Background to the Multisensory Space Method

Understanding one’s own identity and meaning in a changing world is a lifelong learning process. The background to the Multisensory Space Method is vast.

Background to the Multisensory Space Method

Current global phenomena, linked to present-day society and learning, are the key concepts behind the development of the Multisensory Space Method. Internationalization and the breakdown of local cohesive culture are part of the reason people and communities now need to contemplate their own identity. As a result of societal changes, learning has become a lifelong and lifewide phenomenon and there is a demand for different open learning environments. Experiential and innovative elements are needed to support learning also in the more traditional educational settings.  From the social welfare sector’s perspective the concepts behind the Multisensory Space Method include multisensory work and methods of sociocultural empowerment.

Sociocultural empowerment promotes social relations

The purpose of the Multisensory Space Method is to improve interaction between people and to promote their empowerment. The method can be viewed using the conceptual framework of sociocultural empowerment. Sociocultural empowerment refers to activities that support the individual’s or a group’s empowerment and sense of initiative. Sociocultural empowerment is needed especially when people’s own resources are running low.

Sociocultural empowerment is used to motivate, strengthen and pinpoint an individual’s resources and to promote his/her participation. Empowerment supports a group’s or individual’s efforts to plan and realise activities that will improve their own lives or environment. Sociocultural empowerment can be used to support the integration of people into a specific community or society. It is fundamental to find the interfaces between old and new culture, and acting in accordance with these in our everyday lives.

One of the key concepts of sociocultural empowerment is dialogue that is productive interaction between people. It is important that dialogue springs forth within the community and with the operating environment. Dialogue plays an important role in the Multisensory Space Method; the purpose of the Space is to promote discussion, sharing and constructive interaction between different people. Such interaction then supports inclusion, cohesion and empowerment of different groups and societies, encouraging also active citizenship and overall participation.

Multisensory work and multisensory learning

Multisensory refers to sense experiences gained simultaneously using multiple senses. A person forms an image of the world through their senses, and the experiences a person has based on their different senses can promote wellbeing and learning.

In the context of social work, multisensory activities are often linked to work with the disabled, which incorporates a lot of teaching, rehabilitation and therapy based on the senses and one’s experiences. For example, the Snoezelen method, which was developed in the Netherlands for work with the developmentally disabled, has spread over the decades and is now used worldwide.

Pagliano (1998, 107) defined the multisensory space used in the method as follows:

”… where stimulation can be controlled, manipulated, intensified, reduced, presented in isolation or combination, packaged for active or passive interaction, and temporally matched to fit the perceived motivation, interests, leisure, relaxation, therapeutic and/or educational needs of the user. It can take a variety of physical, psychological and sociological forms.”

Multisensory processes are also utilized and researched in other ways in learning: stimuli perceived through two different senses have been utilized in learning of mathematics and languages. Sounds and smells activate the learner’s memory to connect events to what he/she has previously learned, which is why music is also incorporated into teaching.

The purpose of a Multisensory Space is not de facto to support learning through the combined impact of senses, but rather to utilise multisensory processes as an experience-rich and open learning environment, which means that positive experiences motivate students to learn.

This approach strives to offer an alternative to cognitive and behavioral learning concepts. One objective of learning is to find one’s own identity and, in this way, finding and achieving a meaningful life.

A good physical learning environment can motivate an individual to learn, as well as to take responsibility for his/her learning. Designing and building of a Multisensory Space can also function as an open learning environment, where learners create a common space by sharing their own expertise and acting as a peer network. The Multisensory Space Method incorporates experience-based, hands-on, social and project learning.

Identity negotiation

Defining an individual’s or group’s identity is a life-long process of interaction. Identities are born as a combination of “external” i.e. social definitions and “internal” i.e. one’s own definitions (Jenkins 2008). It has been said that in modern society identity negotiation is an increasingly individual process and that we have moved from a hierarchy-based society of structure to an era of horizontal groups and individualized individuals. On the other hand, classifications and the identities they produce are a way to make sense of a complicated world. (Jenkins 2008)

Identities are not something “which already exist, transcending place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialized past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power. Far from being grounded in a mere ‘recovery’ of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which, when found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.” (Hall 1999)

The Multisensory Space Method can be used to help contemplate and define an individual’s or a group’s identity. The method can be used as a tool in understanding what is important, shared or distinct and different from others. This type of dialogue can be used to assess our own values and roots.

Identity negotiation is a process that immigrants, for instance, must go through, as they reassess their life in their new society. The Multisensory Space can function as a producer of good and familiar experiences for immigrants of all ages, and therefore it can be an instrument for shaping one’s identity. Representatives of the general population can also go through identity negotiations when contemplating the significance of their immediate community, local identity and being Finnish in the midst of globalization.

The Multisensory Space Method has been used, for instance, as an instrument for determining and strengthening local identity in village planning. Also people with different backgrounds can use the Multisensory Space Method to find connecting factors, things that are important to both or experiences of which they have same type of memories. In this way, the Space can support creating social relations, community cohesion and a sense of belonging.

Reminiscence work

Reminiscence is the act of recalling and sharing one’s memories. Reminiscence work is a process of thinking and speaking that links the past and the present and highlights a life already lived. Reminiscence allows people to see their life experiences in a new light, whereupon separate experiences add up into a meaningful whole. This allows people to get new perspectives on their own experiences and to gain the energy to deal with more painful or challenging memories. Sharing memories allows us to build social relations. Sharing memories in a group can bring up things we had forgotten. People of all ages can take part in reminiscence, as it empowers everyone.

The process of building a Multisensory Space can be a group reminiscence process during which the Multisensory Space is built from the results of the reminiscence work. A completed Space can also inspire reminiscence and sharing of experiences, thoughts and emotions.


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