Photo by Jonas Mohamadi

Designing Education with Embodied Learning in Mind

Alvin Arthur
7 min readJul 9, 2023

Recently Shirley Gonzalez Asensio, one of Body.Scratch’s supercollaborators, reached out to know about my vision regarding Embodied Learning and the role it plays in one’s development. Thank you for enabling me to remain curious.

keywords: #embodiedlearning #expression #spatialcomputing

How do you see embodied learning in the future? And what opinion/reaction do you wish people to have about embodied learning in the future?

As usual, I’d start by defining what I mean when talking about embodiment. To me, embodying means being intimately connected to your body, being in tune with it, whether active or passive. In my experience of studying and teaching, acknowledging the body has an overlooked value in the pursuit of confidence in learning.

Disembodied learning is what most of us have been trained to do since the chair became a central tool in mainstream education. It is an approach that doesn’t take into account the overall awareness of the learner in their process.

In a nutshell, embodied learning enables the necessary awareness that involves the compounded intelligences of the learner.

You get a series of interconnected components that come to play. Here are a few of them:

  • Challenge. What the learner’s attention is focused on. It can be voluntary or involuntary;
  • Attention and Concentration. The amount of time, energy, and focus necessary to tackle the challenge. One’s emotional state highly influences it;
  • Movement, internal as well as external;
  • Environment. As we are continuously influenced by our surroundings, designing the environment is crucial in optimizing one’s learning;
  • Cognition, simply the mind and body communicating with purpose. The brain is the interface that powers this communication;
  • Awareness. The dynamics between all of these components.

Once you highlight all of these components, you see that mainstream schooling is detrimental to all of these aspects nowadays. You also see what future developments, that tend to a more immersive experience of learning, can enable.

Since the late 80s, computing has been a great enabler for mass long-distance communication, thus tremendously influencing learning. From desktop to mobile, humans have been going through exponential access to digital tools. The next paradigm is spatial computing. This is good news for learners: their cognition will be harmoniously involved. Of course, there are more components to it. The field is still young to the public but remains highly promising. I am very optimistic about the increase in quality of learning that it may bring. This paradigm deserves a whole section in itself. I will share my insights and perspective on this matter in another piece.

Now what I wish for people to embody, and I am confident it will become a fact of life, is that learning on a chair is far from default. Beyond that, it is detrimental. Nurturing movement in the classroom can have tremendous benefits in the long run for individuals and groups: people feeling better in their skin, more capable, balanced, and aware.

I can’t help but think of Maria Montessori when she says:

“Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes through his movements.”

How do you work with people who act skeptically or ask you why they would be more engaged with embodied learning?

Skeptics are part of all paradigm shifts. However, since embodied learning is in our nature, being skeptical about it compared to our current mainstream learning concept is like saying that energy drink is better for your health than water.

Often the arguments used are productivity, comfort, and progress. The mind is placed on top, often even interchanged with brain or intelligence. However, this view on the quality of life is being severely challenged.

As basic living standards increase for the population worldwide, the human focus on lifelong learning is proportionally increasing. This means alternatives ways of learning inevitably and exponentially emerge.

Now when it comes to engagement in learning, we’ve become so specialized in bodiless activities that it feels normal. How often have you engaged better in an activity when your body and mind felt aligned? Especially when starting it off? Learning is a meta-activity, it encompasses most of your life. If you would start a learning process by tuning into your awareness, to understand what is going on, you would yield different results, such as more profound insights into the whats, hows, and whys of the decision you make.

A lot of this skepticism is imposed by the current mainstream model of “making it in life” and fuels the way of living we take part in. As a result of such a model, too many people learn to do things they genuinely do not wish to learn and pursue. So why bother being actively embodied about it? As embodied learning brings one to be attuned to their body, they become attuned to how they feel too. It is less convenient if they aim at productivity primarily, and more meaningful if they aim at fulfillment.

