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Accommodating Learning Styles

Tim Larson, Research and Development

It has been nearly two decades since Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind, in which he suggests that the theory of multiple intelligences can be applied to improve the learning process. Closely related to this idea is the theory that we each have unique learning styles. The body of work that surrounds this position is gaining considerable acceptance in the learning community. For example, Teresa Hein of American University and Dan Budny of Purdue University note improved academic achievement for those students whose learning styles they matched. (1208.pdf) How can you put this knowledge into practice in your classroom?

Gardner notes seven intelligences: verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Each of us has strengths in one or more of these areas, and Gardner believes we can build up our weak areas by working from our strengths. Elaine Winters, an instructional designer, suggests specific exercises for boosting each intelligence on her web-site, For example, she suggests brainstorming solutions to news stories to build your logical/mathematical intelligence.

There are a number of learning style models, including Kolb, Dunn and Dunn, and Felder-Soloman, and others. Each is different, but also contain similar elements. Each suggests not only identifying the learning styles in your learning environment, but also consciously using each one.

The Kolb model places the learner in a two dimensional grid. One axis of the grid places the student on a continuum of preference for thinking or feeling, while the other axis identifies the student's preference for doing or watching. This model then leads to four general learning styles. For example, a person may prefer watching and thinking instead of feeling and doing.

The Felder-Soloman model is relatively new, and is a five dimensional model, building on Kolb's two as well as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The five axes are active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, sequential/global, and inductive/deductive. Peter Rosati of the University of Western Ontario recently described application of this instrument to a large group of engineering students. (1544.pdf)

There is more to learning than just thinking say Dunn and Dunn. Their learning styles include style preferences in environment, emotion, sociology, and psychology. Hein describes techniques for applying the Dunn and Dunn model in the classroom, one of which involves using an online discussion group.

The quest to accommodate student learning styles is on the agenda of more teachers every year. The number of techniques is growing rapidly, but publishing and learning about them strains the capabilities of traditional media. Fortunately, the Internet is providing a good vehicle for organizing and publishing the vast number of possible techniques to put in your learning style toolkit. Look for more relevant material to be published on the Internet as we approach the coming decades.

Let us know of your experiences with applying learning style models or the theory of multiple intelligences with your students. Email us at

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