The Multiple Intelligences Theory, which proposes that each individual has different kinds of intelligences, resonates with a lot of educators. In this article, Dr. Maliha Ahmed explores the various kinds of intelligences, different learning styles, why the one-size-fits-all approach to learning doesn’t always work and how a teacher can cater to a class full of children in which each student learns and processes information differently.

Understanding learning styles and maximizing learning in the classroom

Educational research has identified that each individual has his/her own learning style. Agreeing with this concept I would like to discuss Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory to elaborate on how one can enhance the learning that is taking place in the classroom.

Keeping this theory in perspective, it appears that once teachers know and can identify that each student learns differently they can make their teaching more effective by catering to the needs of all the students in the classroom. This will not only enrich the in depth learning of all the students but also prevents discipline problems which arise due to the teachers’ inability to hold the attention of all the students by teaching in the ‘one approach for all’ way. I believe that Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory should also be kept in mind when devising a test paper so that children of different learning styles are assessed fairly and comprehensively. Guidance in this regard can be sought from Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson, Krathwohl & et al, 2001). The teachers need to prepare lessons and assessments which include as many learning styles as possible within the stipulated class period and be adept in the skills required to implement them.

Gardner’s MI Theory

All people have different kinds of ‘intelligences’ (Gardner, 1983). Through his research, Gardner put forth the theory that intelligence is more complex than the traditional concept of general intelligence, which he sees as incomplete. In Frames of Mind (1983) Howard Gardner enumerated six areas of intelligence that each person has. He treated the Personal Intelligences ‘as a piece’. He said that because of their close assocation in most cultures, they are often linked together. However, he argued that it makes sense to think of two forms of personal intelligence, Interpersonal Intelligence and Intrapersonal Intelligence, thereby making it seven intelligences. Gardner claimed that the different intelligences rarely operate independently. They are used at the same time and tend to complement each other as people develop skills or solve problems. In addition, Gardner proposed that these abilities could be nurtured and developed more fully if focused upon.

Gardner’s MI Theory leads us to look at the Seven Styles of Learning

1. Visual (spatial): Individuals learn by the use of images and pictures and spatial understanding.

2. Aural (auditory-musical): These people learn better through music and sound.

3. Verbal (linguistic): Learning is done by using words, both in speech and writing.

4. Physical (Kinesthetic): These people use their body, hands and sense of touch to learn.

5. Logical (Mathematical): Learning is done through using logic, reasoning and systems.

6. Social (interpersonal): People learn in groups or with other people.

7. Solitary (intrapersonal): Some people prefer to work alone and use self-study.

There are many models on which the learning styles are based. A few of them are: Kolb’s Experiential Model, Peter Honey and Alan Mumford’s Model and Neil Fleming’s Vak/Vark Model.

Benefits of teaching according to Gardner’s MI Theory & the Seven Styles of Learning

• Authentic learning takes place: Learning becomes more authentic as one can provide a real world scenario for active learning to take place.

• Parent and community involvement in school may increase: This is likely to happen, because based on this approach students will be asked to demonstrate their work in the presence of panels and audiences. Activities involving apprenticeship learning, brings all the members of the community into the learning process.

• Students are able to demonstrate and share their strengths: Building strengths gives a student the motivation to be a ‘specialist.’ This can in turn lead to increased self-esteem. When you ‘teach for understanding’ students accumulate positive educational experiences and the capability for creating solutions to problems in life.

• Students become balanced individuals who can function as members of their culture: Classroom activities that teach to the intelligences foster deeper understanding about the essential questions of life, such as: Where do we come from? What’s the world made of? What have humans achieved? What can we achieve? How does one lead a good life?

Comparison of assessments based on the two types of theories:

Traditional Intelligence theorists say that a child is born with a fixed amount of learning, scholastic or cognitive. Intelligence can be measured by short-answer tests such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Quotient or the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Intelligence levels cannot change over the years; intelligence consists of ability in logic and language.

• Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory talks about how assessment of multiple intelligences rather than just testing the traditional intelligence can enhance learning and promote problem solving. Performance Assessment in Math (PAM) and Performance Assessment in Language (PAL) have been developed to assess multiple intelligences, which focus on the process rather than the final answer.

Knowledge of MI can benefit both, the student and the teacher

My own school context has shown that knowledge of MI can definitely help the student and the teacher. The learning and teaching practice has improved with more student centered learning which we have put in practice over the last five years. If one adopts an interesting, interactive style of teaching, learning will become more effective and the teacher will be able to achieve better learning outcomes.

How to determine a student’s learning style

The determining of a student’s learning style requires that teachers know the seven learning styles and the models they are based on and also be adept in the use of tools such as, the DeLes ‘Detecting Learning Styles’ (Graf, Kinshuk, & Liu, 2009) which have been developed for this purpose.

It must be said, however, that this will only be of use if the teacher is a keen observer and motivated enough to spend time on determining the students’ styles of learning before planning their lessons and assessments.

