The education sector in England is facing a wide range of challenges, with pressure on staff to produce positive results more intense than ever before. With young people now legally bound to remain in some kind of formal education or training until the age of 18, the need for courses of study to cater to all areas of strength – not just pure academic ability – has also become much more pertinent.
While the value of vocational and practical learning is gaining greater recognition, there is still more that needs to be done to bring these learning styles to the fore at all stages of the curriculum.
This is where implementing elements of kinaesthetic learning (or tactile learning) can be hugely beneficial in endowing young people with the practical skills to serve them well in their future careers, as well as ensuring that curricula appeal to those who learn more effectively through practical activities.
A challenging state of play
It can be argued with some conviction that the education sector in England is in a state of flux. The pressure on government to raise standards is immense, and this intense pressure is being keenly felt by professionals.
Historically, curricula have tended to prioritise traditional methods of learning, such as explaining concepts through textbooks, whiteboard-based lessons or video demonstrations.
These methods remain prevalent across much of the education sector. While this approach works for many young people, this bias towards a broadcast style of learning does not necessarily work well for others.
As a result, educators face the added challenge of trying to achieve success using methods that are not adapted to the needs of every student. This points to a need for practical-based learning to be blended into the curriculum more readily.
Vocational on the rise
Despite this continued focus on a traditional, academic-based curriculum, there is a strong appetite amongst young people for an increase in practical learning. Recent research by the Career Colleges Trust found that 83 per cent of the 1,000 14-19-year-olds polled would like to see work experience be a part of their education, in spite of the fact that work placements for key stage 4 pupils were removed in 2012.
What is clear from this is that students themselves see tangible benefits in kinaesthetic learning and consider it an important part of preparing them for life beyond the world of education.
While there are areas where the curriculum lags behind as far as practical-based learning is concerned, steps have been taken to address this disparity. Studio schools have begun opening across the country in the last few years which are designed to offer young people an all-encompassing educational experience blending both practical and academic disciplines, thereby ensuring that all students have the potential to excel in an area that plays to their natural strengths.
Such shifts in the curriculum are welcome, but there is still much progress to be made in order to make kinaesthetic learning more of a fixture in mainstream education.
The power of kinaesthetic learning
Kinaesthetic learning is a learning style which takes into account the fact that some young people respond much more effectively to carrying out physical activities, with the chance to take a hands-on approach representing a more stimulating way of grasping challenging concepts.
For those who struggle to understand subjects simply by reading a textbook, this can be especially crucial in helping them keep pace with their peers. Practical subjects such as design technology have always been a part of the curriculum, but there is huge potential for kinaesthetic learning to be applied beyond the boundaries of these subject areas and in the world of further education.
The benefits of practical-based learning are not limited purely to those who prefer a tactile approach to education. Adding a practical element provides a degree of variety to the curriculum that will appeal to many and endows learners with real-world competencies that they can then carry into careers and life after education.
A real-world application: 3D printing
One technology that can be a powerful enabler of kinaesthetic learning across the curriculum – and one which is becoming more and more accessible to further education – is 3D printing. Such printers can be used not just for the more obviously practical subjects, but also for purposes such as demonstrating complex molecular structures or the various layers of the Earth’s surface.
One particularly strong example of 3D printing bringing a much greater degree of tactile learning to a subject is if it is used to teach students about the concepts behind wind turbines, which combines elements of both physics and mathematics.
A 3D-printed model of a turbine can be designed and created, its construction can be studied during the printing process, and its effectiveness in producing wind energy can be scrutinised and adjusted accordingly.
While the benefits of 3D printing to students are clear, it is also important for educational institutions to realise that there is both hardware and software available that is specially designed to make adoption in education easier.
3D printers that lock during printing and incorporate a range of security features are now widely available, ensuring that print jobs cannot be interrupted or interfered with while in progress. Specialist software that has been tailored to the demands of 3D print management is also now coming to the fore, easing the burden on IT staff when it comes to making sure all 3D printers are working effectively.
With 3D printing technology rapidly increasing in sophistication, its creative applications are expanding at pace, and can go a long way toward helping young people gain a deeper understanding of how the world works. Effectively, it gives both students and teachers the power to go beyond the somewhat one-dimensional nature of the textbook and makes the learning process more dynamic for everyone involved.
A more holistic approach to learning
As the education sector continues to face calls to raise and maintain standards, it is vital that staff are able to maximise the potential of every young person in their care. This means being able to manage pupils with differing learning styles, whether this be through traditionally academic or more practical methods.
Achieving a blend of the two – and making the most of technology to bring this to fruition – will give educators the best possible chance of catering effectively to all, and preparing young people for a life where both cognitive and practical skills will be essential.
Kevin Samuel, Business Development Manager at Y Soft