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Phuket: Learning modalities are passé

PHUKET: You might ask: How can brain-based learning help you understand and use the learning modalities?

By Jason Stanley

Monday 25 February 2013, 09:16AM

I would suggest that a better question might be: Do I still need to be concerned with the learning modalities when Active Brain Based Learning and Teaching (ABBLAT) is now available?

This article will review the shortfalls and difficulties of trying to work with and address the learning modalities. Also it will show how by incorporating ABBLAT you have all of the learning modalities covered with a lot less effort.

You will also see how it keeps all of your students engaged all of the time, not just when they are learning ‘their way’.

Effectively the learning modalities were the precursor to brain-based learning.

The theory of learning modulates is that the learner best receives, stores, and gives information through one of the sensory pathways. Of course that means that while the learner can and does use other sensory pathways, they are marginalised in the learner.

Therefore, each person is primarily a XXX type learner. The basic types are auditory, visual or kinaesthetic (physical).

Smell and taste are recognised modalities but not generally accepted as viable or popularly useful learning modalities (though cooks and chemists disagree) so have not been incorporated into the general literature or practical use.

Learning modalities came about from the initial research on learning and thinking with the left and right hemisphere of the brain that was very popular in the 1970s. It was developed and popularised throughout the 80s and 90s, and remains a dominate educational theory today.

In general terms there are three fundamental problems with the theory and classroom use of learning modalities:


The brain, and therefore the learning process, is much more complex than is suggested by these very broad categories. Current brain research clearly shows that the learning modalities, like the focus on left and right hemisphere thinking that preceded them, are not a complete understanding of how the brain learns.

The intrinsic value of the modalities theory is that it led to the understanding that different parts of the brain learn for different modalities.

Therefore to teach each modality required different and specific activities. Unfortunately the upside is outweighed by the downside. The greatest problem is that application was directed at a single path rather than integration of all systems.

By focusing on a single modality of teaching the rest of the brain and students not with the primary modality being presented were isolated and essentially abandoned.

Misleading or inaccurate

As it turns out, the basic concept of a single dominant learning style is being increasingly challenged.

Even within the area of modality research the concept of the multiple modalities individual has recently surfaced and gained popularity.

Continued neurophysiology research strongly supports the view that most people use all of their sensory methods of gathering information simultaneously in the learning process.


Cumbersome application

This is where it really counts for busy teachers.

Application not theory is most important for teachers. In the attempt to teach to the modalities, teachers were pressed to develop and execute three distinct lesson plans; one each for auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic learners. This adds a huge effort to an already overloaded workload.

The idea is to teach each type of student in the manner that they are best at learning.

In theory that sounds reasonable, even good. In practice it creates many problems.

Theory says students should learn in their dominant style. Teachers are pressed to teach that way.

Reality is classrooms are not segregated that way – they have every modality mixed together in them.

When the teaching is in one modality the rest of the class is tuned out because they are not being taught in their dominant style.

Therefore at any given moment more students are not being taught than who are being taught. Idle students quickly become management problems.

Therefore teaching to one modality causes immediate and ongoing classroom management problems.

The problems don’t stop there. It is relatively easy to build visual references for much of what is taught in school, but it is virtually impossible to develop kinaesthetic lessons for most conceptual issues.

In all my years in and around classrooms I never found or was able to develop a satisfactory method, or met a teacher that had a satisfactory method to fully incorporate kinaesthetic learning in the normal teaching environment.

Fortunately this major problem is solved with new information.

We now know that learning is not a single function process; brains learn in a matrix of multiple modalities and more.

Learners need to be taught in a manner that addresses the complexity and sophistication far greater than implied by the theory and practice of the learning modalities.

Does that mean we should abandon the approach of teaching to each modality? No! It does not mean that at all.

In order to get the most out of each learning moment we should, in fact need to, teach to all the modalities all the time.

The real good news is that the ABBLAT methodology incorporates teaching in all of the modalities, even including kinaesthetic, and more learning systems that modalities theory does not include.

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