Why learning preferences should be important to group leaders

Mondays on the blog are excerpts taken from books on Christian education, learning theory, discipleship,7-kinds-of-smart and others that relate to you and your ministry as a group leader. I’ve chosen the book 7 Kinds of Smart for today’s excerpt. It’s become one of my go-to resources when I lead conferences and try to help group leaders understand how people learn.

The book is based on the pioneering work of Howard Gardner and his “multiple intelligences” theory. People are smart – just in different ways. An individual may prefer to learn one way, while the person next to him prefers to learn in a different way.

Developed over the past fifteen years by psychologist Howard Gardner, the theory of multiple intelligences challenges old beliefs about what it means to be smart. Gardner believes that our culture has focused too much attention on verbal and logical thinking – the abilities typically associated on an intelligence test – and neglected other ways of knowing. He suggests there are at least seven intelligences worthy of being taken seriously as important modes of thought (p.9).

To summarize the seven intelligences (the ways people prefer to learn), they are:

  1. Linguistic intelligence – the intelligence of words. This is the intelligence of the storyteller, journalist, poet, and lawyer. People who are particularly smart in this area can argue, persuade, entertain, or instruct effectively through the spoken word.
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence – the intelligence of numbers and logic. This is the intelligence of scientists, accountants, and computer programmers. These people are able to reason, sequence, see cause-and-effect, find numerical patterns, and create hypotheses.
  3. Spatial intelligence – this intelligence involves thinking in pictures and images. It is the ability to perceive, transform, and recreated different aspects of the visual-spatial world. It’s the playground of architects, photographers, artists, pilots, and mechanical engineers.
  4. Musical intelligence – people with this intelligence appreciate and understand rhythms and melodies. It’s the intelligence of a Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms. Yet musical intelligence resides in the mind of any individual who has a good ear, can sing a tune, or keep time to music.
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – persons with this intelligence are talented at controlling their body movements and can handle objects skillfully. Athletes, craftsmen, mechanics, and surgeons possess a great measure of this kind of thinking.
  6. Interpersonal intelligence – this is the ability to understand and work with people. People with this intelligence are responsive to people’s temperaments, intentions, and desires. These people are able to get inside the skin of someone else and see their point of view. They make wonderful networkers, teachers, and negotiators.
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence – this is the intelligence of the inner self. Persons with this intelligence are able to access their own feelings, and they can discriminate between many different kinds of inner emotional states. They can enjoy meditation and contemplation, deep soul-searching, and can be very self-disciplined. Counselors, theologians, and self-employed business people often have this intelligence.

What is the implication for groups and group leaders? Plenty! Each of the groups we lead have people in them with a variety of intelligences. They prefer to learn in ways we may not. As a teacher-leader, I cannot simply teach in a way or two that I prefer. I must use a variety of learning approaches to make sure I am communicating effectively with people in my group who learn differently than I do. They’re smart – just in ways that are different from me.

If my preferred way of learning is through the use of linguistic intelligence, I’ll tend to teach that way, too. I have to be sensitive to the people in my group who prefer learning through music, relationships, physical, visual, and other methods.

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