Sensory Theory by Laird (1985)
Originally published on Feb 24 2021, Last updated on May 6 2021
Effective learning takes place when all the senses are stimulated. Laird (1985) stated that for learning to occur the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste need to be stimulated. The theory suggests that if multi-senses are stimulated there is a greater chance of learning to take place. Therefore, it is suggested to adapt your approaches and resources to the use of as many senses as possible for learners to relate to the concept being discussed in a learning environment.
In his theory Laird quotes research that found out about the majority of our knowledge that is being held by adults; 75% is learned through seeing. Followed by hearing which is effective 13% of the time and later by other senses including touch, smell and taste which accounts for 12% of the time. Learning can be enhanced through stimulation of senses, most importantly the visual sense. The use of stimulations through visuals, colour, sound and the use of other techniques provides the learners with a sensory learning experience that is more engaging, easy to remember and recall.
Our Sensory System and multi-sensory teaching strategies
We as learners and individuals experience the world through our sensory system that enables us to interpret what’s there in our environment and how our body reacts and functions according to it. Multisensory teaching techniques are strategies to stimulate learning by engaging learners on many levels. They encourage learners to use some or all of their senses to gather information about a task and link it to ideas they can understand. Learn problem-solving tasks and understand the relationship between concepts.
It means working and learning through more than one sense when learners face difficulties in one or more areas of reading, spelling, writing, listening, comprehension and use of expressive language. Multisensory techniques enable students to use their personal areas of strength to help them learn.
The 5 main senses are;
- Touch - Tactile: It has receptors that lie in our skin and tells the person when it is being touched or when it touches something. Here the discriminating sense describes how a person shall react to an alarming sense. The reflective action that should take place that also conveys pain and releases emotional reactions. People who have a reduced tactile sense react negatively when touched by others without being aware. Such learners also hesitate to participate in class, maintaining healthy contact with other learners and have trouble concentrating with poor motorical skills. Tactile teaching methods such as sand trays, textured objects, finger paints and modelling materials and sculpting materials can be used as useful techniques to learn differently.
- Sound - Auditory: This sense of hearing has the ability to interpret sound by detecting vibrations and affects the nervous system. The vibrations stimulate nerves and create signals of information, the sound signal is transmitted along the nerve to the part of the brain that enables hearing sound. This way the nervous system and hearing works together. A person who has a well-modulated auditory system will be able to detect noise in a way that’s quite normal but a person who is hypersensitive to sound will be distressed by loud noises and has the tendency to get annoyed easily. By applying Multisensory teaching strategies, auditory techniques such as books on tape, peer-assisted reading and video or film with audio support may be utilised.
- Sight - Visual: The visual sense of sight makes it easier to see and interpret the surroundings by processing the information visible to us. Our vision is one of the most important senses that help us in making assumptions based on what we see and conclusions based on our previous experiences. To stimulate visual reasoning and learning, using text and/or pictures, projection screens, flashcards or posers. Graphic organisers and colour for highlighting and organising are some visual teaching methods that can be used.
- Taste - Gustatory: It is the perception of chemicals in our food or our air. The sense of taste and smell are combined to enhance the perception of what we eat, the sensory cells in our taste buds stimulate and send signals to cranial nerves to the brain. And from here the impulses are sent to make us conscious about the taste.
- Smell - Olfactory: It quickly stimulates the limbic system which regulates the functions of breathing and blood pressure in our brain. It highly affects our emotional reactions and emotions of fear and anger. The smell is highly associated with our memory and learning abilities. It can also wake a person from sleep if the association is very clear.
Adding to the senses, there are two other powerful senses; Vestibular sense of movement and balance that provides information of the position of head and body with the earth’s surface and the Proprioception sense of joint and muscle that provides information about the placement of the body parts and what they are doing. Using kinaesthetic methods that involve motor movements, games involving jumping rope or clapping hands while adding songs related to concepts are some strategies suited to improve learning.
Moreover, the strategies behind Multisensory learning are supported by Garner’s theory of multiple intelligences that states the traditional notions of learning and intelligence are too limited and Gardner proposes that people can have proficiencies in different kinds of intelligence. Teaching students in a way that matches their intellectual strengths and enable them to grasp all subjects.
Our sensory system of information affects the ability to modulate sensory information that makes us able to adjust to circumstances. Sensory information also relates to a person’s state of alertness and influences emotional interaction to stimulate our learning ability and practical system of our senses. Using multi-sensory activities to teach reading skills can help engage students in your lessons, particularly if you’re teaching struggling or reluctant readers.