Learning With Your Senses

What does it take to REALLY learn?

What does it take to REALLY learn?

Have you ever been asked what your learning style is? Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner? Plenty of pop quizzes on the internet will let you know where your preferences may be, and we’ve been using a 7-style inventory quiz (based on the work of Howard Gardner, Harvard) with our own students for a number of years now. 

Students can self-score and find out if they learn interpersonal (great for working with a tutor!) or intrapersonal, kinesthetic, logical/mathematical, verbal, musical, or visual-spatial. Your learning style is yet another way for both you and your teacher to get to know you and to explore different pathways to long-term learning.

Use your common sense(s)!

No matter how you feel you best learn, you might want to explore learning through your senses. You’ve heard of the big five, of course: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. 

For academic learning, some of these are more powerful than others. The sense of smell and taste aren’t likely to pop up in the classroom, but they are worth exploring when you are learning on your own. Your sense of smell, in particular, has the powerful ability to trigger memories.

Known as the Proust Effect, memories can come back to you in an instant based on a familiar scent. It turns out your olfactory (smelling) system is very close to the memory hub in the brain. You likely won’t have a chance to use this with a teacher in a classroom, but try an essential oil while you memorize vocabulary and then wear the same scent when you go into class for the assessment! 

For the sake of studying, the senses that will be the most helpful to you are sight (anything you can take in visually), hearing (anything you can take in aurally), speech (repeating information, in your own words), and manipulating information. 

“Manipulating information” doesn’t sound like a sense, does it? But we can manipulate information by physically acting it out (touch/kinesthetics), or we can manipulate information by changing it in some way to make sense of it (think flashcards, acting it out, taking awesome notes). 

The best learning happens when we use at least two of these senses, turning our learning into a multi-sensory experience. Learning a new word? Write the definition and also turn it into a visual. Or perhaps say it in a funny accent and “air write” it in the air. Maybe watch a video about the topic on YouTube, and then have your friend quiz you about it.

Pacific Learning Academy tutors attend professional development training throughout the year and recently we had the pleasure of welcoming Erin Wilson of Seattle Success Coaching. Erin spoke to us about the Study Senses and about the power of utilizing at least two senses to tackle new and reviewed information. She encouraged us to help our students brainstorm very specific ways to study. Rather than “study chapter 5 in the Biology textbook,” students should be able to identify at least two ways they will study. For example, you might say “summarize every two pages on to one sticky note” and “write a rap about thermodynamics” or “physically act out the rule of tonicity.” Your brain LOVES to experience the same information in new ways, so entertain it with ideas from the senses.

Which of these Sensing Verbs sounds like something you could apply to your own studies?

Notice how many of these verbs can be in more than one category! 

  • Sight: draw, transcribe, paint, diagram, mind map, sculpt, map, animate, record
  • Hearing: listen to a lecture, poetry, rap, rhymes, use background music
  • Speech: present, lecture, teach others, speak in a funny accent, poetry, rap, rhyming, shout
  • Manipulation: make flashcards, reorganize, summarize, teach, paraphrase, diagram, annotate

If you’re a teacher or an instructor, you might consider bringing the senses to your students’ homework or in-class activities list. If you’re a student, create an environment where you are constantly looking for new ways to excite your brain. Having “show and study tell” at the beginning of a lesson, or with parents, is an excellent way to not only experience new ways of studying but to share those with those that are eager to hear about your success. 

Happy Studying! 


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Pacific Learning Academy is a one-on-one school offering single courses and dual enrollment, as well as full-time middle and high school. Pacific Learning Academy is Washington State Approved via the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI — see listings HERE) and a nationally Accredited private school via AdvancED/Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC). High School coursework is approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). We also offer tutoring in all subjects from 6th to 12th grade, including test prep, either in-home or local libraries across the Eastside (Issaquah, Sammamish, etc…).

February 5, 2021
Pacific Learning Academy