Don’t overdo it. Students do not need to work with every learning style, every lesson, every day. Incorporating too many learning alternatives can overwhelm students and impede the learning process. Knowing students’ needs can help teachers find the right balance of media that is both engaging yet manageable.

Students are diverse, and the methods teachers use to engage them should be as well. Multimodal learning could be just the method teachers need to witness every student come alive and thrive in their classrooms.

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Multimodal Learning: What Is It and How Can You Use It to Benefit Your Students?

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Melisa Ferguson
Melisa is a mom, world language teacher, and self-care enthusiast.
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