Learning Style TheoryLearning styles theory informs us that all students learn in their own way. Whether one calls it learning styles or multiple intelligences, the upshot is clear. When students understand their individual learning style, their success in school increases. While it is important for teachers to understand the theory, it is equally important that students do as well. Before understanding your learning style you study hard. After learning and applying your style you study smart.

Learning Styles Theory Uncovered

Not so long ago, Howard Gardner introduced his concept of multiple intelligences (MI). He identified seven distinct domains of learning that influenced how students learn. Before MI educational theory suggested that all students learn the same way. MI challenged that assumption. To make it make more sense, I will list the seven categories below.

Visual-Spatial: Learners think through visual space much like architects, pilots, and sailors.  

Bodily-Kinesthetic: Learners have a heightened sense of body awareness allowing them to use their body effectively. Athletes, dancers, even surgeons fall in this domain.
Musical: These learners have a developed awareness of sound and rhythm. Music in the background is almost necessary for study. Learning by creating lyrics, poems, or simply thinking in time.
Interpersonal: These learners are more comfortable interacting with others. Group study where interaction is important is important. These students have many friends and show empathy for others.
Intrapersonal: Obsessed with their own interests this group sets goals and eschews the company of others. Intuitive, this group is seen as the 'smart' kids. They rebel at group work preferring independent study.
Linguistic: Preferring words to numbers or art, these are vocal learners. They keep their nose in books, play word games well, and love to argue fine points. They might just be on the debate team.
Logical-Mathematical: These learners thrive on reasoning and calculating. As abstract thinkers, they prefer to explore patterns and relationships of one thing to another. These are future mathematicians and physicists.
Most of us find ourselves fitting perfectly into one group and somewhat into one or two more. I. for example. am a linguistic learner with a touch of the intrapersonal and the logical. Because I know this about myself, I am able to integrate these styles into my work. As a student it allowed me to study smarter. As a teacher, it informed the way I approached students.

Learning Style Theory is so Subjective

There are contradictions in the way people understand learning styles theory. Using my own example, the dominant linguistic style coupled with logical-mathematical is interesting. Trusting words, yet not trusting numbers seems contradictory. Yet so many linguists are interested in the philosophy of language, a logical domain. For someone who thinks in words, it seems strange that I would fall into the intrapersonal domain. A wordy person who shies away from human contact seems strange. The point is this, this is what works for me. I don't expect to find many others that fit into exactly the same enclosure as me.
Learning style theory predicts just that sort of thing happening. Philosophers studying theories of the mind often struggle with the idea that we can't know the mind of another. We have a connection to our own mind. There is, however, a profound difference between "I am in pain" and "He is in pain." The former is introspective reporting on a state of mind. The latter is a report of observed physical actions or reporting on what was said. It is difficult to know what the other is saying when she reports pain. I can know what pain feels like to me. Does she have the same pain as I have? This subjectivity is exactly the subjectivity found in learning styles theory.
Because of this subjectivity at the root of the theory, those arguing against it seem to suggest that students who aren't learning are lazy or just not smart. But, by ignoring the subjectivity and exploring empirical evidence we see a different picture. When students and teachers pay attention to learning styles or MI students thrive. I think the evidence is clear. Show students different ways to study and they'll generally find the ones that suit them. I learned this wry piece of folk psychology when I was in Lubbock Texas. "Boys," the saying goes, "there's more'n one way to get to the roof."

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