This is my third article in a series of articles I am currently writing on a theme called ‘Learning’. In the first article of this series, I had emphasized the importance of life-long learning. In my second article, I shifted focus to how our brain learns and how we can maximize this learning. In that article, we looked at several techniques which can enhance brain’s ability to learn effectively.
Here comes the twist. Well, the aforesaid techniques alone are not enough. Like there is no one size that fits all, there is no one technique that works with all learners. Years of research in the field of neuroscience has proved that each learner is unique. Different techniques need to be used for different learners to make learning effective. Our study of ‘learning’ will be incomplete without understanding the different types of ‘learners’ and their ‘learning styles’ in depth. So my current article (third one in the series) focuses on the ever enigmatic ‘learner’. 🙂
Why is each learner unique? Well, the fact remains that brains do not mature at the same pace in all learners. Again all brain functions do not mature at the same rate in all learners which implies that one key strength for one learner could be an area of weakness for another. For example, a learner may be good at solving complex mathematical problems but may find it difficult to communicate effectively to other people. Another learner could be the just opposite. The above facts establish that there are developmental differences in learners and the ability and pace of learning differs. It is thus critical for L&D practitioners to ensure that learning process is holistic and allowing different learners to develop their brain functions equitably.
Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University illustrates these differences in learners in his theory of Multiple Intelligences. According to him, human beings have several different ways of receiving and processing information and these ways are relatively independent of one another. According to him, learners perceive and understand the world in nine different ways. He describes these nine different ways as multiple intelligences. These nine intelligences influence the way we think, memorize and represent things in our mind. In other words they influence the way we learn.
Does the L&D approach in our organizations take into account these developmental differences in our learners? Is our training approach serving every learner possessing a unique of combinations of intelligences (some well-developed and some under-developed)? To find answers to these questions, we need to take a deep dive into these nine intelligences and understand the most effective learning techniques for learners possessing these intelligences:-
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
- Verbal-linguistic intelligence involves well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words. Verbal intelligence shows up both in the written and the spoken words. Speakers, Teachers, Poets usually have high verbal-linguistic intelligence. These learners are usually called word-smart. They enjoy learning by reading, writing or listening to stories, lectures etc.
- Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical and numerical patterns. It is also connected with reasoning, logic, abstractions and critical thinking. It is the ability to understand the underlying principles of cause and effect systems. Learners with high level of logical-mathematical intelligence will benefit learning from structured material.
- Spatial-visual intelligence is the ability to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly. Usually engineers, city planners, architects, pilots have a high-level of spatial-visual intelligence. They depend a lot on visual representation of concepts and their relationships. As L&D experts, we need to keep in mind that learners with spatial intelligence would learn better when they use visual representations, charts, diagrams, etc. to understand concepts.
- Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability to use one’s own body to solve problems, create a product or performance. Usually artists, sportsmen, dancers, athletes have high bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence. People with this intelligence will learn better with activity based learning, role plays, games, outdoor activities etc.
- Musical intelligence is the ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber. Learners with high musical intelligence are usually good at singing, playing musical instruments or composing music. Since there is an auditory component. They will learn better with lectures. They also use songs, rhymes and rhythm to learn better.
- Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to detect and respond appropriately to the intentions, moods, motivations and desires of others. It allows people to work effectively with people. Educators, sales people, counsellors, community leaders usually have highly developed inter-personal intelligence. A learning style involving group work and collaborative learning activities will benefit learners with high inter-personal intelligence.
- Intrapersonal Intelligence is the ability to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes. It refers to the understanding of one’s self, one’s strengths and weaknesses etc. People with high intrapersonal intelligence usually benefit from a self-paced and independent learning style.
- Naturalist intelligence is ability to nurture and relate to one’s natural surroundings. It is the ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature. Botanists, farmers, chefs usually have high level of naturalist intelligence. Enquiry based learning and direct instruction techniques help these type of learners.
- Existential intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence such as, what is the meaning of life? why do we die? How did we get here? In other words it is the ability to be sensitive to, or have the capacity for, conceptualizing or tackling deeper or larger questions about human existence. Philosophers. Religious teachers, saints usually have high existential intelligence.
According to Gardner, every human being (learner) has all the nine intelligences. However, in an average human being, a few of the intelligences are fairly well developed and the rest are moderately developed and/or under-developed. As L&D practitioners, we need to ensure that we take into account strengths and deficiencies of every learner. We need to devise a learning strategy which can help the learner learn effectively by leveraging her intelligences. The learning strategy should also provide an opportunity to the learner to develop intelligences which are under-developed in her.
So next time, you find your trainees struggling during the learning process, find out where the gap is in your training strategy, then go back and plug the gaps. Dr Richard Bandler puts it very aptly: “There are no such things as learning disabilities, there are only teaching disabilities. In Toyata’s global training centers, they always believe and apply one fundamental principle: “If the learner hasn’t learnt, the trainer hasn’t taught.”