Researchers at North Carolina State University recommend multimodal learning in higher education.
According to a study by N.C. State professors Gwendolynne Reid, Keon Pettiway and Brent Simoneaux and UNC-Pembroke professor Robin Snead, multimodal learning — or using multiple modes of communication, such as video and audio — is important to learning in college.
“Having different ways to get the information across besides the written word, I think, can be really helpful," said journalism professor Lois Boynton.
There has been previous research on the benefits of multimodal communication in professional and civic life, but the N.C. State study focused on its importance in higher education and learning specifically.
“It can be really helpful to grasp ideas and take advantage of the different ways that people may learn — some people are more visual people and some are more conceptual or word-oriented," Boynton said.
Some examples of multimodal learning involve the use of speeches, visual elements, such as video or Microsoft PowerPoint, “real world” application and interaction between students.
The UNC Center for Faculty Excellence works with faculty to design new courses and to redesign existing courses. The center encourages faculty to use active learning principles, an example of multimodal communication, said Molly Sutphen, associate director of the center.
“Right now, I am teaching in Greenlaw 101, which is a special remodeled classroom that is designed to enhance teaching and active learning within large classrooms,” said Miguel La Serna, a history professor at UNC.
Greenlaw 101 is the first interactive lecture hall on campus, outfitted with swivel chairs, sectional seating for small group discussion and multiple television and computer screens.
“We have about 100 students in the class, but the classroom itself is actually designed to maximize classroom discussion,” La Serna said.
The design of Greenlaw 101 helps promote multimodal learning by facilitating classroom discussion and interaction between students, he said.
But multimodality faces challenges, such as a lack of understanding on the student's part or a preference for a specific mode by the students or professors.
“One of the presumptions that we have as professors is that students will learn if we give them the material — I think that’s the case for many students, but not all,” La Serna said.
Kenan Lewis, a first-year at UNC, said interactive methods of multimodal learning can be beneficial.
“Interactive learning reinforces the ideas that otherwise wouldn’t be enforced through group work and other various activities," Lewis said.
Patrick Conway, professor and department chairperson of the economics program at UNC, said he recommends multimodal learning, but professors need to implement it the right way.
“Multimodal instruction is useful and I believe it should be implemented, but it has to be the type of multimodal activity that engages the students in a different way than they would be engaged by a simple lecture,” he said.
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