How our Brains get fed! Multimodal overview with consideration for information processing.

When designing course content, it is important to consider how the brain itself takes in information.  Understanding how information is presented to the brain helps us to create effective learning events.

We receive external information through sight, sound, or touch.  This information is received and held in Sensory Registers (Ormrod, Schunk & Gredler, pg. 49. 2009. Orey, 2001) in its original sensory form until pattern recognition occurs.  Pattern recognition assigns meaning to the input all in the blink of an eye – or rather a fraction of a second (Ormrod, Schunk & Gredler, pg. 49, 2009.)

Imagine you are in a flight simulator.  This simulator has consoles matching an airframe, windows showing a simulated environment and indicators providing the leaner information (visual sensory register).  The simulator also has a radio for the learner to communicate to a simulated tower and buzzers responding to events that happen during the simulation (auditory sensory register).  Now consider all the controls, switches, knobs and buttons (tactile sensory register).  These inputs enhance the learning event and aid in learner retention by way of a multimodal simulation (van Erp, & Werkhoven, 2003).

Van Erp and Werkhoven’s Multimodal Perception and Simulation posits that “our brains merge the information derived from the various sensory systems into a coherent and unambiguous multisensory percept of the world.”  Van Erp and Werkhoven describe four benefits of multimodal human-computer interaction:

  • First, multimodal interfaces yield more robust performance.
  • Second, multimodal interfaces can reduce mental load.
  • Third, multimodal HCI has the potential to greatly expand the accessibility of virtual worlds to a larger diversity of users by adequately selecting the most appropriate combinations of modalities with respect to age, skill, style, impairments, and language
  • Fourth, multimodal presentation can promote new forms of HCI that were not previously available.

Dr. Margaret Sermund-Clikeman discusses the influence of brain maturation with regards to learning readiness in The Importance of matching instruction to a child’s maturity level, but Dr. Sermund-Clikeman also delves into where learning occurs.  Once information has been received through a sensory register it’s up to the brain to make sense of the information and assign meaning to it.  From around age 12 to the 20s the frontal white matter of our brains further refines and develops – this part of the brain is imperative for higher cognitive functions. Experience contributes to further development.  This part of the brain is largely responsible for how meaning is applied to information and sorts out how to deal with it.

In designing lessons, and course content an awareness of how the brain receives and processes information with consideration for age and experience, gives us insight into how content can be structured for the best information retention.  An awareness of how information moves from sensory registers to the frontal lobe helps Instructional Designers create more effective learning events.



Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York, NY: Pearson.

Orey, M. (2001). Information processing. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology Retrieved from

Semrud-Clikeman, M. (n.d) Research in Brain Function and Learning. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

van Erp, J., Werkhoven, P.  (2003). Multimodal Perception and Simulation Human information processing: Vision, memory, and attention. American Psychological Association, 227-242.


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