Dr. Christian Andrä: Learning in Motion

Learning is a need that will stay with us for a lifetime. Furthermore, it is a skill that means that we humans are constantly developing and adapting to specific circumstances and adjust to new conditions. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that “learning” is what really makes life meaningful.

Movement is an activity without humans to a certain extent cannot exist. As a hunter-gatherer, to be in motion was indispensable, because it was a prerequisite for food supply and other aspects which were essential for survival.

Over many years of human development, some aspects might have changed a little in their relevancy. The elements of learning and movement have remained very central core parts of us human beings and will always stay vital, though.

There is scientific consensus that learning does not work well without motion.  A great deal of scientists even believe that it is practically impossible. Depending on how and in which context it is defined (with regard to the scope of movement or the intensity of physical activity), it must be stated that a learning process is always accompanied by activity. However, sometimes there are activities that involve extensive physical activity (e.g. learning motor skills), but it includes also so-called micro-movements (such as a gesture, a change in body position while sitting or similar small activities). And the scope in between is huge …

The object of my ideas was to convey the potential of active learning from a methodical point of view. It should be illustrated that the movement can be supportive without exception – taking into account that learning content, which is perhaps more passively processed, is at best combined with activity. Thus, learning can take place in motion (see video 2), so that information processes are optimized.

In principle, it makes more sense, for example, to have conversations while walking, to consolidate vocabulary with a slight parallel activity and to adopt different working postures when solving tasks and discussing issues. This prevents downtime and the associated dynamism promotes creativity, above all. Body and mind cannot be separated!

Another, sometimes even more interesting, possibility is learning through movement (see video 1). Here, the often traditional, audiovisual learning through hearing and seeing is expanded by a further approach, namely the kinesthetic analyzer (the so-called “sense of movement”).

In research, it has been proven sufficiently that the more senses you activate while learning, the greater the learning success can be. Because the different sensory approaches address different cerebral areas which are all active at the same time when comprehensing and retrieving the learning content. In fact, the so-called multi-sensory-learning is very effective and should always be kept in mind by planning teaching and learning contexts.

Admittedly, approaches for olfactory and gustatory perception are limited in their possibilities in this context, but the integration of movement works in very many cases and should definitely be considered. For example, geometric figures, linguistic structures should be perceived, the effect of forces felt and music experienced. Furthermore, physical (e.g. acceleration, optics) and chemical characteristics (e.g. temperature, impedance) can be experienced directly and cultural differences (e.g. human rights) can be recognized in specific scenarios. Movement helps to create contexts (e.g. to understand upper and lower case letters directly, to act out the story in a scenic way). Movement can actively change things, so that e.g. mathematical correlations (e.g. weight, size, but also surface properties) and geographic events (e.g. weather phenomena) can be felt and internalized directly.

There are plenty of different ways to combine learning with exercise, and the scientific liferature supports this approach with numerous positive effects.

Ultimately, you have to bear in mind that we as learners are never just present with our heads, but always with our whole body. It is up to us to use this potential, constructively.

Appropriate ideas were conveyed in the workshop, which should serve as a stimulus for further target-oriented discussion of this topic.