Even the most confident educational leaders can find themselves asking the same questions, over and over.
Are students listening?
Are they engaged?
Are they learning the way they should?
All kids learn differently, and sometimes it can feel nearly impossible to find a curriculum or plan that works for an entire school. That’s where multimodal learning comes in.
Most schools see hundreds of students every day — and they all have different learning styles. One student might need as many visuals as possible, while another would swap a picture for a verbal explanation in a heartbeat. Other students need information in multiple formats for concepts to stick. This is why a multimodal approach to education is best.
Wondering what that looks like? Keep reading.
We’ll take you through the principles and best practices of multimodal learning, digging into:
- Multimodal learning definition
- Importance of multimodal learning
- Multimodal learning strategies
- 5 Guidelines for creating a multimodal learning environment
- 5 Examples of multimodal learning activities for the classroom
We’ll also include a condensed and printable list of multimodal learning strategies and guidelines for your desk!
What is multimodal learning?
Multimodal learning in education means teaching concepts using multiple modes.
Modes are channels of information, or anything that communicates meaning in some way, including:
- Writing and print
- Facial expressions
And much more!
Modes are experienced in different ways by each of the senses — usually visual, auditory or tactile. They often interact with each other, creating a dynamic learning experience. For instance, an educational video might include speech, images, music and text — all of which can enhance a student’s learning experience.
Teachers should combine two or more multimodal learning modes to provide a well-rounded educational experience. Since school environments have diverse student populations with a wide variety of learning styles, a multimodal approach helps each student achieve academic success in their own way.
To properly implement multimodal learning, you first need to understand learning styles.
What are learning styles?
Learning styles group together different ways individuals prefer to learn. They categorize people based on their “style” of learning, or the way they learn best. Every individual has a unique learning preference that falls into one, some or all of these categories.
Consider this scenario:
Imagine someone is explaining a new concept to you, and you’re having trouble understanding them.
What will help you understand the best — is it:
- Seeing a diagram or illustration about the concept?
- The person repeating themselves, or explaining things verbally in further detail?
- Seeing a written explanation?
- Connecting the concept to a real-life example?
Think about your answer to this question, then consider what your friends or family would pick. Are the answers different?
Many people have different answers and some might wish to choose a combination of them. This is the concept of learning styles, at its core.
The VARK model of learning
The subsections of the VARK model are:
- Visual — these people learn best by seeing, responding to visual cues like images, graphs or charts. They might be distracted by seeing things outside.
- Aural — these people learn best by hearing, responding to auditory cues like verbal instruction, discussions or songs. They might be distracted by outside noises.
- Read/Write — this is sometimes listed as a subsection of the visual category, but the VARK model puts it in its own category. These people learn best by reading and writing, responding to written cues like lecture notes, books and cue cards. They might be distracted by poorly worded text, or text that doesn’t match speech.
- Kinesthetic — these people learn best by doing, responding to tactile cues like movement, actions and real-life examples. They might be distracted by uncomfortable seats or room temperatures.
The multimodal learning style
Some people strongly prefer one of the four learning types. But many others have a shared preference among two or more types, making them multimodal learners.
Multimodal learners have a near-equal preference for different learning modes and can receive input from any of these modes. Some multimodal learners, however, are different and require multiple inputs to learn.
A multimodal learning style works most effectively with many communication inputs, or modes. A multimodal learner will thrive in a comprehensive learning environment that uses visual, auditory and kinesthetic inputs — both verbal and non-verbal — including videos, images, actions, real-life examples and hands-on activities.
Why is multimodal learning important?
Students come to school with a wide variety of learning styles. As such, the ideal educational experience should represent all modes and support each of these styles.
Multimodality supports a universal design for learning by communicating concepts in the most effective ways and making sure everyone gets exactly what they need. For instance, having:
- Both text and audio supports reading and hearing
- Images and animation can help focus attention
- Examples can aid understanding
Multimodal learning can also benefit children and improve abilities. Research from Cisco found students who were given a combination of text and visuals learned better than those who only received text inputs. Compared to the more rigid unimodal learning you might picture when you think of traditional classroom settings, multimodal learning is more effective at teaching.
Similarly, a study on English language learners found improvements in student writing abilities when they used multimodal learning strategies. Another study found most students prefer to have visual inputs involved in lessons, rather than text alone.
Most interactions are multimodal. There are very few occasions where someone communicates using just one mode, so teaching children should be the same. Using one mode to teach — for example, reading from a textbook — doesn’t stimulate students’ minds or prepare them for real world situations.
