Types of Learning

Research Question

What do we know about types of learning that can guide the design and delivery of professional development for faculty and administrators regarding equal access of students with disabilities to courses and programs?

Overview of Research

Learning has been categorized in many ways. Three are discussed below.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed a classification scheme for types of learning which includes three overlapping domains: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. Skills in the cognitive domain, the one most relevant to faculty and administrator training (Lee, 1999), include:

  • knowledge (remembering information)
  • comprehension (explaining the meaning of information)
  • application (using abstractions in concrete situations)
  • analysis (breaking down a whole into component parts)
  • synthesis (putting parts together to form a new and integrated whole)

For example, knowing that the ADA was passed in 1990 is knowledge. Explaining what the law means is comprehension. Application is illustrated when someone knows how the law applies to higher education. Analysis is required to discuss the details of specific legal applications. Finally, synthesis is needed to develop policies and procedures for a postsecondary institution in response to the ADA.

Tennant's A.S.K.

Professor Mark Tennant (1995) categorized types of learning in a different way. The acronym A.S.K., developed by Tennant, represents the three types of learning that occur in training:

A represents "attitude," also known as affective learning. An example of this type of learning is a shift in attitude toward the academic abilities of students with disabilities.

S represents "skills," often called psychomotor or manual learning. Learning to operate adaptive technology is an example of the development of skills.

K represents "knowledge." Cognitive learning is the formal term used for mental skills such as recall of information. An example of knowledge is information on available resources related to disability issues.

Gardner's Seven Knowledge Types

Howard Gardner (1983, 1999) developed a theory of multiple intelligences based upon research in the biological sciences, logistical analysis, and psychology. He breaks down knowledge into seven types:

  1. Logical-mathematical intelligence: the ability to detect patterns, think logically, reason and analyze, and compute mathematical equations (e.g., chemists, economists, engineers).
  2. Linguistic intelligence: the mastery of oral and written language in self-expression and memory (e.g., journalists, lawyers, politicians).
  3. Spatial intelligence: the ability to recognize and manipulate patterns (large or small) in spatial relationships (e.g., architects, pilots, sculptors).
  4. Musical intelligence: the ability to recognize and compose musical quality (pitches, tones), and content (rhythms, patterns) for production and performance (e.g., composers, conductors, musicians).
  5. Kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use the body, or parts of the body to create products or solve problems (e.g. athletes, dancers, surgeons).
  6. Interpersonal intelligence: the ability to recognize another's intentions, and feelings (e.g., managers, sales people, social workers).
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence: the ability to understand oneself and use the information to self-manage (e.g., entrepreneurs, psychologists).

Gardner's theory purports that people use these types of intelligence according to the type of learning that is necessary, their personal strengths and abilities, and the environment in which the learning takes place.

Since different teaching strategies are best applied to certain types of learning, using a wide variety of activities when teaching new material will maximize learning for everyone (Felder, 1996).

Implications for Practice

Carefully consider the context of the participants in the audience of your presentation. What knowledge do they need to perform their job more effectively? What skills need to be developed? How can you help participants synthesize critical content in order to develop appropriate institutional policies? How can you help them develop strategies for accommodating specific students with disabilities in specific activities? How can you model and promote a positive attitude about disability-related accommodations?

Often, learning occurs during periods of confusion, frustration, and struggle. For this reason, risk-taking on the part of the facilitator and the participants is necessary. Sharing personal experiences, posing questions, and presenting case studies can promote learning. In order to engage participants in critical thinking and facilitate problem-solving, consider the following suggestions (Brookfield, 1993):

  • Value and respect participants through word and action.
  • Listen attentively and provide support for efforts.
  • Identify and challenge assumptions.
  • Reflect back attitudes, rationalizations, and habitual behaviors.
  • Imagine and explore alternatives.
  • Practice reflective skepticism.
  • Model critical thinking through clarity, consistency, openness, and accessibility.
  • Teach theory by detailing phenomena and practical problems related to the theory.
  • Balance conceptual with concrete information.
  • Use a variety of sketches, plots, schematics, computer graphics, and physical demonstrations in addition to oral and written explanations in lectures and handouts.
  • Provide time for participants to reflect upon the material being presented.
  • Encourage active participation.

Vary your presentation methods and individualize your strategies. Address the three types of learning—attitude, skills, and knowledge. To address attitudes toward students with disabilities, consider having a panel of successful college students and graduates with disabilities share their experiences. To address skills, you could have participants role-play lectures using a sign-language interpreter while facing the audience.

Lastly, encourage use of different intelligences. Knowledge can be gained when information is given through multiple means including lectures, handouts, videos, analyzing case studies, sharing of personal experiences, and discussion. Logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligences are heavily used in traditional academic settings and responsible for high scores in academic achievement tests. It is reasonable to expect faculty and administrators to heavily rely upon these types of intelligence.


Participants will use multiple types of learning processes during your presentation. When you use different modes of presentation (e.g., lecture, case study analysis, role playing, and discussion) and encourage active participation, you will more effectively facilitate optimal learning.