Multisensory Learning

People learn in many different ways. 

Some do best with verbal explanations and instructions. Others prefer reading or writing. Even in the case of hands-on experience, there are people who may lag behind. 

The mistake training and education professionals often make is that they separate people into boxes based on learning style. They assume a visual learner couldn’t possibly do well with auditory instruction, while someone who learns by doing could not thrive with reading.

While most people do have a preferred learning style, that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of absorbing information in other ways. There’s even evidence to suggest that engaging multiple senses in training can greatly improve both comprehension and retention. Multisensory learning is built on that evidence. 

What is Multisensory Learning

Multisensory learning is an approach to learning and development in which participants are encouraged to use multiple senses when engaging with the source material. The basic principle behind multisensory learning is known as cross-modal transfer, which maintains that acquiring knowledge of a subject through one sense makes it easier to acquire it through other senses. For instance, rather than simply reading about apples or listening to a teacher describe an apple, students in a multisensory classroom might each be given an apple. 

What was previously a solely visual or auditory learning experience now adds touch, taste, and smell.

Multisensory instruction is most frequently found in elementary school classrooms. This is largely because perceptual learning tends to be an important part of childhood development. Children also display greater sensory plasticity than adults, and as such experience far more significant benefits from multisensory experiences. 

That isn’t to say that multisensory learning has no place in adult education, however. One of the reasons hands-on training is so effective is because it’s a multisensory experience. It combines interactive simulations with audiovisual input to reinforce one’s understanding of its core concepts. 

Why Multisensory Learning is Important

Multisensory learning recognizes that people have different learning strengths and preferences, and endeavors to provide a learning experience in which all participants can thrive. In addition to accommodating multiple learning styles, this also helps promote greater inclusivity. A hard of hearing participant, for example, may have difficulty learning solely through audiovisual cues. 

Other benefits of multisensory learning include: 

  • It promotes active participation, which has the potential to greatly improve the success rate of your training. 
  • It tends to feel much more authentic and true to life. In the real world, people don’t just use individual senses when learning.
  • It’s widely applicable across multiple subjects and fields. In the context of childhood education, this means topics ranging from math and science to social studies and language arts. In the context of corporate learning and development, this means employee, partner and customer-facing training alike. 
  • It introduces a more practical aspect to your training. Rather than just listening to an instructor or reading words on a screen, participants have the opportunity to actually put their knowledge to the test.
  • For older participants, it can help stave off the effects of cognitive decline. 

Multisensory Learning Techniques for Corporate L&D

There are many different multisensory teaching methods. However, given that the K-12 classroom represents the largest use cases for multisensory teaching, many multisensory learning strategies are not largely applicable or effective in adult learning and development. There are still a few ideas you may want to consider incorporating into your training strategy, however: 

Role Playing

This active learning method has participants play out a scenario together, usually with the guidance of an instructor. Each participant is given a particular role to play, and may or may not receive a script to assist them in doing so. For instance, cybersecurity role play training might have one participant playing the part of a threat actor while another acts as chief security officer. 


Board games and video games are good for more than entertainment. They are multisensory experiences by design, often encouraging both active decision-making and collaboration. Adapting them for training purposes can therefore be incredibly effective.

Virtual or Augmented Reality

Although VR and AR aren’t quite the earth-shattering, world-changing innovations many initially believed them to be, they still have some very exciting real-world applications. For one, they can add an entirely new dimension to training sessions. Participants can immerse themselves in their training like never before, which in turn opens up entirely new windows for interaction and engagement. 

Collaborative Problem Solving

This is one of the oldest corporate training techniques in the book, but it’s still around because it works. Participants split into any number of equally-sized teams, and each team is given a problem that they must work together to solve. In addition to multisensory hands-on learning, this training strategy also helps promote team building. 

Interactive Sandboxes

For software training, few things can beat a hands-on virtual lab for sheer effectiveness. Participants are given the opportunity to learn and experiment within a containerized environment, engaging multiple senses as they put their practical knowledge to the test.

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