Types of Learners in a Classroom

by Erica Loop

More than three decades ago, educational theorist Howard Gardner developed his theory of multiple intelligences. In the years since, educators have often described Gardner's categories as learning styles. However, in a 2013 article in The Washington Post, Gardner notes that multiple intelligences and learning styles are not the same. He argues that suggesting that each learner has only one "style" is limiting and may not describe all of the ways that a student acquires information. In life, individuals have their own "intelligences" or ways of processing information. In the classroom, students also have their own ways of learning that teachers need to accommodate.

Multi-Modal Learners

Just like there's no one-size-fits-all teaching style, there's no single type of learner. Subscribing to Gardner's original theory of multiple intelligences means defining a learner as spatial, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic or linguistic. However, the student may learn in more than one way. Just because a student seems primarily spatial doesn't exclude him from learning in physical ways too, Gardner suggests. For example, a student who is a kinesthetic and a linguistic learner may need to get up and walk around the classroom while discussing a topic during a group project.

Physical Students and Movement

Physical, or kinesthetic, learners often find the task of passively sitting at a desk a challenge and need to move. In the classroom, these types of learners move around, may fidget and are drawn to hands-on activities. Teachers can help physical students to engage in classwork by providing the opportunity to move. This means different things to different students. One physical student may respond well to an art-making activity, while another may need to get his whole body in on the action using creative movement.

Nonphysical Types

While some students need to move while learning, others adopt a more stationary style. This doesn't mean that they object to getting active. Instead they seem to do better using other methods. For example, visual learners use what they see to take in information, verbal or auditory learners listen and speak, and logical learners need order to make sense of new content. Students who don't respond to physical or movement-based teaching methods, may need an array of other tactics. These may include lectures, discussions or self-paced research assignments.

Active and Reflective Students

Whether the student learns verbally, musically or visually, she may also take an active or reflective approach. Active learners tend to engage themselves in the classroom content. Reflective learners prefer to sit back and think about the information before acting. An active learner enjoys working in a group situation, while a reflective student would rather work independently, according to Professors Richard M. Felder and Barbara A. Soloman of North Carolina State University, authors of "Learning Styles and Strategies." Students who have an active style are typically more physical, and may respond well to movement-based activities and lessons.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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