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Using music as a strategy for more inclusive e-learning and course design

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously declared music to be the “universal language of mankind,” and science even backs up his claim. “Music appears in every society observed,” according to The Harvard Gazette, and aficionados of the medium typically start at a young age. To wit, even the most practical among us can likely agree that music education is immensely beneficial to students of all ages.

The benefits of musical education are myriad, spanning well beyond simple music appreciation and the ability to recognize distinct musical styles. Music may also benefit overall cognitive functioning. Although the behavior of listening to music is somewhat mysterious, a strong link exists between the ways in which we process random information and music in the mind.

As such, it can be possible to boost your memory creation and information retention just by playing music. And the benefits of a musical education may be more pronounced the younger a student begins their music lessons. The good news is that music is easily accessible in and of itself, and can also be integrated into modern curriculums.

Read more: Rhythm, blues, and reading cues: How music improves young students’ reading skills

In our current age of widespread digitization and automation, modern technology provides more tools than ever before in the realm of music education. The teaching of music education via e-learning is an advancing field, and e-learning itself is accessible to students from all walks of life, even those who struggle with information processing and/or have developmental disabilities.

Thus, knowing what we know about the inherent benefits of both music education and e-learning strategies, how can we best integrate the two? [maybe one more?]

Music and brain function

Music is inherently unique in the sense that, for the listener at least, there isn’t necessarily a functional purpose to the behavior. Yet researchers have proposed numerous possible functions of music over the years, from a means for social and emotional communication to a tool for self-awareness and introspection.

Music may also be used by some listeners as a means to access the untapped potential of our brains. Although the efficacy of “magic pills” and supplements used to boost cognitive performance, known as nootropics, have been generally debunked, there are mental exercises that can boost retention in your mind. The ability to enhance cognitive performance, therefore, doesn’t necessarily need to be confined to the realm of science-fiction. Does music education thus hold the key to “unlocking” the unused parts of our brains?

Music education is far from a new concept, and educators continue to pinpoint the best ways in which to integrate music into modern lesson plans. One of the most pronounced hurdles in the process is the fact that music is an analog medium, electronic music notwithstanding. And where music lessons are concerned, a face-to-face approach remains superior to learning how to play an instrument using online video tutorials.

Fortunately, there’s so much more to music than just playing and performing, and everything from music theory to music history can be taught via e-learning channels.

Using music to unlock student potential

Of course, music education has been forced to the curriculum back burner in recent years, due to decreased funding for the arts in school districts across the United States. Administrators are more likely to cut music education classes in the event of budget restrictions, as traditional subjects like science and English are seen as more important.

Unfortunately, cutting music education typically has a negative effect, severely impacting student performance. A study of Canadian high school students, published in 2019, found that students who take music courses tend to outperform their non-musical peers in regards to academics. Further, academic achievement was more pronounced among students who took instrumental music, such as band or ensemble orchestra, rather than vocal music.

Thus, it’s imperative for educators to push for music education in e-learning environments. When advocating for the inclusion of more brain-based learning theories in the classroom, including music education, there are several considerations to keep in mind. For starters, you may see more promising results using immersion techniques that can arouse the senses. Students may also benefit from small group settings, where they can bounce ideas off of each other while working to solve problems.

Further, the core mission of brain-based education is to eliminate barriers and distractions within a student’s mind. Therefore, instructors should also consider including stress reduction techniques in online lesson plans, such as music and mindfulness. Music-based stress relief lessons are an especially welcome break from intense courses such as mathematics and advanced English.

Accessible music education for all

No matter your curriculum and music education strategy, your e-learning course must be designed in a way that’s accessible to as many students as possible. The task can be challenging, of course, but the universal language of music may serve as the perfect tool for fostering inclusivity. While the needs of students with developmental disabilities vary significantly from that of students with poor literacy or a learning disability such as ADHD, music has the power to connect students from all walks of life.

Read more: How to create accessible e-learning design

Unfortunately, there’s also the matter of funding to consider. As previously mentioned, music- and art-based education are typically the first to go in the event of budget cuts at the administrative level. What’s more, musical instruments themselves can be prohibitively expensive for families with limited income, many of which turn to online educational channels to give them a leg up.

The good news is that developing a record studio at home or in the classroom can be done with a rather low investment. Also, various options exist in the realm of charitable organizations that are targeted specifically for at-risk youth. For example, Friends of the Children is a non-profit organization that aims to curb the cycle of generational poverty, assisting children in every aspect of their life, from school to community. The organization’s advocates may help those students interested in music to access low-cost instruments or teach them useful tricks and tools to make e-learning seem less challenging, such as browser extensions.

Final thoughts

As an instructor, you shoulder an immensely challenging role of working to engage and educate a diverse student body, each of whom may have different learning styles. Those challenges can be compounded in an e-learning environment, where you may not be able to foster individual connections with a significant number of students.

Still, e-learning is a promising option for those with developmental disabilities or who weren’t able to find success in a traditional classroom, and music education may help bring everything in balance. By making music a cornerstone of your lesson plan, your students may discover that they can more easily process ideas and concepts, propelling them towards success both in and out of their virtual classroom.

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