How to effectively target all learning styles

One can start at the stage of lesson planning. There are many articles and lesson plan models on the Internet, which one can consider when devising a lesson plan, incorporating all the learning styles to cater to the class of mixed intelligence students. For example, take any topic from Literature being taught at any class level. For those students who learn better through visual and audio stimuli, you can show a film to introduce the book. Then you can do play acting of any scene of the book for those who learn by doing and experiencing. Next a discussion can be held about the book posing a real life situation related to the theme of the book, which will benefit those who learn through a logical and social approach. Those who learn through a verbal approach can learn effectively by being asked to write a book review or character sketch. Students who learn by self-study should be encouraged to read the book on their own. This was only one example of how one can make learning more interesting.

How a learning style effects the way a student tests

If we teach according to the different learning styles only then can we assess learning outcomes differently and effectively. Also, we should be assessing for learning and not conducting assessments of learning. The prevalent practice is generalized assessments where all students are tested by one method, which is usually very rigid. Many bright students fail the standardized test as only one kind of intelligence, that is, the linguistic or mathematical is tested, rather than all the types. So a yearlong assessment of all skills of a student such as, their presentation skills, social skills and logical and problem solving abilities should be tested. An effective method is the Project Based Learning (Markham, 2012) where all learning skills are tested.

The challenge of incorporating all learning styles in our classrooms

It is indeed a challenge to incorporate all the styles in a single classroom, especially in our schools, as our teachers are dealing with a large number of students in one classroom. At the same time most of our teachers are not professionally trained or equipped with the basic requirements for effective teaching. Teachers lack training in making lesson plans, content knowledge and in some cases, struggle with English language proficiency. At the same time, there is pressure from the school administration to complete the syllabus. The unexpected holidays in our city add to the issues, barely leaving time for teachers to make each lesson interactive and more student-centered.

Most teachers are not aware of Student Centered styles of teaching: Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning or the Inquiry Method to name a few. Teachers do not take time to know each of their students personally nor do they spend time to learn why a student is struggling with academics. Sometimes, the contextual reality is that resources are limited, for instance, there is unavailability of computers or there is a lack of opportunities to go out of the classroom owing to physical or security constraints. Most teaching is still lecture oriented where discussions among students is frowned upon and not allowed in the classroom. Social interactive learning is thought to be opening up the gateway for discipline problems and loss of control by the teachers. Students are spoon-fed and not equipped with skills of self-study nor allowed to voice an opinion contrary to that of the accepted majority or that of the teacher’s.

Criticism of the MI Theory

Some educational literature says that the use of the MI theoretical approach for teaching and learning is impractical. Educators faced with overcrowded classrooms and lack of resources see the MI approach as Utopian. Critics of this theory say that there is “utter failure to find that assessing children’s learning styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning.” (Stahl as cited in Pritchard, 2013, pp. 99).

Guy Claxton has questioned the extent that learning styles such as VARK are helpful, particularly as they can have a tendency to label children and therefore restrict learning (Claxton, 2009). Those who believe in one kind of intelligence think that all intelligence comes from a single factor. They support this idea with the belief that there is a high positive correlation between intelligence quotient (IQ) and the ability to complete simple cognitive tasks and between reaction time and intelligence.


Gardner believes that the purpose of schooling “should be to develop intelligences and to help people reach vocational goals that are appropriate to their particular spectrum of intelligences. People who are helped to do so, [he] believe[s], feel more engaged and competent and therefore more inclined to serve society in a constructive way.” Gardner argues that IQ tests only measure linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. He stresses the importance of assessing in an “intelligence-fair” manner. While traditional paper-and-pen examinations favour linguistic and logical skills, there is a need for intelligence-fair measures that value the distinct modalities of thinking and learning that uniquely define each type of intelligence.

Hence I feel and advocate that if we want to improve the teaching, learning and assessment of our students, we must focus on making full and effective use of Gardner’s MI Theory. Furthermore, to attain this objective we teachers also need to know the learning styles and the models they are based on. There is no scientific evidence, as yet, that shows that people have specific, fixed learning styles or discrete intelligences, nor that students benefit when teachers teach in a specific learning style to cater to a specific intelligence. However, providing students multiple ways to learn content has been shown to improve teaching (Hattie, 2011).


Anderson, L. W. & Krathwohl, D.R., et al. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Claxton, G. “Guy Claxton speaking on what’s the point of school?” Retrieved 2009-04-23.

Gardner, H.E. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York. Basic Books.

Graf, S., Kinshuk, & Liu, T.C. (2009). Supporting teachers in identifying students’ learning styles in learning management systems: An automatic student modelling approach. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (4), 3–14.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on learning. New York. Rout ledge.

Markham, T.. (2012). Project Based Learning: Design & Coaching Guide, expert tools for innovation & inquiry for K-12 Educators. Heart IQ Press.

Pritchard, A. (2013). Ways of learning: Learning theories & learning styles in the classroom. (3rd ed.). In D. Fulton (Ed). New York. Routledge.

Dr. Maliha Ahmed has done her M. Ed in School Leadership from NDIE. She is the Deputy Principal at a well-known Karachi school for the last 19 years. She oversees the administrative and instructional aspects of the school’s campuses. Maliha Ahmed is a doctor and also promotes health awareness in the school.

November 2014