Sensory learning in COVID times

29th June 2020

Author: Soma Arora, Virtual Trainer and Management Consultant, Prism World Trainings and Consultancy India
www.prismphilosophy.com

COVID-19 has put both the 'learners' and the 'learned' on a steep learning curve. The big question is: how can educators balance students' emotional needs with ongoing academic demands, in what is now the default 'virtual' mode? MBA classes in most countries have moved online and educators need to address students' growing disorientation whilst fulfilling the needs of the curriculum.

Extant literature is emphatic about two broad ways in which we learn. The first is cognitive, wherein we absorb, process, and use information to complete tasks. The second way to learn is socio-emotional. The latter teaches us to feel and think about the new situation we are in, as well as how to manage those thoughts and feelings. Socio-emotional learning has us focusing on people and requires that we explore our own and others' experiences. Putting socio-emotional learning before cognitive work has helped to acknowledge reality and set the frame for learning. The combination of these two types of learning makes us competent and keeps us human. Their separation renders us clueless and paranoid.

This necessitates the establishment of the 'role of learning styles on learning outcomes' and, hence, the creation of apt resources like instructional methods and design. The central claim of learning styles theory is that we differ from each other in learning abilities and preferences, and that matching these preferences with instructional methods and learning environments will greatly improve students' learning (Coffeld, Mosely, Hall and Ecclestone, 2004).

There is no doubt that there are individual differences in both cognitive abilities and information-presentation preferences (Kozhenvnikov,  et al., 2014). Then the application becomes whether it is useful to assess and develop curriculum and study strategies specifc to those differences. The learning styles hypothesis is that such effort improves learning, yet the empirical evidence, gained in both applied and experimental settings, provides no evidence of such benefit (Arbuthnott and Krätzig 2015).

In the context of online learning, during uncertain COVID times, it is pertinent that other mediators and moderators be explored that study the impact on e-learning performance. Some findings show that the sensory/intuitive dimension of learning style predicts learning performance indirectly through the mediation of online participation. Sensory students demonstrate a higher level and intuitive students a lower level of online participation. Prior knowledge plays an important role as a moderator between online participation and learning performance. (Huanga, Linb, and Huang 2011).

The most ubiquitous model focuses on sensory modalities – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (Scott, 2010). These sensory differences are the most frequently mentioned in professional contexts. At this juncture, it is plausible to add other modalities like touch, to the repertoire of learning styles. As we see the growing influence of touch screen kiosks, computer screens, and handheld devices the thought strikes – as if screens had been added to our lives for a purpose. The purpose is to fight immune sensitive diseases, which restrict movements to a chair. Hence the logical conclusion would be to introduce sensory touch patterns with 3D imagery in our online study material, such that students can navigate through a presentation on their own. Instead of the instructor presenting the contents of his subject, his presentation allows the student to glide through, creating the highest impact due to higher personal involvement at the screen.

It will not be too preposterous to suggest that higher education institutions collaborate with technology firms like Google or Adobe to create image-based learning material for greater online participation. Can such partnerships mitigate the loss in industry interface brought upon by self-isolation and quarantine?

To an extent, this will even smoothen the socio-economic trauma of solitary participation in inequitable surroundings. Let the online participation by business school students be a performance enhancer tool rather than a performance mapping stress inducing mechanism. We must distinguish between interactive and immersive Virtual Reality (VR). An absorbing video game is interactive online media based on liking, education has to be immersive online media based on learning.

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