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Symposium on body and learning

Published: 11 December 2018

Researchers from a variety of disciplines gathered this week at Luleå University of Technology for the inaugural symposium of The Nordic Network for Embodied Learning.

– We perceive the world around us through our bodily senses, and our interpretations of information are also channeled through the body. We tend to be aware of this in relation to practical learning such as handicrafts and music-making, but we are not as good at thinking about the body in relation to things like reading, writing, mathematics and learning foreign languages, said Lydia Kokkola, organizer of the symposium and Professor at Luleå University of Technology.

The medium affects learning outcomes

Research on how the body affects learning has intensified in recent years. Not least because of the transition from analogue to digital media.

– We know that the medium affects the learning outcomes. For instance, we know that people find it harder to remember information they read on a computer screen than when reading the same text on paper. It seems that the difference may lie in how we use our bodies. Scrolling, swiping and clicking are not the same as the actions involved in turning a page and holding a book, and it seems that these very small differences in how we use our bodies have an impact on how and what we learn, said Lydia Kokkola.

Creating research networks

During the symposium (funded by EIO: Effective Innovation and Organization) researchers gathered from different disciplines and universities. Thanks to new technology, it is now possible to see how our brains and bodies function in real time, which means that researchers can now gain a better understanding of how the body generates knowledge. So far, the tools have been developed primarily in medicine and psychology and the hope of the symposium is to create networks that also include learning and education.

– We want to build a network that would provide a forum for researchers from different disciplines to meet and share their knowledge. We hope that such meetings will form the bases for future multidisciplinary research projects, said Lydia Kokkola, who sees great development opportunities linked to embodied learning.

Can be applied in teacher training

– Subjects such as literacy, mathematics and foreign language learning have traditionally been though of in terms of the learning of abstract thinking, and so the centrality of the body in making sense of ideas and applying them has been overlooked. Some of the research is very precise and easily taken into classrooms. For instance, we now know much more about how vocabulary is stored in the brain and this can help us with even simple tasks such as determining how to select vocabulary for a lesson. The growing body of information about how changes in the way we form knowledge in relation to screens or tools such as paper and pens will help us with all subjects. This is the kind of information we can easily build into our teacher education programmes as well as our regular outreach events for local teachers.