How can you analyze Shakespeare by making shapes with play-doh? Or do a dance to memorize the dates of the Civil War? Can you learn the quadratic formula by smelling it?

Regarding the specifics, we're just joshin' ya, but methods that incorporate the five senses to enhance learning experiences are tried and true. Different learners have different strategies, some conscious and some subconscious, for receiving and memorizing information. These methods, or "pathways," as the Institute for Learning Styles Research calls them, determine how individuals retain lessons in their long-term memory in unique ways.



 Three monkey statues covering mouth, ears, and eyes

To each his own.

So how are there seven perceptual learning styles but only five senses? Well, get out your play-doh or dance shoes and start a-learnin' about how you're learnin':

1. See!

In other words, the Visual Pathway. Learners who favor this pathway benefit from demonstrations, images, graphs, tables, and other visual aids.

This learner paints a picture in the "mind's eye" to remember info, and might get bored if they don't have something to watch. If you show The Theory of Everything to boost morale in physics class, this learner will be pumped.

2. Hear!

In contrast to a visual learner, an Aural Learner responds well to lectures, tapes (well, podcasts), plays, and other methods involving listening. For this learner, stuff goes in through one ear and stays right where it is.

3. Touch!

This is called the Haptic Modality, and haptic learners are folks who go for the "hands-on" approach—literally.

Studying Anna Karenina? Make a panorama of a Moscow train station. Writing a paper? Doodle out the structure before turning it into words. Trying to memorize logarithmic functions? Well, even if you can't make a 3-D model, even manipulating an object or twiddling thumbs while studying can help that info seep in.

4. Speak!

The Interactive Pathway is all about verbalization or interacting with others in groups, pairs, or Socrates-style Q&A sessions. So if you're talking out the steps of Mitosis, interactive learners will benefit from talking through each step in a group. Or even hearing themselves narrate it through—it's all about verbalization for internalization.

5. Move!

Ever had that kid in class who just taps the ole pencil constantly? Maybe they weren't trying to annoy you after all—sure, that might have been part of it, but if they were a Kinesthetic Learner, then anything from pencil-tapping to doodling to wood-carving could get those learning juices flowing.

For these students, whether it's acting out scenes from the Napoleonic Wars or grinning and bearing it as they tap away, it's worth keeping in mind that physical response can be a super helpful pathway to learning.

6. Read!

Yep, this one seems pretty obvious. Print-oriented readers learn by reading. They like taking notes.

Does that mean they shouldn't experiment with other styles? Heck to the no. While many students learn best when they're using their favored pathway, incorporating a range of activities and methods keeps the classroom fresh and the students on their toes. Even if the activity in question seems kind of weird at first.

7. Take a sniff!

Maybe you have a barbecue to learn about proteins. You smell lemon juice and milk on acids-and-bases day. You dry, smoke, and pickle your lunch to learn what it was like to live in the Middle Ages.

It's the Olfactory Learners who associate certain tastes and especially smells with memory, but wouldn't the whole class enjoy a day like that?

What Can't You Do With the Seven Perceptual Styles?

How do these styles relate to online learning? Are they different for different-aged folks? Is there a way to adapt 'em to take things like math into account?

Sure, the perceptual styles don't cover every kind of learning experience. But they can help you understand different methods that work for different students. Not to mention inspire some pedagogical projects that can be pretty sweet—or sour, or square-shaped, or balletic, as the case may be.