Theories of Intelligence & Learning Styles


Most educators use some particular theory of intelligence or learning styles to inform their teaching. These theories are based on the idea that students have different strengths and learning preferences; thus teachers must adjust their instruction according to the students in their classroom. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences is the most well know of these theories, but there are many other competing theories of intelligence and learning styles.

Theory of Multiple Intelligences

  • Harvard Psychologist Howard Gardner came up with his "Theory of Multiple Intelligences" in 1983. He said that there are seven major types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial-visual, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Gardner believed that each person had different levels of each intelligence, with one or two core strengths. His Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been very influential in the field of education.

Conversation Theory

  • Gordon Pask developed Conversation Theory from a foundation in cybernetics. His theory states that learning takes place through conversations about subject matter that occur on various levels. Pask differentiated two major learning styles: serialists and holists. Serialist learners are more incremental, learning one building block at a time; holists prefer to look for relationships between each aspect of the subject matter.

Emotional Intelligence

  • The theory of Emotional Intelligence places emphasis on the ability to control and manipulate one's emotions rather than on academic abilities. According to Six Seconds, a nonprofit that teaches emotional intelligence to educators, learners are more successful when they are better at handling emotion. Emotional intelligence places great importance on learning skills such as motivation, responsibility and self-awareness. Daniel Goleman makes the bold claim that emotional intelligence matters twice as much as intelligence quotient and technical skills combined.

Conditions of Learning

  • Robert Gagne's theory of Conditions of Learning states that there are five major categories of learning: verbal information, cognitive strategies, attitudes, motor skills and intellectual skills. Each of these learning categories requires its own methodologies. For example, new attitudes can be learned by watching role models displaying the desired attitudes. Gagne emphasized the fact that different kinds of instruction are needed for different learning outcomes. Some students may need to learn motor skills, some must improve their intellectual skills, and others may need work on attitudes.


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