Your Mental Identity—How do you learn, and how do you use this knowledge?

Two ways of defining your mental identity are how you take in information (your learning style) and what you do with the knowledge you’ve acquired (your type of intelligence).

Acquiring Information:  Learning Styles

Illustration of three learning stylesOne of the most common and widely used learning styles models is Neil Fleming’s VAK (and later VARK—R=Read/Write) model. Fleming, a teacher in New Zealand, created this model (updating the VAK model in 1987) to explain why different people learn differently.

Below are the three learning styles widely accepted by psychologists and their frequency and characteristics.

Visual Learners

  • 60–65% of the population.
  • Learn best by seeing information presented in pictures, charts, graphics, illustrations, or diagrams.
  • Remember details in picture form.
  • Are able to create strong visualizations of sizes, shapes, textures, and depth in their minds.
  • Pay close attention to the body language and facial expressions of others.
  • Have a keen awareness of the aesthetics of the physical environment.
  • Read or watch TV to relax.
  • Remember people’s faces better than their names.
  • Need an organized space to concentrate.
  • Solve problems by writing out possible solutions.

Auditory Learners

  • 30% of the population.
  • Learn best by hearing information and memorizing sounds.
  • Have strong language skills including a well-developed vocabulary, appreciation for words, and talent for foreign languages.
  • Are interesting and articulate conversationalists.
  • Are musically talented:  can hear tones, rhythms, and individual notes.
  • Are easily distracted by noises.
  • Listen to music or the radio to relax.
  • Remember people’s names better than their faces.
  • Learn new ideas from audio tapes.
  • Solve problems by talking through possible solutions.

Kinesthetic Learners

  • 5–10% of the population.
  • Learn best by moving their bodies and through physical interaction.
  • Are hands-on learners.
  • Wiggle, tap feet, or move legs when sitting.
  • Were often labeled “hyperactive” as children.
  • Are good at working with tools and their hands.
  • Play sports or do physical activity to relax.
  • Remember people by recalling things they did with them.
  • Are distracted by moving people when concentrating.
  • Learn about a new idea by going to a seminar.
  • Solve problems through hands-on experience.

Applying Information:  Types of Intelligence

Illustration of eight intelligences

Howard Gardner, an American developmental psychologist and Harvard University professor, originally conceptualized his theory on multiple intelligences as a way to merge art with psychology, not as a means of determining learning styles in an educational setting, which is how this theory is frequently used today. His book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, explains that there is not just one type of intelligence, but many. He defines intelligence as “…the human ability to solve problems or to make something that is valued in one or more cultures.”

Gardner initially identified seven different kinds of intelligence, but has since identified two others for a total of nine. Below is a summary of these various intelligences.

Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence: Word Smart
Ability to express yourself through language.

  • Think in words.
  • Are sensitive to the meaning, sounds, rhythm, and order of words.
  • Have highly developed auditory skills.
  • Play with sound in language.
  • Enjoy storytelling, creative writing, poetry, jokes, humor, puzzles, riddles, and reading.
  • Love seeing, saying, and hearing words.

Mathematical/Logical Intelligence: Number Smart
Ability to understand the underlying principles of systems and discern logical or numerical patterns.

  • Think conceptually.
  • Are skilled in reasoning, logic, problem solving, mathematics, and other complex logical systems.
  • Explore patterns, categories, and relationships.
  • Question and wonder about natural events.
  • Enjoy number games, problem solving, pattern games, and experimenting.
  • Have strong reasoning skills and ask questions in a logical manner.
  • Like order and step-by-step directions.

Spatial/Visual Intelligence: Picture Smart
Ability to perceive and present the visual world accurately and recreate or alter it in the mind.

  • Think in images and pictures.
  • Produce clear visual images in their mind.
  • Know the location of everything.
  • Enjoy creating visual patterns and need visual stimulation.
  • Are daydreamers.

Body/Kinesthetic Intelligence: Body Smart
Ability to use one’s body and handle objects in a skilled way, for self-expression or towards a goal.

  • Process knowledge through bodily sensation.
  • Have excellent motor skills and coordination.
  • Have gut feelings about things.
  • Need to move around (often labeled as hyperactive).
  • Are athletic and active.
  • Enjoy creative dramatics, role-playing, dancing, and expressing themselves through movement and body actions.
  • Learn through physical movement and from touching and feeling.
  • Use movement, gestures, and physical expression to learn and solve problems.
  • May touch when talking.

Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence: Music Smart
Ability to understand, appreciate, and create music; ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate patterns.

  • Think in sounds, rhythms, and patterns.
  • Sing, hum, and whistle to themselves.
  • Immediately respond to music.
  • Perform and appreciate music.
  • Are sensitive to environmental sounds: crickets, bells, alarms, ambient music, etc.
  • Have strong opinions on music.
  • Enjoy playing instruments, singing songs, drumming.
  • Like the sounds of the human voice, environmental sounds, and instrumental sounds.
  • Learn easier if things are set to music or to a beat.

Interpersonal/Social Intelligence: People Smart
Ability to understand other people—their moods, desires, and motivations.

  • Think and process by relating, cooperating, and communicating with others.
  • Are natural leaders.
  • Sense feelings and intentions of others; are intuitive.
  • Understand people; mediate conflicts.
  • Are skilled at organizing, coordinating, and manipulating people.
  • Are street smart.
  • Have many friends.
  • Are very social.
  • Enjoy being part of a group.
  • Can help peers work cooperatively with others.

Intrapersonal/Individualistic Intelligence: Self Smart
Ability to understanding one’s self, emotions, feelings, strengths, weaknesses, identity, and purpose.

  • Are skilled in inner focusing.
  • Have a deep awareness of inner feelings, dreams, and ideas.
  • Are reflective, analytical, self-motivated, and individualistic.
  • Prefer individual/solitary activities to group/team activities.
  • Recognize self strengths and weaknesses.
  • Require private space and time.
  • Like to work independently.
  • Understand their own feelings, motivations, and moods.

Naturalist/Environmental Intelligence: Nature Smart
Ability to recognize and classify plants, minerals, animals, and cultural artifacts; knowledge of relationships in nature.

  • Sensitive to nature.
  • Understand environmental systems.

Existential/Spiritual Intelligence: Spirit Smart
Ability to pose and ponder questions about the meaning of life and the structure of the universe and consciousness and to understand philosophical and theological issues.

  • Are curious about the universe, consciousness, and the meaning of life.
  • Seek connection/communion with a higher power.

Check out these online tests to find your learning style and type of intelligence:


3 thoughts on “Your Mental Identity—How do you learn, and how do you use this knowledge?

  1. Interesting stuff! Where did you find the statistics on VARK population distribution? I’m studying learning styles in the workplace and that data would be extremely helpful.

    • I did the research for an article I wrote a couple years ago (which then became this blog post). Unfortunately I don’t remember now and can’t find notes. But, online somewhere. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

  2. Pingback: Building your Sprint Backlog / Scrum Board « Scrumplicity

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