Take a peek at the girl sitting next to you in class. Is she taking comprehensive notes with purpose? Does she set her pencil down every few minutes and watch the professor work a problem, or does she work the problem herself? When she studies, does she listen to music? A survey of any classroom will show us that different students learn in different ways.
Traditionally, there are three modes of learning: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Although most people learn through a combination of each, most people also have a particular mode that naturally suits them.
Visual learners are the students who tend to sit in the front of class. You’ll find that they talk fast, prefer quiet when studying, and most of all, they learn through images. They’re quick to interrupt and understand something best when it’s drawn on the board, illustrated with a chart or explained with visual imagery.
Auditory learners don’t necessarily need to sit front and center in a classroom. They think in linear manner and would rather an idea be verbally explained to them in organized conversation. They are natural listeners, particularly well suited for lecture classes. You may find them saying sentences aloud when reading new material.
Kinesthetic learners learn by doing. They tend to be the slowest of all talkers and ponder questions extensively before answering. They remember class by what happened, not necessarily what was said or heard. They do well in lab classes. They may have a hard time sitting still.
Though many students can instantly pinpoint how they learn best, others find it difficult. Indeed, educational psychologists often criticize lumping students in such black-and-white categories. Known best for his theory of multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner, professor at Harvard University, says it best: “Students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform and understand in different ways.” Gardner’s research suggested that students interpret the world with seven learning styles.
Gardner’s multiple intelligences are much less ambiguous than the three previously discussed, and they help us identify our learning style by identifying our strengths. “We are all able to know the world through language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals and an understanding of ourselves,” says Gardner, naming the seven intelligences.
However we choose to label the way we learn, one thing remains clear: our minds work – and learn – in different ways. This poses a challenge in our lecture-heavy education system, which, at large, suits those good at language. On the other spectrum, in science and engineering, half of class may be spent working problems, making way for the logically minded. Yet language and logic only account for two of Gardner’s proposed intelligences. How do we teach students whose strength lies in the remaining five?
Teachers should seek to diversify the way curriculum is taught. Introducing class discussion may help students who learn through interaction. Just as there is required textbook reading, there should be required “visual reading.” Say, instead of reading about a cell, looking at cell through a microscope. Students who learn best through introspection should be encouraged to keep journals. Encouraging students to draw pictures alongside math problems may help spatially oriented students.
Equal opportunity in learning can only be achieved with balanced instruction that accommodates all students.
Tarif Haque is a columnist for The Crimson White and a sophomore majoring in computer science.