Kinesthetic learning refers to a learning style where a person learns best by utilizing their sense of touch and movement.
Their brains are hard-wired to process information through physical sensations, as opposed to listening or reading.
In this learning style, learning occurs when a person can engage in an activity that activates these senses or requires that they move in some manner.
About Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
Kinesthetic learning is a learning style that is studied in many different educational disciplines, but is perhaps most commonly found in Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory.
In this theory, Gardner argues that there are eight types of intelligences. One of them is bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
People with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence supposedly find it easiest to learn through kinesthetic learning scenarios and struggle in traditional learning environments.
However, kinesthetic learning can be used for any student, no matter their ‘learning style’.
Note: The concepts of learning styles and multiple intelligences are subject to significant critique. See Kirschner for a comprehensive and compelling criticism of these concepts.
Examples of Kinesthetic Learning
1. Math Classes that use Manipulatives
Math is one subject area that could benefit from a lot more kinesthetic learning.
For example, math teachers can put away those textbooks and practice quizzes and pull out some manipulatives.
Manipulatives are beads, coins, blocks, and other physical units that can be used to learn and teach mathematics.
For example, you could ask students to figure out “three multiplied by five” by creating five groups of three beads.
2. Learning Through Drama
In history class, students who struggle with reading long historical accounts may learn better through creating a play recreating history.
This may still require reading, but students will read a paragraph with the idea that they’re about to act it out. They can think about how they will act out the scene and then actually act it out!
By acting out the scene, it will come alive. Bodily-kinesthetic learners will embrace acting out the scene as a way to become immersed in the subject matter. It will motivate the students much more than simply reading or watching a movie.
3. Play-Based Learning
Play-based learning is common in early years education. It is based on the idea that play is a natural form of learning for children.
Children can learn through unstructured play, for example, by simply going outside and playing with their friends. By playing with sticks, in sandpits, or with toys, children develop motor skills, social skills, and communication skills.
This form of play isn’t just for children, though. As adults, we still learn by playing. For example, we develop strategic thinking skills when we play tactical games like football and teamwork skills when we play team games like basketball.
4. On-the-Job Training
Many people consider university studies to be extremely difficult because it’s so theoretical. These students much prefer on-the-job training in ideal bodily-kinesthetic careers.
When training on the job, you can actually do the practical tasks required for the job rather than sitting in a classroom and just learning about everything in an abstract way.
Thus, bodily-kinesthetic learners tend to prefer learning on the job rather than doing training separate from the workplace.
5. Montessori Education
Montessori education is an alternative education model that has a very strong focus on active learning.
In a Montessori classroom, students are given a lot of freedom (often engaging in child-initiated play). The key, however, is to provide a resource-rich environment.
This means that the classroom is full of physical objects that students can use when exploring using their senses.
While Montessori education is praised because it encourages age-appropriate kinesthetic learning, it’s also criticized for failing to follow a clear curriculum.
6. Situational Learning
Situational learning is a concept created by Lave and Wegner to explain learning that takes place within a practical context.
Generally, this is seen as a type of on-the-job training where learners slowly become experts through immersion.
There is a general progression that follows:
- Starting with observation from the periphery of a workforce team
- Slowly increasing participation as learners gain skills and confidence
- Gradual development of expertise over time.
Here, situational learners are encouraged to actively participate from early on in their learning cycle rather than simply sitting in a classroom reading a textbook.
7. Learning Through Simulation
A job simulation is often used in employee recruitment or training. It involves a person doing a task that is very similar to what would occur in the job setting and tests a person’s aptitude.
For example, when a company conducts safety training, they may ask employees to actually demonstrate the actions they need to do during an accident.
The training supervisor will observe and record their behavior and then provide feedback on what was done correctly and what can be improved.
CPR training is a great example of kinesthetic learning. If you had an accident and needed CPR, who would you rather treat you, a person that watched a video about CPR, or a person that went through hands-on training?
8. Using Computers in Schools
Most schools these days are equipped with computer labs. This is a designated room with enough computers for an entire class.
The teacher has a work station at the front with their computer attached to a projector.
This way, the teacher can demonstrate how to use various software programs and the students can follow along at their own computers. The approach is very hands-on and gives the students a chance to actually practice performing the necessary steps on their own.
The teacher can always provide needed support by going around the room and checking everyone’s work.
So, instead of reading about how useful PowerPoint is for making a presentation, students can actually make one themselves. This kind of kinesthetic learning is more robust and interesting to students.
9. Cross-Cultural Role-Plays
A role-play is when people pretend to be different people in a specific scenario and then work together to resolve an issue or perform an activity.
Each person in the role-play is asked to take-on the attitudes and demeanor of a particular character and then act in that manner during the activity.
Role-plays are great ways for people to experience a situation in the safety of a training room or classroom, where they can make mistakes without suffering real consequences.
Cross-cultural role-plays are very specific and help participants understand the points of view of people from other cultures and experience how they might react in certain situations.
Instead of reading about how people are in a different country, people can learn about it experientially. Since it might not be possible to fly a group of employees to a foreign country to learn about that culture, a role-play can be a valuable technique that is more economical.
10. STEAM Programs
A STEAM program is an interdisciplinary approach to education that involves students engaging in activities and projects. Simply speaking, it is learning by doing. The term STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.
STEAM programs are very hands-on and most students love the activities. For example, a STEAM program might involve kids designing their own small bridge only using newspaper, chopsticks, and tape.
After various teams work together and produce a finished product, a contest is held to see which team made the strongest bridge. The instructor will gradually place books or other weighted objects on the bridge until it collapses.
STEAM programs are very experiential in nature and include lots of kinesthetic learning opportunities.
Other Examples of Kinesthetic Learning Tasks
|Play Acting||Using Clay Models||Learning through Travel|
|Learning Geography using Globes||Gardening to Learn about Plants||Creating Scientific Experiments|
|Science Lab Tasks like Microscopy||Learning Geography through Orienteering||Learning Design in a Workshop rather than Textbook|
|Puzzling||Learning with Wearable Technologies||Interactive Online Lessons|
|Spelling using Letter Tiles||Learning through a Treasure Hunt||Learning Math through Sports|
In my experience as a teacher, students identify with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence more than any other of Gardner’s 8 types of intelligence.
Kinesthetic learners generally learn best when engaging in active learning, play-based learning, and on-the-job training. This because these types of learning involve using the body in the learning process. This can stimulate learning and growth. However, the concept is also subject to criticism, as outlined in my article on Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory.