How people learn [1]. People learn in different ways. 

However, the lecture teaching-format has favored specific types of learners. Specifically, those that learn from listening and speaking. For the rest of us, the lecture format is a far less optimal way to learn.  Furthermore, the rigid structure of the classroom may even inhibit some who learn better by doing.

How can we understand more about how our students learn?

We have specific preferences for aural, visual, and written communication in addition to hands-on practice. Howard Gardner’s [2] theory of multiple intelligences provides a useful construct for discussing learning and intelligence. According to Gardner, we have eight intelligence types: linguistical, musical, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. A number of these intelligences form our cognitive profiles. While we may not always know the intelligence strengths of our students, we can work to develop appropriate teaching strategies and supportive materials based on specific characteristics of these different intelligence types.

The table below highlights four specific learning strengths Visual, Auditory, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. Suggestions are provided as to the best formats for supporting each learning strength.

Learning Strength

Best Way to Learn

Best Formats to Support Learning


Seeing and reading

Maps, diagrams, charts, videos, outlines, designs, patterns, shapes


Listening and speaking

Lectures, group discussions, audio recordings, online chat, webinars


Information presented as words

writing/reading essays, reports, lists, diaries, quotations


Doing, engaging in
practical hands-on activities. Experiencing learning in an authentic context.

Demonstrations, practice, simulations, case studies

What type of learner are you?

Take the online VARK assessment. [3]

Consider how your teaching format appeals to different learning styles.  

Do you think it’s possible to appeal to all types of learners in the classroom?

Originally published on December 3, 2012 at

[1] From an important book in the field of learning sciences and educational psychology. Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L, and Cocking, R. R. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.
[2] Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
[3] Fleming, N. (2011). VARK questionnaire: How do I learn best? Retrieved from
How people learn