Multimodal learning strategies
You know it’s important, but how can you support multimodal learning at your school?
To come up with useful multimodal learning strategies, it’s best to look at strategies for each learning style.
The chart below outlines strategies for educators to support each learning style. It also includes studying strategies for students, often referred to as SWOT, or “study without tears.”
Strategies for each learning style
|Teaching strategies for this style||
SWOT strategies for students
|Aural / Auditory||
|Read / Write||
|Kinesthetic / Tactile||
Multimodal learning strategies
Since the multimodal learning style involves a combination of learning modalities, multimodal learning strategies require strategies from each style. Multimodal learning incorporates multimedia and uses different strategies at once. An ideal multimodal learning environment would incorporate as many of the above strategies as possible.
Let’s look at an example of using multimodal strategies in the classroom.
To help students understand textbook material, a teacher might assign the reading and then give a lecture using a multimedia presentation, including videos and images. Then, they may plan an in-class activity to give real-life perspective and let students engage with the content in more concrete ways.
In this scenario, teachers are simultaneously exposing students to strategies from each learning style! Doing this gives students a well-rounded representation of course material for all learning needs.
5 Guidelines for a multimodal learning environment
Multimodal learning environments support the need for differentiated instruction, considering all learning needs and helping every student succeed.
Follow these five classroom guidelines to create a multimodal learning environment at your school.
1. Use multimodal texts
Multimodal texts are forms of communication that use a variety of modes. They’re seen in multimedia — a form of content delivery that strategically involves words, visuals, sounds and other components to enrich learners.
For example, a video shown in class should involve captions, images, narration, music and examples to be multimodal.
Students today regularly interact with many different forms of text, so educators should reflect this in their classroom lessons.
As another example, instead of leaning on more traditional, lecture-style math lessons, teachers can use math puzzles to help teach the same concept. The puzzle would be a form of multimodal text that provides interaction and visual stimulation.
Multimodal texts in the classroom could include many other things that contribute to a full learning experience, such as:
- Visual worksheets
- Interactive learning
- Online learning
Communication aids, such as PECS, are another useful form of multimodal text that let students practice different methods of communication. Traditionally, teachers use PECS to target those with communication difficulties, but they can be beneficial to all students.
2. Reduce overload
Multimodal learning involves interaction with many different inputs at once. If the teacher doesn’t properly organize the output, students can reach overload, becoming overwhelmed, overstimulated and, ultimately, disengaged in class.
To combat this, multimodal learning plans should be organized and strategic. Multimedia in learning must provide enough stimulation to foster a positive learning environment, but not so much that it overwhelms students. Include every mode, but make sure placement, timing and implementation is thoughtful and considerate of students’ learning.
The best ways to reduce overload are:
- Consider timing and spacing of multimodal texts — Present words and pictures that describe the same concept close to each other and at the same time. This reduces confusion and ensures students can process both forms of input simultaneously, interpreting meaning from the combined sources.
- Limit distractions — Take steps to limit unnecessary outside input so students can focus on the important things. Reduce outside noise and visuals, ensure comfortable seating and avoid strong lighting or smells.
- Take frequent breaks— Give students brain breaks every 20 minutes, where they’ll get up and move around with a fun activity to recharge the brain and regain focus.
- Change activities often — A multimodal activity should engage your students, but doing the same activity for too long can get stale. Make sure to switch between different learning formats to keep students interested.
- Find a good balance — Using multiple modes doesn’t mean including everything you possibly can. Inputs that are too busy can become overwhelming for students, so choose a few key components for each mode to keep things simple.
3. Support digital learning opportunities
In today’s society, learning should reflect new digital modes that are used in the real world. Incorporating technology into learning helps teachers and students keep up with an ever-changing landscape of communication, and stimulates multiple senses at once.
Digital platforms are constantly gaining popularity among youth — and very young children are no exception. A 2018 study on children’s media devices in the United States found nearly 40% of American children owned their own smartphones.
New technologies mean new modes of communication for students to adapt to, and educators should include these modes to prepare students for careers in an increasingly digital landscape.
Another study on student engagement and multimodal learning showed student engagement is the biggest motivator for adding educational technologies to the classroom. Technological modes are familiar and engaging to children.
Students are excited about technology and want to use it, so digital learning opportunities are necessary for a well-rounded multimodal learning environment. Some of those ways can include game-based learning, online research, tests, assignments and much more.
4. Offer multimodal assignments
When teaching is multimodal, assignments and assessments should be, too. The best way to create a positive school culture that encourages two-way communication is to encourage students to use multiple modes in their assignments.
