Complete guide to the 4 learning preferences and 8 intelligences

Learning Preferences Jun 10, 2020

Your child will spend all day on the floor of his room reading, but is easily distracted when the teacher is speaking. Or maybe she loves to paint, but squirms through her piano lessons. People naturally gravitate toward certain activities, but are these inclinations signaling something deeper than that? What can our children’s individual learning styles and preferences tell us about how to structure their educational experiences?

While some studies have argued that there are not cut and dry categories of learning styles for children, if you ask any parent you hear that one size definitely does not fit all. Children need customized approaches to learning. While we know that there are some concerns about labeling children’s learning styles, we hear time and again from our parent community that different Outschool classes play to different kid’s strengths—and this is something that is not always available or even encouraged in more traditional educational school settings.

We believe it’s valuable to explore where your learner might fit into one or several of these learning preferences, because at the end of the day one thing that research does bare out is that a more engaged child is one that is learning more.

With that in mind, read on to learn more about the VARK model’s four learning styles and Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

What is the VARK model?

Created by Neil Fleming in 1987, the VARK model determines a learner’s modal preference, in other words, the way they prefer to take in information. VARK uses a learning styles inventory, or questionnaire, to determine a learner’s type: visual, aural, reading/writing, or kinesthetic. Its creators suggest that the styles aren’t rigid—many learners are multimodal, which means they don’t fit neatly into one of the categories.

Outschool offers live online classes to help your learner discover their preferred learning style.

The 4 learning styles

There are learning activities and teaching methods that are well-suited to each type of learner.

Visual

Graphic elements like maps, charts, and diagrams can help visual learners take in information. Visual learners would love:

  • Taking a graphic design, architecture or art class
  • A teacher drawing on a whiteboard or giving a jazzy presentation
  • Art projects
  • Checking out a map in a history book, or making their own map
  • Graphic novels or picture books

Aural

Auditory learners process via conversation—even if it’s in the form of an email or chat, and are likely to repeat elements of a lesson or ask questions before they’re fully finished thinking. Auditory learners would love:

Reading and writing

Reading and writing learners prefer books, lists, articles, reports, essays—anything they can digest in the written form—so textbooks and writing assignments are their happy places. Reading and writing learners would love:

  • A writing, literature, or communications class
  • A teacher assigning extra reading
  • Editing others’ work
  • Spelling activities
  • Reading solo or out loud in a group
  • Creating their own stories

Kinesthetic

Kinesthetic learners learn by doing, or even watching someone else do, as in a real-life demonstration or YouTube tutorial, or anything that allows them to have an experience. Kinesthetic learners would love:

  • Taking a film, science, cooking, or fitness class
  • A teacher bringing in a guest speaker
  • Field trips, nature walks, or science fairs
  • Visiting museums, zoos, or parks
  • Reading case studies, watching videos, or reading articles
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Is it a learning style or a preference?

While the idea of learning styles gained a lot of traction during the 1990s and early 2000s and plays a major role in how educators approach teaching and learning, more recent research (including a 2018 study in Anatomical Sciences Education) suggests that categorizing learners by “type” won’t necessarily help people learn academic material faster or more effectively.

Even if the types of learning styles aren’t reliable study methods, they can tell us a lot about how learners prefer to absorb information.

The VARK website itself acknowledges that the model isn’t the be-all-end-all:

“[Knowing your learning style doesn’t improve learning] in the same way that knowing you have a disease does not cure the disease...It is the next step that is important – When people make changes to their learning, based on their VARK preferences, their learning will be enhanced.”

This means that tailoring learners’ experience to their styles can go a long way toward motivating and engaging them.

The 8 multiple intelligences

Another theory, put forward by Harvard Professor Howard Gardner in 1983, suggested that while learning styles can tell us about a person’s approach to learning, people also possess different types of intelligences at various levels. This, too, could influence a learner’s motivation and direction: someone with low levels of verbal-linguistic intelligence might find learning a language tedious, while a learner with interpersonal intelligence will likely thrive at summer camp.

The theory of multiple intelligences also leaves room for learners to adapt their technique to the situation: “Someone with high visual-spatial intelligence, such as a skilled painter, may still benefit from using rhymes to remember information,” says Edutopia.

The 8 types of intelligence include:

Verbal-linguistic:

A learner with this type of intelligence is great at speaking, writing, and analysis. They would love:

Logical-mathematical

A learner with this type of intelligence is great at solving problems. They would love:

  • Solving equations
  • Doing, or even creating, puzzles and riddles
  • Computer science
  • Building and construction projects

Visual-spatial

A learner with this type of intelligence is similar to a visual learner in the VARK model—they enjoy poring over maps, infographics, and charts. They would love:

  • Creating layouts, blueprints, and maps
  • Watching an animated “explainer” video
  • Reading comics or illustrated books
  • Following illustrated step-by-step instructions; e.g. cooking a recipe

Musical

A learner with this type of intelligence is, well, musical. They would love:

Naturalistic

A learner with this type of intelligence thrives when learning how nature systems work and exploring the outdoors. They would love:

Bodily-kinesthetic

Learners with this type of intelligence are great at physical performance and problem-solving. They would love:

  • Sports and physical outdoor playground activities
  • Performing in a dance or play
  • Building, sculpting, and sorting
  • Cleaning, cooking, and organizing

Interpersonal

Learners with this type of intelligence have an innate understanding of and ability to connect with people. They would love:

Intrapersonal

Learns with this type of intelligence are very in-tune with themselves and their inner lives. They would love:

Classes your learner will love

Outschool offers fun, affordable live online classes that cater to all learning preferences.

There are many different schools of thought about types of learning styles, and conventional wisdom about it continues to evolve. Knowing your child’s preferred learning style can help you encourage them to invest in activities that they will enjoy and excel at. This builds educational and life skills as well as self-esteem and confidence.

About Outschool

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