Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Albert Einstein (1879–1955)
German theoretical physicist

Often we have heard or seen the comparison between the purely audio, i.e. the teacher talking or giving a lecture; the visual (reading, images etc.), and the audio-visual. In one sense, it is true that the greater the number of channels employed, the more effective the learning will be. However, this rule is not absolute. In a group situation the multiple-channel approach is often the most efficient because there will be a mixture of different types of learners.  We can differentiate the types of learning in terms of our senses.

  • Visual
  • Audio
  • Kinaesthetic (by sense of touching, mainly your hand but also the rest of your body)
  • Olfactory (by sense of smelling, i.e. your nose)
  • Gustatory (by the sense of your tasting, i.e. your tongue)

Each of us has one sense that is more developed than the others. You can find out yours by using the questionnaire. If you know your strongest sense and develop a learning programme accordingly you will be better able to memorise or learn new skills.

However, one sense or channel of information reinforces another. Even if you have discovered your strongest sense, that doesn’t mean that it is the only one. It has been shown that the use of multiple channels reinforces the learning effect. The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning by Richard E. Mayer (2001) claims that auditive and visual components are saved differently in our working memory. Nevertheless, there is only limited capacity for both (Cognitive Load Theory). Accordingly, the best way of learning is to focus and select both — auditive and visual — in a coherent way and connect as well as integrate it into already acquired knowledge.

Consequently, you should incorporate the following principles in your teaching and in your teaching materials:

  • Combine text and images — side by side (not one after the other)
  • You can add audio-visuals but it’s even better to use audio-visuals as an alternative to text and images.
  • Irrelevant information reduces the learning effect. So, for example skip images in your PowerPoint, which don’t reinforce the message.
  • Well-designed materials help a lot — especially for beginners. Advanced learners can compensate for the lack of visual help by drawing on their previous knowledge.

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