Differentiation and learner centered instruction

There’s a lot we can do to differentiate instruction.  For this article, I’ll be covering only one way instructors can differentiate instruction by looking at learning styles.  I’ll also review learner centered instruction because LCI activities tend to address more learning styles than teacher centered ones.

What are different learning styles?

Learning styles refers to the way people learn and take in new information.  The Multiple Intelligences theory, proposed by Howard Gardner, has gained the most attention in the field of education.  Through his research, Gardner discovered that people take in information in a variety of ways.  And many people learn best in one or two of those ways.  He called these ways of learning “intelligences.”  Howard’s original theory propose eight intelligences.

  • Linguistic – learns through words (visual and auditory)
  • Logical-mathematical – learns through use of numbers or logic
  • Spatial – learns by examining pictures, charts, and graphic organizers
  • Bodily-kinesthetic – learns through physical experience, learns by doing
  • Musical – music, poetry, and rhythm are good methods for delivery of information
  • Interpersonal – learns through social experiences
  • Intrapersonal – learns through self-reflection
  • Naturalistic – learn through experiences in the natural world

What Gardner and other researchers suggest is that teachers use each of the eight intelligences throughout their course or unit.  It’s not realistic to use each one throughout one lesson, but teachers should strive to use 2 or 4 of the intelligences per lesson in order to reach a wider range of intelligences and their audience.

There are several learning styles inventories. Here is a very short Multiple Intelligences quiz http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-assessment.  This one is longer and more comprehensive http://www.literacynet.org/mi/assessment/findyourstrengths.html. There is also the VARK questionnaire http://vark-learn.com/the-vark-questionnaire/, which breaks learning styles into different categories.  The most important thing to remember is that everyone learns and takes in new information differently.  As instructors, we need to write lessons that allow for these different learning styles (intelligences).  You can ask students to take the learning styles inventory test or just plan to teach to all 8 intelligences throughout your course.

Below is a list of activities you can do for each intelligence. You will find that you are already doing most of these things.  Take note of the kinds of activities you do.  Are there one or two intelligences that you are not teaching to?

  • Linguistic – (visual and auditory) read, listen to a lecture, write
  • Logical-mathematical – study equations, patterns, or logic sequences associated with an idea
  • Spatial – examine or draw a chart or picture associated with a concept
  • Bodily-kinesthetic – labs, clinicals, internships, performing a task or skill (other than writing and speaking tasks)
  • Musical – write a song or poem that demonstrates learning
  • Interpersonal – group interactions, examining social issues related to ideas in the content of the lesson
  • Intrapersonal – self-reflective journaling, self-evaluations, etc
  • Naturalistic – internships, problem solving tasks

The teacher centered (TC) – learner centered (LC) instruction continuum


Some classroom activities are clearly TC while others are clearly LC, but many activities fall in between the two.  Some activities are strongly TC but with a LC component, and others are strongly LC with a TC component.  The goal of your instruction isn’t necessarily that your teaching falls all on the LC side of the continuum all the time.  Instead your goal is to move toward the LC side with the majority of class time being spent on the LC side.

There is a fundamental difference between teacher centered and learner centered instruction.  Teacher centered focuses on delivery of content, and classroom activities are dominantly things like lecture (listening and note-taking), reading, video, and demonstration. Learner centered instruction focuses on understanding content and often offers alternative ways to deliver content:

  • Article summaries
  • Case studies
  • Discussion
  • Compare contrast
  • Concept map
  • Fishbowl discussion
  • Reflective journaling
  • Mix and match
  • Jigsaw
  • Think pair share

Bringing the two together

What intelligences do these kinds of activities address?  If you look at the TC activities, you’ll notice that they often only address one or two intelligences.

  • Lecture (listening and note-taking) – linguistic
  • Reading – linguistic
  • Video – linguistic and possibly spatial
  • Demonstration by the teacher – linguistic or spatial

However, TC activities very often address 2 or more intelligences at the same time.

  • Demonstration by the student – linguistic, spatial, kinesthetic
  • Article summaries – linguistic and possibly logical and naturalistic
  • Case studies – naturalistic, interpersonal, logical
  • Discussion – interpersonal
  • Compare contrast – spatial (if using a chart), logical
  • Concept map – spatial, logical
  • Reflective journaling – linguistic, intrapersonal
  • Mix and match – logical, spatial
  • Jigsaw – logical and possibly spatial
  • Labs – kinesthetic, interpersonal, naturalistic

To sum up, we should be mixing delivery methods because of different intelligences (learning styles), but we should also be choosing more LCI activities because it focuses on understanding content and addresses more intelligences (learning styles).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s