Once upon a time, Redcliffe Elementary School in South Carolina was experiencing issues not unlike many North American public schools. Despite their focus on achievement in standardized testing, Redcliffe had the lowest test scores in their district. Instead of beefing up their academic approach, they decided to invest more in multisensory education that amalgamated traditional studying with visual arts, music, and dance. Within six years, their test scores were in the district’s top 5%.
The idea of integrating all five senses into learning is not a new idea, but the market for multisensory technology is quickly expanding as we more deeply acknowledge how it enhances human experience. Multisensory technology has played a big role in our discussions on heads-up vs. heads-down technology and how each influences us socially. While there are benefits to both, heads-down technology seems to dominate our consumption. There’s an underlying fear of the effects an imbalance of heads-down stimulation has on our behavior and cognitive ability, especially among children.
If we want product design, business models, educational tools, and social platforms to create a balance, multisensory technology offers solutions. Why are multisensory experiences so attractive to businesses and consumers looking to fill that niche?
What is research saying about multisensory experiences?
Most of us have had this experience at some point: you catch a whiff of something that sends you reeling in visual, emotional, and perhaps even auditory memories surrounding that smell. Our most established and vivid memories are multisensory. We form memories based on situational context, and that includes cues from all five senses and any relevant emotional associations. The growing popularity of multisensory experiences in everything from autism therapies to retail spaces is based not only on its inherent appeal and entertainment value, but a body of research focused on multisensory experiences and their ability to form lasting memories. The most logical place to measure the effect of multisensory stimuli on memory and learning is in childhood classrooms.
There’s plenty of literature out there to support the use of multisensory activities in classroom learning environments, especially from a young age:
- A study that trained writing students with audio-visual methods looked at the effects of multisensory education on children with dyslexia. The study found that the approach improved students’ performance whether or not they were dyslexic.
- Teaching letters to children and measuring their phonemic awareness was much more effective when researchers added a visual-tactile component to their delivery.
- Incorporating full-spectrum lighting and changing colour schemes into learning environments has the potential to reduce stress and enhance student focus.
- Playing music in conjunction with lessons tends to improve spatial-temporal reasoning, which is useful for understanding proportions and geometry.
People retain information better when they’re educated with their individual learning style. Multisensory education has so much success because it single-handedly addresses a variety of classroom learning styles, increasing the chance that lessons will be retained for each student. By addressing multiple learning styles, it also increases the variety of neural pathways stimulated in the brain, which is important for early brain development and learning. Classrooms that incorporate more multisensory teaching methods generally see higher rates of comprehension than ones that use uncoupled senses in their curriculum.
The issue of comprehension came up in our last post as well. Technology, especially tools like the internet, is thought of primarily as a heads-down influence. Even though this is often regarded as a negative thing, research has pointed out its ability to train our brains to sift through information quickly and jump from one piece to the next more efficiently—but this comes at the expense of in-depth comprehension. Multisensory approaches are encouraging us to rethink the role of technology as an aid to vastly improve comprehension rather than diminish it.
How are these discoveries affecting the market?
It’s no surprise that multisensory experiences are increasingly utilized by companies who understand how to infiltrate consumers’ memories and emotions. Consumers also invest more of their time and money than ever into experiences rather than consumer goods. As a result, brands are integrating multisensory technologies into their products and marketing campaigns, especially in brick-and-mortar settings. The future of retail, entertainment, education, and even some forms of therapy lies in multisensory technology.
A 2015 survey by the Event Marketing Institute found that 98% of consumers surveyed were more likely to purchase a product or service if it was marketed through an experiential, multisensory campaign. 81% were motivated to visit an experiential marketing campaign because of its potential to give something back to the consumer. The Institute also found that on average, companies will increase their experiential and multisensory marketing campaigns by 6.1% in 2015; a number that has likely increased in the last few years. There is still huge potential for multisensory experiences to grow in brand marketing. 48% of Asian marketers use a multisensory approach, followed by 28% in North America and only 13% in Western Europe.
People are more invested in multisensory technology and experiences over material goods because of its ability to enhance deeper connections, memories, and learning in our distraction-laden and isolating world. The more brands, educational institutions, and other influential sectors pick up on this trend, the more multisensory technology will become an essential part of everyday human experience.
What else does multisensory technology have to offer?
This article has focused mainly on the benefits of multisensory experiences in terms of research and the implications that research has on educational models and marketing. There’s a plethora of reasons for the rise of multisensory technology that don’t necessarily require the justification of research, though. Multisensory technology provides avenues for public, heads-up social engagement. It creates opportunities to form communities and transform underutilized public space into social hubs. It adds unique components to products and services that people don’t normally experience at home, and it creates a niche for various sectors, like shopping malls or civic bodies, to increase the return of their investments both fiscally and culturally.
Both research and mainstream media’s rhetoric on technology’s social influence seems to agree that “heads-down” technology favours certain reflex-based skills (hand-eye coordination, fast-paced problem solving, visual-spatial processing, to name a few) at the expense of deeper comprehension, connection and focus. Multisensory technology is unique from that experience alone. It satisfies the same skills that heads-down technology offers by offering instant gratification and an abundance of stimuli to process—but it also captivates us, holds our attention, and enhances our ability to learn and make social connections. In other words, multisensory design brings out the best parts of how we consume technology.
Looking for a multisensory solution to a project? Contact us today to learn more about Aurora.