According to the University of Canberra's Academic Skills Centre (2008), learning is a highly complex process that "takes place at different levels of consciousness, and in different ways, in everything we do. Moreover, individual people learn in different ways and have their preferred learning styles." One of the keys to improving student learning is to understand the different types of learning styles and apply that knowledge to study habits and practices. Study skills are themselves behaviors that need to be learned like any other. Using a combination of disciplinary techniques and cognitive shifts, students can improve their capacity for learning. This will, in turn, help boost grades and test scores. However, learning in an academic context is about more than earning grades. Learning should ultimately enhance one's view of the world and increase tolerance of diversity.
The theory of multiple intelligences has formed the theoretical foundation for the study of diverse learning styles. Applying the theory of multiple intelligences to the classroom means being sensitive to the needs of a diverse student body and adapting lessons to suit each and every member of the class. To do their part, students also need to cultivate their own learning styles, emphasizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses. Multiple intelligence theory posits eight unique types of intelligence including linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinethetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Smith (2008) also suggests the existence of other types of intelligence too including existential intelligence.
The theory of multiple intelligences was first developed by Howard Gardner in the learn 1980s. Gardner noted that Western "schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence" and that "we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live," (Armstrong 2010). Gardner himself (2006) points states plainly, "When one thinks about the enormous human potential currently wasted in a society that values only a small subset of human talents," an investment in improving education is essential (p. 190).
According to Smith (2008), the appeal of multiple intelligences is not limited to the improvement of achievement scores. Rather, the theory of multiple intelligences allows for a broader vision of education itself. That broad vision enables the creation of "local and flexible" programs of study that foster moral and intellectual growth as well as character development (Smith 2008).
Just as there are multiple intelligences, there are multiple learning styles. In fact, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests that different styles of learning have a direct, significant, meaningful impact on student behavior and achievement. Gardner's eight intelligences can be easily distilled into a core set of three types of learning styles that are most commonly invoked in classrooms. Those three types include, but are not limited to, visual auditory, and kinesthetic ("What's Your Learning Style?" 2009). Students who are oriented towards music or social banter also demonstrate unique learning styles, though. Therefore, it is crucial to foster awareness of multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles.
The diversity of teaching styles has a strong impact on learning, too. Some instructors emphasize verbal teaching, and a lecture format becomes the predominant means of content delivery. A lecture format works well for students who are strong in linguistic intelligence, but poorly for those who are not. Likewise, a physical education coach might not reach linguistically oriented students. Teachers need to become aware of their own unique teaching styles and learn how to adapt their styles to suit the needs of their students. For example, a physical education teacher can offer different methods of interacting with the students including the presentation of books on athletes. Playing music during sports sessions would appeal to students high in musical intelligence, and encouraging social banter would be beneficial to students with strong interpersonal learning skills.
One of the keys to enhancing student learning is to capitalize on the theory of multiple intelligences by developing a solid study skills plan. The study skills and study habits plan will reflect the diversity of learning styles. What works for one student may not work for another. However, there are some general ground rules for developing strong study skills. Those ground rules take into account all eight (or more) multiple intelligences and learning styles.
First, no matter what their preferred learning styles, students need to learn time management. Whether future athletes, artists, musicians, or mathematicians, students who manage their time wisely will be able to succeed at their studies. Time management does not need to entail regimented routines. In fact, flexibility should always be built into a student's time management program. According to the Dartmouth College Academic Skills Center (2011), the most important facets of time management include self-knowledge, goal setting, and developing a "personal, flexible schedule" that reflects personal priorities and goals. Only by being aware of one's personal priorities can a student develop an effective schedule. If networking and meeting people is more important than getting an A on a math exam, then the student would do well to emphasize social events in the schedule. The advantages of time management include stress reduction, which in itself improves learning (Dartmouth College Academic Skills Center 2011).
Most students, even those whose academic programs center on non-verbal learning, will at some point need to develop good literacy skills. To maximize learning in verbal-oriented subjects such as literature or history, students would do well to acquire effective note-taking skills. "Writing can lead to extensive rethinking, revising, and reformulating what one knows," (Langer 1986). Furthermore, "different kinds of learning result from different kinds of writing experiences," (Langer 1986). This means that stream-of-consciousness writing is effective in areas in which concept maps or essay writing is not.
To maximize the benefits of note taking and other types of writing tools, students simply need to experiment and see what works best. Note taking during class enhances learning for obvious reasons: students who take notes can refer to them later, even after they forgot what they heard during a lecture. Note taking can entail recording the lecture digitally, which appeals to students with auditory learning styles. In some cases, students can draw or sketch what they are learning if they are visually oriented. Talking out what was discussed during class in a study session with peers would appeal to students with strong interpersonal skills. All types of writing and note taking can be considered forms of reflection, which is "important in academic study" (Leeds Metropolitan University 2011). In addition to taking notes, students can keep a reflective journal. Students cannot depend solely on notes, journals, or study sessions, though. "Listening is an essential learning tool," and paying attention during class is a skill that must be mastered to maximize educational success (Dartmouth College Academic Skills Center 2011). Listening is, however, enhanced by reflection and recording.
The environment in which one studies can have an impact on learning. Optimal environments for learning vary from person to person, implied by the theory of multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles. Some students benefit from social interactions because they are high in interpersonal intelligence. Social students would therefore need frequent study groups in which talking about their subjects enhances learning. Other students may be kinesthetic oriented and need to act out what they learned in some way -- or at least play sports while listening to their lecture notes. Regardless of students' learning style, an ideal study environment can be created to enhance academic achievement. The Dartmouth College Academic Skills Center (2011) recommends studying in chunks and taking frequent breaks, regardless of the student's chosen environment.
Finally, learning is achieved best when the student minimizes stress. One of the benefits of applying the theory of multiple intelligences to learning is that it reduces stress on students. Students…