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Poly Modal Learning: The Ultimate Approach to Natural Learning

March 19, 2008

What is Poly Modal Learning?

The answer lies in a surprisingly simple 12-step instructional process. Poly Modal Learning (PML) is a new proven and brain–based approach to training and performance that is revolutionizing the way people learn. Based on six proven learning theories, at its core, is a philosophy that seeks to make the learning process a whole-body, whole-mind, whole-person experience.

Wooden blocks. Most of us played with them as children. We did not have someone standing in front of us emphasizing that if the center-of-gravity of the top block moved over the outside edge of the block beneath it, the top block would fall. We learned this through experimentation. Even if someone had told us this, would we have been able to apply it without some level of experimentation? If it were simply shown to us, would we have completely grasped the concept? The learning process has always been and will always be a combination of knowledge and experience.

Activity-based-learning gimmicks and training fads have sprung up over the years. It is reasonable that training professionals should be skeptical. However, ask yourself this; Do I learn more and retain the information better when I sit in a lecture or when I put to use the knowledge and theories that I have learned? The answer, of course, is obvious. Briefings, presentations, guided discussions, computer based training, distance learning, and learning activities have their place in the training realm. PML merely integrates their underlying principles into a more effective and efficient learning methodology.

How does PML Work?

Dr. Howard Gardner, a renowned expert in human intelligence, recognized that human intellect is much more than the score on an IQ test. Through extensive research, he developed the theory and specific criteria for Multiple Intelligences (MI). According to Dr. Gardner, three criteria must be satisfied for an intelligence to qualify as an MI:

1. The intelligence must be localized in a separate area of the brain, with relative independence.
2. The intelligence must be demonstrated in human populations throughout the world.
3. The intelligence must be evidenced in the evolutionary history of animals other than human beings.

From these criteria, Dr. Gardner identified and categorized eight multiple intelligences.

1. Interpersonal
2. Intrapersonal
3. Kinesthetic/Bodily
4. Linguistic (auditory)
5. Musical
6. Spatial
7. Logical/Mathematical
8. Environmental

At its core, PML recognizes that people learn differently through the eight MIs. Although some people learn primarily through one or two MIs, many also learn through four or five, meaning the more active and varied the learning, the more effective the learning for most people.

What are the Underlying Principals of PML?

Seven principles underlie PML.

1. Learning involves the whole-mind and body

Have you ever noticed how some adults fidget or doodle while sitting in a traditional classroom? These learners are not “distracted,” they are unconsciously trying to engage their physical body in the learning process. Why? Because learning does not take place in just the brain. Learning is a cognitive, sensory, and affective experience. The brain works best when information and stimuli are received in the optimal way for the individual learner to process, retain, recall, act on, and reflect on the information. This is dramatically more efficient and effective than simply providing a cognitive experience. By engaging the learner in a whole-mind and body experience, it activates different parts of the brain and the information is more readily processed and retained. Learning is greater and more “engraved” on the brain. Does your current training engage the whole learner?

2. Learning is personal Knowledge is not stagnant.

Every learner knows that knowledge can be lost through disuse. When a learner creates his/her own knowledge (a knowledge that applies directly to the learner) then the information is retained through personalization. It has a new, more powerful meaning. We place more meaning on knowledge that we gain through personal insight or discovery, and discussion with others, than we do on any traditional learning methods. Does your current training allow the learner to own the content and make direct use based upon his/her needs?

3. Cooperation aids learning

A foundation of traditional school age learning is the non-ending pursuit of competition. Participants are forbidden from sharing what they know and can do with others especially during competitive learning activities, tests, and subject application. Can learning exist in a competitive environment? It depends. We know that most adults actually learn best when tapping into a positive competitive spirit. However, this is only the case when that competitive spirit works towards the good of a desired group. Only through open cooperation and partnering in a threat-free environment can total learning take place. Does your training use cooperative techniques to leverage the positive competitive spirit of participants?

4. Learning takes place on many levels simultaneously

People learn at many different levels instead of merely the cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels. We have a tendency to structure our learning experience on a single aspect (usually verbal). We sit and listen to speakers as we scribble notes so that we can review them later in a setting that is more conducive to our learning preference. This nineteenth century approach to learning has carried forward because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Learning is best approached through the natural method of a whole-mind, whole-body experience. By applying verbal, nonverbal, physical, emotional, and intuitive aspects into the learning experience, the facilitator ensures that, the greatest number of participants understand, retain, and can act upon the information. Does your training leverage the different levels of learning?

5. Learning comes from doing the work (with feedback)

Tell someone how to manage people and then walk away. Will they be able to manage? Give them a book on management. Could they manage an office? When you are reading a book on training, do you think about how you can apply the techniques to your situation? Most of us do. We learn best when we can put information into a context that has relevance. That is only half the answer to learning and retention. Doing the work allows us to use the information in a context that we best understand as individual learners. In addition, providing and receiving feedback ensures that the context is properly filtered. The sciences have long recognized the importance of creation through lab work. Why do we not apply the same principles to the rest of our learning experiences? Does your training use multiple feedback situations to ensure subject retention and application mastery?

6. Positive emotions greatly improve learning

Spare the rod and spoil the child. This concept is generally accepted as outdated, in many of our structured learning institutions, negative reinforcement is still the motivating factor for learning. People who want to learn will learn better and attain better retention. A positive learning environment helps even those who are negative to overcome their feelings. A negative learning environment not only reinforces the learner’s personal negativity but also may adversely affect a positive learner’s ability to learn and retain knowledge. Does your training maximize the positive emotional responses and feelings of all participants?

7. The image brain remembers…

How many of us really understand Einstein’s theory of general relativity? And of those who do understand, how clear would the concept be without a tangible example? Explain the color red to a blind person. Would the person fully understand? Show a sighted person the color red. The person immediately understands what you are talking about. Translating abstract concepts into concrete examples allows learners to quickly grasp and hold onto a mental picture, which is better understood and retained. Does your training move faster rather than slower, reinforce mastery through job aids, checklists, and post workshop reinforcement?

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