Trying to learn something new? A recent study conducted by researchers at Boston University and UCLA reveals that combining audio and visual information enhances learning and performance.
Their results suggest new techniques for adult learning, and challenge previous conceptions about interactions between the senses during learning.
The experiment focused on a multi-sensory training program. Study participants were briefly shown a series of screens. These screens contained moving dots, displayed for less than a second. On about half the screens, the movement of the dots was entirely random.
On the other screens, a few dots were moving in a coherent pattern to the left or right, hidden by the random movement from the other dots. Researchers asked participants to identify on which screen the dots were moving in a particular direction, and in what direction the dots were moving.
One group of participants was shown just the visual components, while the other group also heard a sound effect, coordinated with the movement of the dots.
The participants trained over a period of 10 days, learning to more quickly and accurately identify the patterns. The results were startling. Those who were trained with both the visuals and the sound learned far more quickly, achieving near peak performance by their third day of training. Individuals who learned with just the visual component did not reach this level, even by their 10th day of training.
These results were surprising to neuroscientists, who have long believed that the five senses operate for the most part independently. In addition, this particular visual task is linked to early-age brain development, and was thought to be extremely difficult for adults to master.
Now, new research is increasingly showing that interaction between the senses is a common part of how the brain processes information. And with the right method of training, it may be possible for adults to learn new skills that were previously thought too difficult to learn after a certain age.
Old Dogs, New Tricks?
These fascinating results demonstrate that if you can create the right type of learning program, you just might be able to teach some new tricks to older learners. That's great news for adults who are trying to develop a new skill or knowledge base.
Whether you want to learn a new language, expand your knowledge of current technologies, or enhance your skill set on the job, a multimedia learning program might make your task easier.
That goes for the kids, too. Other studies have demonstrated the benefits of multimedia learning programs when it comes to educational material. In fact, it's been shown that students who only hear new information tend to recall about 25 percent of it, while students who both hear and see the learning material remember 50 percent. Students who hear, see, and interact with the information recall 75 percent.
If you need to learn a new skill or knowledge base, or your child is struggling with a particular subject in school, you should consider a multimedia learning program. It might make learning just a little easier and more enjoyable.
Make it Work for You
What exactly is a multimedia learning program?
In general, it's the use of several types of media to convey information. The most common type of multimedia learning program combines visual and auditory information. A video is one example of this concept. A lecture accompanied by slides is another.
A full multimedia program might utilize many different types of media, such as video, narration, printed text, music, sound effects, charts and diagrams, and animations. Sometimes multimedia programs also include interactive aspects, like puzzles, games, or quizzes.
There are programs available for a wide variety of subjects. For kids, there are multimedia curricula in history, science, geography, math, and more. For example, programs from MultiMediaLearning.org teach history through a series of PowerPoint presentations, combining artwork, cartoons, video, audio, maps, and charts.
Or for high school and college learners, there are programs in biology -- a subject many people find difficult (some examples can be found here). These interactive teaching programs from BioMEDIA include video animations, microscope footage, lectures, and text.
One of the most common uses of multimedia learning is language instruction. Many people have been successful at learning new languages, even in their later years, by immersing themselves in multimedia programs. A great example is the Magnum Language System from LanguageResourceOnline.com, which offers learning programs for 38 languages.
Of course, these are just a few representative samples. There's a whole world of multimedia, interactive learning programs out there. There's a good possibility that you can find just the right program for you or your child, whatever your current educational needs.
Learning new things is one of the most rewarding parts of life. Especially as we get older, continued learning is an invigorating and beneficial experience that keeps us young. So it's definitely worth looking into any tools that make learning easier, faster, and more enjoyable. Keep your eye on this column -- we'll keep you posted on the new research being done on this fascinating subject.
Seitz et al. (2006, July 25). Sound Facilitates Visual Learning. Current Biology, 16(14), 1422-1427.
What is Interactive Multimedia Training. The University Center for Extended Learning, Corporate and Professional Development, Ferris State University.