As a trainer, the first bit of ‘trainery’ knowledge I picked up when I was being taught how to be a trainer / facilitator was that there are different types of learners…Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic.
These three things, funnily enough, also fit well with the idea of formal classroom training….as long as you have a visual aid, something to read, some discussion and an activity, you’d be all good! As a HR professional for the better part of 2 decades, I regularly meet managers who use the same principle in connecting with and managing their teams.
Why not VAK?
I quickly found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with the idea. For two reasons:
This theory blows out the simplicity of VAK, but also creates so many more wonderful opportunities for innovation and interest to create different learning options.
The 9 intelligences are listed below, but there are a lot of articles out there to get you started down a significant rabbit hole if you are up for it…start here if you like, or here if you prefer video. There are even, as is always the case, a detractor or two…so have a look here for the opposing view for a bit of balance.
But, as promised – here are the 9 intelligences that are often discussed in this area:
1. Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence
Well developed learning skills and sensitivity to the sound, meaning and rhythm of words
2. Mathematical-Logical Intelligence
Ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical or numerical patterns
3. Musical Intelligence
Ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber
4. Visual-Spatial Intelligence
Capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly
5. Bodily-Kinaesthetic Intelligence
Ability to control one's body movements and to handle objects skillfully
6. Interpersonal Intelligence
Capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others
7. Intrapersonal Intelligence
Capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes
8. Naturalist Intelligence
Ability to recognise and categorise plants, animals and other objects in nature
9. Existential Intelligence
Sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here
Be wary of the pigeonhole
The funny thing here is that, while deriding the idea of pigeon-holing in the beginning of this article, I am fully aware that I have now just provided a list of 9 pigeon-holes to replace the original 3 that I didn’t like!
As always, we need to be aware that none of these ‘intelligences’ are mutually exclusive and, as managers or trainers, we need to use these lists as awareness pieces to give us more tools to help build and develop the people we are serving, rather than give them a label to make it easier on us to make sense of things.
Like any profiling tool, there is a lot of potential and opportunity here if we choose to use our powers for good instead of evil.
So, what do we do with these intelligences?
OK, so apart from the basic awareness so you’re not too quick to judge people based on the wrong (or limited) set of parameters, we need to think about how to make this practically work.
Here are some basics to think about:
1.Know your goal
You can come up with some truly interesting learning and working situations, as long as you know what the outcome needs to be. There are many paths to take, but you need to know where you’re going.
It sounds a little ‘101’ to say this, but if you don’t have an outcome in mind, you tend to get lost in just trying to make cool things happen for the sake of cool things. Someone once heard that Google had ping pong tables and bean-bags, so then, without understanding why, every other start up or ‘forward thinking’ company had to have bean bags and table tennis…even though it did nothing to help in their particular circumstance.
2.Build your toolkit
It’s not practical to have 9 different options for every circumstance, but gradually building up a number of options to address the outcome you want will enable you to be agile and get to the best outcome.
In a practical sense, ask yourself questions like:
For example, I met a trainer that helps people learn how to fill out forms by creating large posters on the ground to resemble the form and the learners physically jump from one section to the next to get used to filling it out. I love it. And, more importantly, it works.
In the end, anything can be a learning experience.
3.We all change and adapt
Don’t believe that you’ve ‘got it’ just because you figured out that Karen in finance is actually more spatially aware than you first imagined.
There are times where each of these intelligences, or modes can kick in. You need to be able to agile in your thinking and adapt to your learners, your team and the situations that are presenting themselves.
Challenge yourself to try experiences that fit outside of your standard mindset, or intelligence. If you are leading others, this will encourage them to try it as well (avoiding the pigeonhole) and if you are a trainer, this will open new avenues for you to build a better experience for your learners.
The multiple intelligences idea can seem quite huge, but it really does open up a lot of interesting opportunities to help your people and your learners.