color photo of a computer key saying ''distance learning''Over 80% of schoolchildren are involved with distance learning through their schools according to a recent poll by the Gallup organization. Another 16% are doing online learning not specifically tied to their schools.  Since this is such a shift from what things were like when most kids went to school, we have to ask ourselves what the impact of distance learning is having on our kids. The answer to that question may depend upon what kinds of learners they are.

Eight Ways to Learn

Howard Gardner has proposed the existence of eight separate intelligences, which I’ve labeled as follows:  Word Smart, Number Smart, Picture Smart, Body Smart, Music Smart, People Smart, Self Smart, and Word Smart.  Every person has all eight intelligences, but they are distributed differently in each individual.

The kids who will do best with distance learning are those who are Word Smart, Number/Logic Smart, and/or Self Smart.  Word Smart and Number/Logic Smart kids learn best in the way that traditional education typically teaches:  through lecture (online in this case), workbooks or worksheets (electronic in this case), and textbooks and other books (which may supplement the distance learning program).  Self Smart kids have good self-discipline, like to work independently, are goal-focused, and benefit from the step-by-step approach found in many distance learning programs.

On the other hand, People Smart kids, who learn best through social interactions, may do more poorly if they are devoting most of their learning time to interaction with a screen.  Parents can help feed their need for social interaction by engaging them in dialogue about what they’re learning, and to some extent, by taking advantage of applications like Zoom or FaceTime, which can provide connections to friends and fellow classrooms (e.g. for online study groups etc.).

What Works for Other Types of Learners

Body Smart kids will also lose out in a screen-based distance learning program.  They learn best by moving around, building things with their hands and making learning physical.  If all they’re doing is moving a cursor around on a screen, their bodies will be crying out for more physical release.  These kids will work better if they’re allowed to fidget while they work online, given regular exercise breaks (say, every 15-20 minutes), and have the opportunity to work on hands-on projects.

Picture Smart kids may need to supplement what they’re getting from the distance learning program with highly visual material that reinforces what they’re learning.  The Khan Academy provides one level of support in with their eight minute chalkboard talks where material is visually available on the screen as the narrator walks the student through the learning goal.  Picture Smart kids also should have the opportunity to learn through videos (e.g. to learn about a science concept by seeing a short video of an experiment being done in the lab).  The distance learning program hopefully will have the kids doing their own project-based learning at least some of the time, where the Picture Smart student can create presentations through photos, videos, Power Point, and other visual displays of what they’re learning.

Music Smart kids and Nature Smart kids may be the ones who have the most difficulty doing distance learning, since few if any teachers will incorporate music or nature into their online  programs.  These learners will need to take frequent music breaks or go outdoors regularly to get a good dose of nature.  They’ll need to supplement what they learn online with course-relevant material that uses music and/or nature.  For a class that is studying the Civil War, for example, a Music Smart kid might look up songs of the Civil War on the Internet and incorporate them into a class project.  Or for an online science class, a Nature Smart student may want to explore the ecological implications of, say, a work of literature, a period of history, a science concept, or even a mathematical skill (e.g. in learning about probability, having them do a project that involves looking at probability statistics used in forecasting weather).

Tweaking the System

Keep in mind, though, that every child and teen has all eight intelligences to some degree, so they hopefully will be able to hang in there during the course of their online learning, especially if you offer support as a parent that includes the kinds of opportunities listed above.  Every student learns in a different way and that means your child or teen will need to have their distance learning experiences tweaked so that the program matches their own intrinsic way of processing information. Rather than wait until problems emerge as a result of a mismatch between the way they learn and the distance learning program (e.g. behavior problems, reluctance to go online, poor academic performance), it’s best to be proactive and help your child find the resources that will enable them to do their very best, both online and offline!


For more information on the eight kinds of smart and how to ensure the success of your child or teen at home and in school, see my best-selling book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.

This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.

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I'm the author of 19 books including my latest: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education - https://amzn.to/2KAxT8F.

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