Influential Learning Theories: Multiple Intelligences and Learning
byTracy Ostwald Kowald
Educators and researchers are always looking for innovative ways to improve student performance. As a result, the education field is crowded with different theories about learning, teaching, studying, and so on. Two of the most popular ones are the Multiple Intelligences Theory and Learning Styles Theory.
No single theory or philosophy can fit every situation and meet every need. To make sure you help your virtual school student learn and study effectively, review the details about these theories below.
The Multiple Intelligences Theory
Psychologist Howard Gardner developed this theory in 1983. He claimed that people have eight independent ways of processing information, which are:
- Verbal–Linguistic (Word Smart)
- Logical–Mathematical (Logic Smart)
- Visual–Spatial (Picture Smart)
- Auditory–Musical (Music Smart)
- Bodily–Kinesthetic (Body Smart)
- Interpersonal (People Smart)
- Intrapersonal (Self Smart)
- Naturalistic (Nature Smart)
It’s more accurate to think of the eight intelligences as abilities or strengths. The human brain is extremely complex, and all of these types of “smarts” work together.
How to use the theory
To apply the Multiple Intelligences Theory to online learning, use it to help your student develop all of his or her strengths. Remember that there are activities that help develop more than one ability at a time. For example, you can help your child do some creative learning activities, such as:
- Taking photos for the online school yearbook to exercise visual–spatial skills
- Drawing a map to scale and exercise logic and visual–spatial smarts
- Spending ten minutes writing about one of his or her best attributes to integrate word smarts and intrapersonal smarts
The Learning Styles Modalities
Like the Multiple Intelligences Theory, the Learning Styles Theory focuses on the ways we perceive information. The learning styles focus on how we process information using our senses.
The theory’s three learning styles are auditory (hearing), visual (seeing), and tactile/kinesthetic (touching and moving). Learners most often prefer one style over the others. As a result, there are:
Visual learners, who learn best by using images, graphs, maps, and drawings
Auditory learners, who prefer to learn by hearing and speaking information
Tactile/Kinesthetic learners, who learn best by experiencing, touching, and actually performing tasks
With this theory in mind, it makes sense that children who have a specific learning style can learn more effectively if they use their preferred style more often.
However, there’s little or no scientific evidence that using a preferred learning modality improves a child’s performance. “What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality. All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality(opens in a new tab),” says psychologist Daniel T. Willingham. Content refers to the material, or what the student is learning. The modality that best fits the content is how the student learns. This means that students learn best when the modality fits the content, or the subject matter to be learned.
How to use the theory
You can help your child study for virtual school by applying the learning style that makes the most sense for the material. Help your child practice counting money by giving him or her real coins, which is a tactile/kinesthetic approach. To practice one-to-one correspondence with an emergent reader, point to each word as you read it, which uses both auditory and visual skills. To learn geography, study a map, which is a visual task. For vocabulary growth at any age, read aloud regularly—which is an auditory and verbal–linguistic experience as well as great fun.
Whether labeled as styles or intelligences, none of these strengths are static or fixed. Students grow and improve in all types of learning as they mature. Ultimately, it’s important to frequently check for learning comprehension and adapt the instruction to fit both the student and the content.