Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by sachac

During my first class of EAHR 801: Foundations in Adult Development, we talked briefly about learning styles and multiple intelligences. I admit that I don’t really believe that everyone has a specific learning style that lets them learn best. Some people do, or at least have particular learning styles that don’t work for them (a colleague is very much visual rather than auditory).

I don’t, however, believe that we should cater to students and give them content solely in the learning style that they feel works best for them. For one thing, a preference may not actually come from true knowledge of what works best. I have heard multiple students complain that they just want an instructor to lecture and tell them what is important. That doesn’t mean those students are necessarily auditory learners. They may just find it easier because they have been trained to learn that way. I know I am a successful product of the education system I went through, finding I can excel in lecture-based courses, can learn through taking notes and hearing, occasionally blended with visual aids.

That would be the point, though. Education is usually a blend of learning styles already. Especially now, material is often delivered with something visual (PowerPoint comes to mind). There is usually some auditory component (online this is usually coming mixed with visual in the form of videos but could be audio clips). Kinesthetic learning may come in practical, hands-on application but can also come through the homework assigned. Learners may need to work through problems or case studies or may take notes which is actually a physical action, especially when done with pen and paper, but can also be such when including typing. My husband, for example, has discovered that he enjoys sketchnotes. Even if we are intending to support students in particular learning modes, that means we should be developing ways of delivering content in multiple modes. We can make it all available to students.

The education world seems to be fairly divided on the matter, however, and it is easy to find research that supports either side. There is no definitive research to support the issue one way or the other although I have seen research that showed minimal change even with access to content in a variety of formats. It can depend so much on the quality of content delivery.

As for multiple intelligences, I have no disagreement with the fact that there are numerous facets to intelligence. All the standardized testing I did, all the strengths tests I have done, all start with that assumption. I tried taking a quiz but, as with many such online quizzes, I found it was limited. My results proposed that my intelligences are music, self, and spacial. Knowing myself, I would doubt that music should be my top intelligence. I may have rated high on musical skill but somehow that left out linguistic which I would expect to be significantly higher. Testing such things always depends on the questions asked, the combination, how many. I am talented when it comes to music but it is not something that is integrated in my learning. I love words. I find words to be fascinating and important. I am a capable communicator with language and I often think out loud or in type because giving form to my thoughts, connecting them to language, helps me sort them out.

Whether these intelligences are innate or learned, however, is something I would question. Our society does not place a high value on women having athletic ability. While my dad would happily have encouraged me more, I had no interest and hadn’t shown innate ability in sports. I loved soccer but it was not easy to play recreationally growing up in a town rather than a larger center. I was happy to develop my musical talent because it was easy. I was encouraged. Likewise with reading and also with creative pursuits including art and a variety of crafts. My mathematical thinking is limited but I also had negative experiences with math and had more interest in other pursuits.

I do believe some people find certain intelligences easier to develop. Some struggle with specific aspects or never bother to develop others out of lack of interest or encouragement. I struggle with the underlying assumption that to find a particular intelligence easy means that you should ignore others. I know I discovered later in high school that a good teacher meant I could suddenly enjoy math. In my undergraduate degree I had a less than exemplary professor and lost interest. I am talented easily in music and art and so I invested more in developing that. Children are discouraged at a young age if they do not show an affinity for one intelligence or another, by parents, teachers, and peers alike. What would happen if we encouraged students to develop intelligences they previously ignored? Then again, it begins to tie into assessment. If someone is being graded, is it fair to push them to go into an uncomfortable area or should they be allowed to excel out of familiarity?