The Pyramid of Learning: Explained

Posted byNikita Posted onOctober 17, 2023 Comments0

If there’s one thing that boosted my confidence in OT, that made everything suddenly click, I would have to say it was discovering the Pyramid of Learning.

The Pyramid of Learning is based on the idea that sensory processing is essential for learning. When sensory processing is not working well, it can impact a child’s ability to attend, focus, and learn. The model suggests that providing children with opportunities to engage their senses in a variety of ways can help to improve their sensory processing and their ability to learn. It was developed by occupational therapist Kathleen Taylor and special educator Maryann Trott in 1991. The pyramid is divided into five levels, each representing a different set of skills.

The five levels of the Pyramid of Learning are:

  • Central Nervous System. This level includes the brain and spinal cord. It is responsible for processing information from the senses and controlling movement. It’s also the basis for regulation and arousal level.
  • Sensory Systems. This level includes the senses of touch, movement, balance, vision, hearing, taste, and smell. These senses provide the brain with information about the world around us.
  • Sensory Motor Development. This level includes the ability to use the senses to control movement. This includes skills such as crawling, walking, running, and catching a ball.
  • Perceptual Motor Development. This level includes the ability to use the senses to interpret information about the world around us. This includes skills such as spatial awareness, visual discrimination, and auditory discrimination.
  • Cognitive Intellect. This level includes the ability to think, learn, and solve problems. This includes skills such as memory, attention, and problem-solving.

As you can see, the base of the pyramid requires less “higher level” cognition, and increases as you move up. That is to say, if you’re not regulated and at an optimal arousal level, it makes it that much more difficult to work on any more complex skills, even if those skills may “seem” simple.

So as a therapist, if your student comes into the session dysregulated, the main focus of that session should first and foremost be getting them to a calm and regulated state, whether that be through sensory strategies, or any other calming activities. If that ends up taking most of your session time, then so be it. It’s what they need in that moment. Imagine trying to learn a new skill while you’re overwhelmed, dysregulated, and/or generally stressed. It’s not likely to go well. Developing foundational sensory and self-regulation skills is the first step to making progress in more challenging goals.

The biggest takeaway:

Start at the bottom of the pyramid. Make sure that children have a strong foundation in the basic sensory skills and regulation before you move on to more complex skills.

The Pyramid of Learning is a valuable tool that can help children with sensory processing challenges to learn more effectively. By following these tips, you can use the model to help children develop the skills they need to succeed in life.


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