Let’s say someone gave you the task of building a desk and they ask you how you would like to receive the instructions.
You might tell them that you would like an instruction manual with pictures and diagrams of the desk.
Maybe you would prefer to hear someone walk you through the construction of the desk. Or, you just want some time by yourself to look at all of the pieces in front of you before you get started.
There are so many ways to learn new skills or how to complete a task - and not everyone prefers to learn in the same way. You might prefer to build a desk by yourself, but your roommate might find that they want to work with a big group. You might prefer to listen to a lecture, while your classmate finds aural lectures overwhelming and would rather read the information in a transcript.
Which learning style works best for you? Take this quiz to find out. Read these statements and answer them as they apply to you and how you learn in and out of the classroom.
Does that make you smarter than your classmate? Is your roommate smarter than you? No! Different learning styles are just that - a different way to learn new information. Also known as different intelligences, these different approaches to learning show just how different we all are. Understanding these differences can help you as a student, teacher, parent, or supervisor as you connect with people and help everyone learn information in the way that works best with their intelligence.
About the Seven Different Learning Styles
This perspective on intelligences and learning styles hasn’t been around for a long time. Before the 1980s, people mostly believed there was one measure of intelligence. A person could sit down with a piece of paper, read questions, answer them, and gauge how smart they were.
Howard Gardner believed that, too. The psychologist thought that all you needed was “wit and grit” to succeed (intelligence and perseverance.) But then he started working with children of different ages and backgrounds, watching them perform many different tasks. He realized that one form of wit, or one standard for intelligence, simply doesn’t cover all of the abilities that we have as people. A person may do very poorly on a general intelligence test, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of learning.
Gardner’s research and discoveries led him to create the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Rather than thinking of our brain like one single “computer,” Gardner’s theory challenges people to think of the brain as multiple computers with multiple abilities. The computers don’t all work equally - one may take longer to load than another - but they’re all there. These “computers,” or intelligences, shape the way that we learn new information or even gravitate toward different subjects.
Everyone Is Different and Unique
In Gardner’s Ted Talk, he describes a misuse of his Theory of Multiple Intelligences in Australia. In 1993, experts in the country created a curriculum that assigned different intelligences to different racial and ethnic groups. The curriculum said that some groups had high levels of intelligences and low levels of others. But this was upsetting to Gardner. Through his work, he discovered that everyone has a unique combination of these intelligences. No one group has a claim over certain intelligences or will naturally lack other intelligences. Everyone is different and everyone is unique.
What does this look like? Let’s say you have a high level of visual intelligence and prefer to learn with graphs. Your classmate has a high level of aural intelligence and prefers to learn through audiobooks or lectures. Does that mean that you can’t learn anything from a lecture, or that your classmate should stay away from all graphs? Absolutely not! One or two learning styles or intelligences may be higher than the other. Everyone has a different and unique combination of intelligence. No two sets of “computers” run the same way.
The Seven Different Learning Styles
So what are these “computers,” and how many do we have? The answer varies. Gardner’s theory continues to evolve and psychologists have identified up to 14 forms of intelligence. But since we are focusing strictly on learning styles rather than subjects that we are learning about (music, nature, etc.) we are going to focus on seven different forms of intelligence that translate into seven different learning styles:
Visual learners are likely to retain information if they can see it in front of them. These are the people who can put together a desk or any piece of furniture, even if the instructions are in a foreign language. All they need is a few pictures to get them where they need to go! Other visual cues, like highlighting, graphs, and or physical items in front of them, are also great tools for visual learners. People with this learning style tend to do well in a classroom that contains lots of posters or using notebooks that have room for graphs, additional notes, and pictures.
Aural learners are all about listening to material. They will take a recording of an interview over a transcript any day! Lectures and speeches are retained easier than books or slideshows. Aural learners also work well with material that has a rhythm. They have a tendency to put everything they learn into a song.
Verbal learners learn most effectively when the material is put into words. This does include lectures and speeches, but primarily concerns the written word. They want to read instructions rather than look at them. They will ask someone to write down directions to where they want to go rather than asking them to draw a map. While aural learners may learn best with a great melody, verbal learners are more likely to pay attention to rhymes and lyrics. Consequently, verbal learners are usually pretty skilled at writing and sharing what they have learned in essays.
Physical learning, also known as kinesthetic learning or tactile learning, is a style that involves active participation and physical movement. This doesn’t mean that kinesthetic learners do well in gym class - but they need to be actively engaged with material rather than absorbing it through a lecture or video. You may be a physical learner if you enjoy working with your hands or going to a museum where you can interact with the artifacts.
Logical learners retain information best when they understand all of the steps that are involved in the material and why this material is relevant to specific tasks or skills. They feel most satisfied when things are in order - when they aren’t, they will prioritize putting information into a logical order first. They appreciate hearing an objective at the beginning of the lesson and the intentions behind how and why the material is distributed. Logical learners tend to gravitate toward science and math since the logic is already built into whatever lessons are planned for the day.
Social learners enjoy group settings and learning in big groups. The bigger the classroom, and the more activities that engage everyone in the classroom, the better. This is also known as interpersonal learning. Social Learning Theory was proposed by Albert Bandura back in the 1940s, decades before Howard Gardner identified social learning as one of the main learning styles. This theory looks at the way that we learn behaviors from observing other people. When it comes to interpersonal learning, things are taken a step farther. Not only do social learners observe the behaviors of others, they seek to actively engage with others. By hearing feedback, imitating others, and “bouncing ideas off” of others, they can explore and retain information effectively.
Everything that social learners love, solitary learners try to avoid. Big lecture halls and group projects are not ideal for solitary, or intrapersonal, learners. Solitary learners may get distracted by group dynamics or how they feel in a group rather than the material itself. As they read, listen to lectures, or think about material, they do best taking their time and reflecting on their thoughts and feelings.
What Does This Mean For Schools and Learning?
If, at any point while watching this video, you thought about your own classroom experience, you’re not alone. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences shows just how limiting our classroom experiences, specifically the forms of testing that are used throughout the country, can be. In order to be “good in school,” you typically need to gravitate toward logical, verbal, and social learning styles. But not everyone excels in these areas of intelligence because everyone is different.
As you identify your learning style, you might find an explanation why you do well (or not so well) when it comes to learning new skills or information at school, work, or at home. Lean into your learning style. Embrace your preferences and what works best for you. Your combination of learning styles and intelligence are uniquely yours and they are completely valid!