Make Sense of Your Learning

The Learning Senses
The five senses are sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. These are our major sources for obtaining information about the world around us. However, unless you go to cooking school, the senses of smell and taste are often overlooked in the learning process. With which sensory modality do you learn best? Are you a visual learner? Auditory? Kinesthetic? These are the three senses that most schools utilize in teaching and thus have the greatest impact on our education.

The Senses in School
Traditionally, most high school and university courses are presented in a lecture format. One reason for this is because of the information explosion. Every year teachers are required to cover more and more material in the same amount of time. More often than not, creative and artistic teaching methodologies give way to the lecture format. The great thing about lecturing is that it is the most cost effective way to cover lots of information at a fast pace. The worst thing about lectures is that most students don't find them to be a great way to learn. Even auditory learners, those that may have the best chance for success in a lecturing environment, don't always succeed for any number of reasons.

Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan

Focus on Your Strengths
One of the greatest examples of focusing on your strengths is that of Helen Keller. She was deaf and blind and had to learn everything through her other senses. Her amazing teacher Annie Sullivan, deserves credit for helping Helen learn through her strengths. How would you describe the concept space and light years to someone without using the senses of sight and hearing? How about explaining concepts like beauty, fun or music? Do it yourself. Try to learn something challenging without being able to see or hear anything about it. Did Helen learn? Mark Twain was amazed at her level of knowledge. Even by the age of 16 she was "brilliantly" passing the Harvard University examinations in Latin, German, and French history. Helen Keller became brilliant by learning to focus on her sensory strengths.

Simple Definitions
Visual learners are those who tend to learn and recall information best when it is presented visually. Auditory learners learn best by hearing information. Finally, kinesthetic learners are those that learn best by using the sense of touch. The kinesthetic learning process can be a bit more involved as these learners may learn through the hands-on haptic sense in which they are actually touching things or manipulating things with their hands. They may also learn best by being actively involved in their learning. This process, of learning while in motion is more accurately classified as kinesthetic. For our purposes, we will classify both haptic and kinesthetic as senses of touch.

Learning With the VAK
A great example of how one teacher uses visual, auditory, and kinesthetic techniques depending on his students' styles is found in Hollywood . There, Robert Easton is known in as the dialect doctor and as Mr. Fix-it of Phonemes. He has cured accents and strengthened dialects for thousands of actors, including Bruce Willis, Denzel Washington, Natasha Richardson, Al Pacino, Jane Fonda and Tom Hanks. He states that people learn in three different ways.

Charlton Heston

Visual Learner

Some are very "ear minded," or auditory. They can hear something and repeat it with almost tape-recorded fidelity. Robin Williams is a great example of that. For his role in Good Will Hunting, we worked on perfecting a very subtle Boston accent. All we did was to sit together and talk. He has a phenomenal ear. Others rely on their visual competence. Charlton Heston is a wonderful example of what I call "eye mindedness." He would send me his scripts, and I'd respell his dialogue for him in a visual transliteration that we had agreed on-what we call " Easton 's Half-Assed Respelling." He learned by seeing. And some people I teach kinesthetically: I tell them exactly what to do with their mouths, when to vibrate their vocal chords and how to move their jaws to produce a particular sound.
Robin Williams (right)
Auditory Learner

Multi Modal Learners in a Multimedia World
Most likely you have a primary preference for learning material and also a secondary preference. Most often when we learn things, there is more than one sense involved. Thus it is recommended that you not just focus on your preferred learning sense but also your secondary learning sense. In school, that means that after you learn a number of techniques for learning via your primary learning preference, it may be helpful to also find out other techniques to use that would enhance your secondary preference.

To learn how to study more visually, auditorily or kinesthetically, check out our interactive hyperstory, Dr. Wiley Makes Sense.

Image Sources: (Helen Keller (left) and Annie Sullivan)

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