Good multimodal learning is interactive and puts student involvement first — i.e., learning relies on how students react to the material they learn.
To do this, create dynamic assignments that give students freedom to express their understanding of concepts in many creative ways.
Multimodal assignments — e.g., guided activities, group projects, reflection exercises, presentations and tests — get students using multiple modes of communication so they can positively exercise their individual learning styles.
5. Provide multimodal feedback
If teaching and assignments are multimodal, feedback should be too.
To give effective multimodal feedback, you should consider two things:
- What is being assessed?
- How are you giving feedback?
When students are free to express their ideas in dynamic ways, criteria for grading should reflect these methods of delivery. The understanding, expression, and use of multimodality should all be part of the grading process. Clear guidelines of expectations on the use of multimedia should be outlined to students in their assignment rubrics.
The feedback process should also reflect multimodality and learning differences. For example, giving a visual learner traditional number grades and written statements won’t have the same impact as visual feedback would.
Although teachers traditionally offer feedback in printed forms, they should also use multimodal formats to reach every student and encourage two-way dialogue.
5 Examples of multimodal learning activities
Now that you know the basics, get inspired by these five examples of multimodal learning in the classroom.
This collaborative learning strategy improves student understanding of material, cooperation with classmates and expression of ideas. It’s also a great method for conducting formative assessments.
Think-pair-share follows three simple steps:
- Think — students take time to think about the lesson material individually.
- Pair — students pair up to discuss their ideas and findings with each other.
- Share — each pair shares their thoughts with the class and answers questions from classmates.
Pair students with similar learning styles or put different styles together for more compelling conversations and learning opportunities.
2. Case-based learning
Use real-life scenarios to introduce or supplement lessons and make relevant connections to school curriculum.
Case-based learning means lessons revolve around actual case studies. Students read, hear or see real examples that relate to the concepts they’re learning in class. Teachers facilitate class discussions about these cases and ensure students are making important connections. To take learning even further, teachers can also assign questions or projects about the cases.
This method gives concrete evidence that the things learned in class are actually useful and meaningful in the real world, motivating students to learn more.
3. Personalized journal entries
Journal entries are a tried-and-true reflection exercise, where students can put class material into their own words and think about what they’ve learned.
Turn journal entries into a multimodal activity by making them personalized. Let students complete entries in a way that helps them express their thoughts best. This could include written entries, charts, illustrations, videos, podcasts or example stories.
4. Educational games
Almost all games naturally use many modes at once — words, images, colors, shapes, speech, movement and more. Plus, kids can’t get enough of them. Students have so much fun playing games that they often don’t realize they’re learning at the same time!
Teachers can bring many different games to their classrooms to help students learn and practice relevant skills. For example, after a traditional multiplication lesson, classes can play multiplication games for a fun, multimodal experience that solidifies learning.
Digital game platforms like Prodigy are another great option for classrooms, adding an extra mode to the learning experience: technology.
Prodigy is a no-cost, adaptive math platform that lets students from 1st to 8th grade practice curriculum-aligned math in an engaging, multimodal format.
Used by more than a million teachers and 50 million students around the world, this interactive game provides written questions, visual representations, adaptive feedback, help technology and collaboration– incorporating many different communication modes into one highly engaging math activity.
5. Multimedia research projects
Encourage multimodal research with projects that require various sources and modes.
New forms of media are growing in popularity, giving students many avenues to find information. Multimedia research projects require students to find information from different media sources, both traditionally and digitally.
Assign research projects where students must reference at least three different media sources. This can include books, digital libraries, news clips, podcasts and online articles.
Then, have students create multimodal presentations of research findings, in whatever format they choose.
Downloadable list of multimodal learning strategies and guidelines
Fill out the form below to download and print a simplified list of multimodal learning strategies to keep at your desk!
Final thoughts on multimodal learning
When educational environments are optimized for multimodal learning, every student has the opportunity to learn and grow in their own way. Everyday life is filled with multimodal inputs, and the best teaching methods should reflect this variety.
Remember: every student learns differently. So, a multimodal approach must provide the most relevant and effective modes of communication and options for expression.
Use the above strategies and examples to create a well-rounded multimodal environment at your school. Doing so will help every student reach their highest potential.
Looking for more multimodal learning opportunities at your school? Try Prodigy — the zero-cost, curriculum-aligned math platform used by more than a million teachers and school leaders across 100,000 buildings.
School leaders can use Prodigy to:
- Gauge student preparation for standardized testing
- Inform teacher instruction to drive student achievement
- Pinpoint students’ working grade levels and their levels on key strands
See your building’s users! 👇