As a teacher, one thing that’s drummed into you while you’re learning how to teach is that different people learn in different ways.
It’s an idea that I think could also be applied to readers – and used by authors thinking about how to target their books to a particular audience.
Like all things to do with education, there’s a huge amount written on the subject – including a lot of jargon. (Educators just love complex theories that baffle the uninitiated.)
But the basic concept is pretty straightforward. For example, I like to learn through a mixture of reading, listening and doing. I don’t have a lot of patience with instruction sheets – I’m like the boy in the picture above, although I will look at the instructions when I’m not sure what to do next (or when it’s all gone wrong).
There are lots of terms that get bandied around but the important one here is multiple intelligences. This is the theory that the brain uses a number of different pathways to learn – and we each combine these ‘intelligences’ in different ratios.
The terms and number of intelligences vary. Some people list three main ones: auditory, visual and tactile. Others – like in the chart below – are more complex:But the other day I started wondering whether we, as writers, can also apply the theory to our readers?
After all, everyone knows that literature is extremely subjective. Something that’s a work of art to me may well leave another person cold.
How much of that, though, is a reflection of our multiple intelligences? People don’t just learn in different ways, they also read in different ways.
Someone with a bias towards auditory (aural/musical) learning might well be the kind of person who verbalises a text – either literally reading out loud or hearing the words in their head. People who are logical/mathematical might like crime novels or anything involving a puzzle (as long as it makes sense and is properly explained).
A kinaesthetic (tactile) learner may reflect that preference in the way they read. Perhaps just it’s the fact they can’t sit still – or maybe they like stories that involve lots of action and dialogue. They’ll be bored rigid by lengthy expositions (like this one), whereas a finely crafted explanation will go down a treat with those of a verbal/linguistic bent. Likewise, readers of a visual inclination might enjoy a detailed description that allows them to really ‘see’ a scene.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple, as people don’t generally use just one intelligence but a combination. However, maybe we can use the theory to analyse our books and think about what type of readers we’re appealing to and using this to fine tune our prose to best effect.
I could go on but hopefully intelligent people like you will have got the general idea by now.
So, that’s my basic take on multiple intelligences. It might not be entirely how a textbook theorist would explain it but this is my version. (I doubt if I’m the first person to think of applying the multiple intelligences theory to reading but I’ve not come across it before.)
The question of whether authors can develop it to apply to readers – and how useful that would be – I’ll leave to you! Any ideas or comments?