We are reaching a point in History where many of the tools we built designed us back in ways that threaten our sense of oneness. As some people decide to radically reject this evolution, the pace at which the latter comes makes it, in my opinion, dangerous to solely reject. I believe the main way for us to nurture our humanity, especially in an era of exponential artificial intelligence, is to nurture embodied learning in the various stages of our lives.

Now where to start? As my audience is mainly composed of educators and facilitators, I will address them in the following. To get started with yourself and your learners, which is often the hardest, I recommend 3 steps.

  • Step 1: Acknowledging the body. Make sure you tune into it, your way. Through breathing, through movement, through stretching, whatever feels accessible to you. It prepares the ground for the challenge at hand.
  • Step 2: Co-implementing cognition within a learning group. Adapt the challenge to involve the body in the learning process. If people have done it before you, find out how. If not, experiment, gain honest feedback, and be transparent about it. Remain open to failure and try out new things, even when it gets confusing for you or your learners.
  • Step 3: Creative embodiment plays for confident learning. Enable play, play, play! It will emerge naturally from step 2. It is the structuring and optimizing part of embodied learning.

It takes initial courage to play with the program you have been assigned to teach. It takes some unlearning to apply these steps too. Though, out of all steps, if you manage and maintain step 1 only in your facilitation, you’re already in a great place. I wrote a whole article about it here:

What are ways we could ‘prove’ embodied learning works?

There is an outstanding amount of studies that show this. To cite a few of my favorites:

  • Empathy is proprioceptive: the bodily fundament of empathy — a philosophical contribution to medical education, by Florian Schmidsberger and Henriette Löffler-Stastka;
  • The embodied classroom — A phenomenological discussion of the body and the room, by Eva Alerby, Erica Hagström, and Susanne Westman;
  • Effect of frequent interruptions of prolonged sitting on self-perceived levels of energy, Mood, Food, Cravings and Cognitive function, by Audrey Bergouignan.

Now, the best proof is self-study, one’s own journey of experiments. When one is open to unlearning and relearning, there is hardly any better provider of insight. From birth, we tend to discover by immersion, to engage with the whole body. There is so much learnt about the physics of this world when a child jumps in a puddle of water, so much learnt about the other when studying body language. All of this can be applied from the world we create within ourselves to the world we create around us.

Why do you think Arts & Culture is important for development?

I remember the pandemic to be challenging but refreshing at the same time. Despite the many urgencies and chaos, I remember the flourishing of these times. Why so? Every signal day, I had the chance to walk to my studio and practice there: morning routine, dance, exercise, cognitive research. I knew it was the thing that was not only keeping me afloat but helping me thrive.

Somehow, the YouTuber HINDZ comes to mind when he says:

“Expression is our highest form of nutrition.”

Taking expression from this angle changed how I view education and learning, through media that favor it. Arts & Culture are forms of expression that encourage us to wonder, experiment, and stay curious! They are meant for transmitting knowledge. Fostering this principle when designing learning experiences, especially for education, can yield tremendously positive results for learners.

Scholar and lyricist KRS-One expresses it best when he says “If older people don’t listen to younger people, they become slow amongst older people. When younger people don’t listen to older people, they become slower amongst younger people. If younger people would listen to older people, they’d move faster amongst younger people because they’ve got advanced knowledge. When older people listen to younger people, they move faster in the older world because they’ve got new knowledge. When we listen to each other, we all grow and that’s called Culture.”

All of this gives the pathways between collective and self-knowledge and therefore enables abilities such as critical thinking, diversity enhancement, creative agency, and much more. All are fundamental to our development.

How big of a role should this play in schools?

I could tell you that it should be central in every school. But frankly, it depends on what missions schools are on.

So let me put it this way:

Embodied learning starts in the womb and never ends. It flows in all. Disembodied learning, which modern society has pushed forward as the norm, starts when sitting on the school bench and ends when one cannot leave that chair by themselves anymore. It feels like staccato, in all.

Thank you for reading this article through. This note, to state that I do not mean to offend any person suffering from any handicap or injury.

Follow to regularly challenge your perspective on reality.



Alvin Arthur

I believe humans need to move in order to engage, play & create.