Infusing Kinesthetic Experiences in the Age of Digital Learning

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Infusing Kinesthetic Experiences in the Age of Digital Learning

Technology is becoming increasingly present in students’ learning experiences. It is common these days to enter a classroom and see students with iPads or Chromebooks in place of binders, and teachers operating interactive whiteboards where chalkboards used to be. Similarly, more and more tutors are using online platforms to reach clients far beyond their neighborhoods and provide data-driven, interactive services.

There is no reason to believe this train of technologically infused teaching is slowing; that said, educators must be sure not to be so swept up in its momentum that they forget the basics.

One of the biggest pieces of pedagogy that tends to decline as technology use increases is the opportunity for kinesthetic learning. However, with some creativity and planning, even digital learning experiences can become opportunities for purposeful, hands-on activity.

Kids need both movement and tactile experiences

Spend any time around children and it becomes blatantly obvious that they have energy to burn. As such, expecting students to exhibit focused and productive engagement with a screen (especially multiple times a day) can quickly become a fool’s errand.

Both research and reason support the notion that kinesthetic learning matters. How then can teachers and tutors bring learning to life in a progressively more digital scholastic world?

So often, educators feel as though having technology at their disposal means it must be utilized whenever possible. To the contrary, overreliance on technology can diminish its effectiveness and engagement potential. Hands-on learning is still an essential pathway to promoting authenticity and making learning truly relevant.

At the same time, there are ways to incorporate kinesthetic elements into the most technology-reliant activities and workflows. The key is knowing the difference between when a device is enhancing the learning experience or when it is standing in the way of a more powerful, active learning experience.

Identify opportunities for hands-on and screen-off learning

While some students have more of a predilection towards a kinesthetic learning style than others, there are plenty of instances where authentic learning requires action. No one learns to play an instrument without ever picking one up. Tackling STEM activities in the theoretical realm is nothing compared to actually creating and tinkering in the physical space. Studying Newtonian physics will only get you so far in perfecting your basketball foul shot.

When designing lessons, identify what students can actually do with the knowledge you are hoping to impart. Most of the learning objectives present in state education standards have real-world uses and implications. Find them and bring them to life! In many cases, it may be possible to achieve higher engagement and student growth without even requiring students to turn a device on.

This doesn’t mean technology and authenticity can’t coexist; but tying learning objectives to tangible, authentic products can help break the urge to begin the lesson planning process from a technology-focused starting line.

With this paradigm shift, it can be a lot easier to surface the kinesthetic learning opportunities before the over-reliance on technology has a chance to stifle them.

Use technology to enhance kinesthetic experiences, not stop them

Making lessons kinesthetic does not always mean that technology needs to be shut down and put away. There are many instances where technology can be used to enrich learning in the physical space rather than simply promote working in place:

  • Portable technology like smartphones, tablets, and Chromebooks make it easy for students to take digital references with them into nontraditional learning environments. For instance, rather than having students learn about plants from a textbook or website, challenge them to go outside and use their devices to capture real world examples. There are even apps that will help with the identification process. Take advantage of the portability of technological devices to free students from the confines of a desk or kitchen table.
  • Data collection has become increasingly more accurate and portable thanks to the ubiquity of inexpensive sensors and tools that can pair easily with (or are already contained within) common portable technology. Everything from speed, weight, sound, light, pressure, proximity, and motion can be tracked and measured to provide authentic, hands-on tie-ins to lesson content.
  • Digital classroom workflows streamline the process of disseminating instructions and reference materials to students in ways that are accessible and multifaceted, regardless of where or how learning is taking place. On the assessment side, taking advantage of recording hardware like webcams and microphones are often effective ways to capture and submit evidence of a physical product.
  • Virtual reality (VR) devices like Google Cardboard or the more complex (read: expensive) options like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift can provide immersive learning environments that require students to use their own physical motion to direct the activity and take in the experience. While many of these types of experiences are relatively passive, strides have been made in both the technology and available software to deepen the experience and infuse more authentic opportunities for purposeful motion and activity.
  • Augmented reality (AR) uses device cameras and screens to combine the digital and physical realms. This technology can be used for everything from bringing passive classroom objects to life to providing the basis for simulated dissections.

Even if technology is not being used as a primary instructional tool in an active learning experience, it is still totally reasonable to use as a way to share instructions and references without detracting from the kinesthetic benefits. In the cases of VR and AR, technology can actually create virtual hands-on experiences for students that would otherwise be too difficult or cost prohibitive otherwise.

Education is not a zero-sum game. The best teachers and tutors deftly combine multiple instructional modalities to best serve student needs and preferences.

It’s no secret that technology has rapidly infiltrated the learning experiences of most students both inside and outside of school. This integration provides plenty of benefits, but screens need to be seen as tools, not replacements for quality instruction. Whether the technology is on or off, it is up to educators like teachers and tutors to continue to find creative ways to keep learning active, engaging, and hands-on.

How do you juggle the balance between passive and active learning in the digital age? Share your suggestions and insights with our readers in the comments below!


About Sheldon S

Sheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Sheldon has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting websites.

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