Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Museums are free choice learning institutions. Understanding the different ways people prefer to learn can help us broaden our exhibit’s appeal, increase visitor engagement, and spur new methods of exhibit interaction. People do not learn by reading alone. Museums are an ideal enviornment to teach using a variety of learning styles. Below are a few methods to quantify different learning styles.

kids in exhibit

Howard Gardner – Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner initially formulated a list of seven intelligences. He studied people that were particularly strong in one learning style, and lacked abilities in other learning styles. With a little creativity his definitions can inspire exhibit techniques.

  • Linguistic intelligence is the ability to work with spoken and written language. Do you absorb material by talking about it?
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to look at problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. Do you love charts and graphs?
  • Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. Do you get a deeper meaning from lisening to a broadside written in 1812 sung to the tune of yankee doodle dandy?
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the use of your whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Physically performing a historic task can communicate a reality of the past that is hard to comprehend through words alone.
  • Spatial intelligence is the ability to recognize and use the nature of open spaces and more confined areas. Understanding plans and even appreciating miniatures are related to spatial intelligence.
  • Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and being able to use such information to regulate our lives.

In Frames of Mind (1983) Howard Gardner treated the personal intelligences 'as a piece'. Because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together. However, he still argues that it makes sense to think of two forms of personal intelligence. Gardner claimed that the seven intelligences rarely operate independently. They are used at the same time and tend to complement each other as people develop skills or solve problems.

Is the same true for exhibits? Do exhibit elements that appeal to different learning styles work together to communicate content to our visitors?

board game

4MAT System

Developed by Bernice McCarthy, author of the 4MAT system Educational Leadership, v48 n2 p31-37 Oct 1990

This cycle of learning is based on a number of premises. First, different individuals perceive and process experience in different preferred ways. These preferences comprise our unique learning styles. Essential to quality learning is an awareness in the learner of his/her own preferred mode, becoming comfortable with his/her own best ways of learning, and being helped to develop a learning repertoire, through experience with alternative modes.

The fact that a student may have a preferred, most-comfortable mode does not mean she/he cannot function effectively in others. In fact, the student who has the flexibility to move easily from one mode to another to fit the requirements of the situation is at a definite advantage over those who limit themselves to only one style of thinking and learning. The four learning styles identified by McCarthy are:

  • Type 1: Innovative Learners are primarily interested in personal meaning. They need to have reasons for learning--ideally, reasons that connect new information with personal experience and establish that information's usefulness in daily life. Some of the many instructional modes effective with this learner type are cooperative learning, brainstorming, and integration of content areas (e.g., science with social studies, writing with the arts, etc.).
  • Type 2: Analytic Learners are primarily interested in acquiring facts in order to deepen their understanding of concepts and processes. They are capable of learning effectively from lectures, and enjoy independent research, analysis of data, and hearing what “the experts” have to say.
  • Type 3: Common Sense Learners are primarily interested in how things work; they want to “get in and try it.” Concrete, experiential learning activities work best for them--using manipulatives, hands-on tasks, kinesthetic experience, etc.
  • Type 4: Dynamic Learners are primarily interested in self-directed discovery. They rely heavily on their own intuition, and seek to teach both themselves and others. Any type of independent study is effective for these learners. They also enjoy simulations, role play, and games.