Synaesthetic Metaphor and Multisensory Learning in Tertiary Education

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


In this paper I will discuss the inherent links between synaesthetic metaphor and tertiary education, drawing on both my doctoral research in synaesthesia and poetics, and my experience as an academic adviser at the University of Western Australia. Synaesthesia is defined by the OED as “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.” While synaesthesia as a condition is not overly common, recent research on the subject suggests that all humans have a universal synaesthetic capacity which begins at birth, when perception is thought to be synaesthetic in nature. The idea of a universal synaesthetic capacity is certainly not implausible; synaesthetic metaphors such as 'sharp cheese' and 'warm colour' appear widely in English. The concept has ramifications for development and learning, not only in early childhood but continuing into adolescence and adulthood.
In this paper I will highlight the relevance of this universal synaesthetic capacity to some of the issues that we are currently facing in higher education, particularly the shift toward digital and online communication, and the growing popularity of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and online learning. I will show how a consideration of the synaesthetic metaphors which structure our everyday experiences can help to us to find creative ways of approaching these issues. Technologies such as touch-screens and sensory substitution devices are highlighting the inter-sensorial nature of our experience. Similarly, the language we use for digital and online navigation is grounded in haptic and kinaesthetic metaphors (visiting a website, surfing the web), which emphasise the centrality of the senses as a mechanism for exploring and knowing. By understanding learning as a sensory and inter-sensory experience, and investigating creative and interactive methods of teaching which cater to this, we will be able to actively engage and inspire students in an increasingly technology-driven academic world.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014
Event10th Conference of the Association for Researching and Applying Metaphor: Metaphor in Communication, Science and Education - University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy
Duration: 20 Jun 201423 Jun 2014
Conference number: 10


Conference10th Conference of the Association for Researching and Applying Metaphor


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