The majority of my research falls under the domain of sensory marketing: examining how inputs to all five of our senses (haptics, audition, olfaction, taste, and vision) can ultimately impact our perceptions, judgments, and even behaviors. Marketers in the past mainly focused on appealing to consumers’ sense of vision, through mediums like print advertising and billboards. However, the average consumer is exposed to over 10,000 visual messages a day, and so purely visual content is unlikely to cut through this clutter and grasp consumer attention. Accordingly, marketers have been trying more and more to engage alternative consumer senses in an effort attract attention and establish longer-lasting connections with consumers.
For example, in blistery Minneapolis, Caribou Coffee converted bus shelters into giant mock toaster ovens, with real built-in heaters emitting warmth from the walls and ceiling. This was in an effort to promote the chain’s new warm breakfast offerings. Multi-sensory appeals like these are useful in two major ways: 1) they are successful in attracting attention; and 2) they are effective in conveying a message in a memorable way.
Like marketers, we educators are also attempting to reach an audience- our students. For a sensory researcher like myself, this begs the question: how can multi-sensory communication be integrated into classroom teaching? In most classrooms, teachers deliver the bulk of content verbally. Many teachers supplement this with occasional visuals via PowerPoint slides of varying quality. But this might represent the bare minimum in multi-sensory classroom engagement. A few weeks ago here on Cacophony, Michelle Fisher’s post, “Teaching with images. Learning through art,” provided great examples of how visual inputs can be more creatively employed to convey information in a meaningful, memorable way. The extra effort required to incorporate visual content is likely worthwhile, since research suggests that multi-sensory messages are more comprehensible and memorable than messages delivered through a single sensory mode.
But audition and vision are just two of our five senses. Are there ways to engage other student senses? This might be interesting to explore. For example, one of the most powerful human senses is scent, because it is both our quickest sense, and the sense most closely linked to our memory. While trying to stimulate students’ sense of smell, touch, or even taste seems unconventional to say the least, such attempts might pay off by creating richer, longer-lasting messages that students walk away with. Benjamin Franklin once said:
“Tell me and I’ll forget,
Show me and I might remember,
Involve me and I’ll understand.”
Perhaps, one route toward truly involving students in the classroom is to engage them through as many senses as possible.