My five year old daughter is learning about mini beasts at school this term. What are mini beasts I hear you ask? Apparently this is the collective name given to small animals like bumble bees, butterflies and ants etc.. However, what was more interesting to me is the range of learning approaches that are being applied to build her knowledge of mini beasts.  For example, they have learnt songs about bumble bees, been on a school trip to a Discovery Centre, have painted pictures, are growing caterpillars in the classroom and have spent some time doing independent reading, plus several more activities and experiences.  It got me thinking about the last time I had the opportunity to learn using such a broad range of experiences…

Unless you are very unfortunate the days of death by PowerPoint are becoming a distant memory, however, what has replaced Powerpoint appears to be a convoluted use of flipcharts, handouts and a couple of YouTube clips.  Even worse, is what within many organisations is badged as e-learning, is little more than the Powerpoint slides uploaded onto a website, with a voiceover added.  Ok, it does have some conveniences, but does it really stimulate all the senses and address the full range of learning styles that are innate within us?

All the way back in 1983 when the concept of learning something other than through self managed reading or in a training classroom was considered revolutionary, Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory was first published in his book, Frames Of Mind. This quickly became established as a classical model by which to understand and teach many aspects of human intelligence, learning style, personality and behaviour – in education and industry. A reminder of his seven intelligence types and how these translate into learning styles is outlined below:

Intelligence Type Preferred learning style clues
Linguistic words and language
Logical: mathematical numbers and logic
Musical music, sounds, rhythm
Bodily-Kinesthetic physical experience and movement, touch and feel
Spatial-Visual pictures, shapes, images, 3D space
Interpersonal human contact, communications, co-operation, teamwork
Intrapersonal self-reflection, self-discovery

So what does this mean for the way we learn today? It is difficult to argue with Gardner’s seven intelligence type and it has never been suggested that these learning types stop at a certain age – they are life long. More interesting though is what this means for learning provision.. how often do we design learning that really resonates with the full range of learning styles?

If we take a typical classroom based learning event on negotiation, we’d probably manage to cover linguistic, there would be words and language; interpersonal, we would all be in the same room together and there would be communication and a level of teamwork; maybe even some intrapersonal time as we are given the opportunity to think about how we will apply our learnings through self reflection.  Great, we’ve got 3 out 7! 

But what about those learners whose learning preferences are not met, how could we introduce all 7?  Definitely an opportunity for some logic in negotiations: using ABC as an acronym for Always Be Closing. Perhaps some music: The Jackson Five’s ABC springs to mind. So, we’ve got 5 out of 7… better, but still some way off 100% we need to consider everyone’s preferences. Now we could get really imaginative, bodily kinaesthetic: dancing to Jackson Five or using our bodies to create the letters ABC, perhaps outside of the classroom on a patch of grass.  This just leaves us with Spatial-Visual.. have you ever used paint and easels in the classroom? Neither have I, but we could paint our own shape or image of what negotiation means to us… sounds like we’ve covered the interpersonal learning style again as well.

So, next time you are designing a learning event, don’t forget the 7, yes all 7, Multiple Intelligence Types and be creative in the way you support the learning styles of your learners.  You may even get learners as enthused as my five year old is about mini-beasts!.  Now all I need to do is try to delete the bumble bee song she keeps singing from my sub-conscious… guessing that one of her preferred learning styles must be musical!