GP 9 Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

In essence

There are many ways to know and be intelligent. Learners bring diverse talents and ways of learning to their studies. When teachers respect diversity and take particular learning needs and cultural contexts into account they provide positive learning experiences for their students.

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What you can do

You can reflect on your own beliefs, biases and stereotypes around diversity and be aware of how these attitudes may influence your teaching. For instance, do you have high expectations for all your students? Do you model fairness and understanding in what you say and do?

You can reflect on your teaching approaches and use of instructional media to ensure you are enabling all students to succeed. For instance, do you use material that is free of bias? Do you use a variety of assignments to accommodate different styles of learning?

You can cultivate a respectful learning environment by using inclusive language and emphasizing the importance of appreciating different perspectives. You can express confidence in your students’ abilities to learn and look for opportunities to encourage and validate individuals. You can also monitor the atmosphere to ensure that all students feel comfortable.

You can encourage diverse talents and ways of learning by designing tasks that enable students to know, think and express themselves in a range of ways.

You can support all students to succeed by using varied teaching strategies and techniques that promote effective learning and academic skills.

Some approaches that demonstrate respect for diversity and encourage different ways of learning include:

  • teaching multiple ways of writing
  • using pedagogical methods from other traditions such as story telling, circles, pot-luck
  • using assessment tools from other cultures, such as informal dialogue, holistic evaluation of overall performance in a course, self-evaluation
  • using participatory and active learning strategies
  • offering a ‘menu’ of assignment options for students to select their own combinations
  • meeting with students informally
  • helping students to form study teams
  • asking students to define a ‘safe’ classroom

What it looks like

All students feel as though they belong and that their points of view are important (Davis, 2009).

How it is applied in disciplines

Humanities and Social Sciences: provides a rationale and tips for using movement in language learning courses. Movement can be used more deeply than just warmers, stress-breaks or role plays. Movement can enhance how information is processed as well as be a feedback strategy. Learning strategies that incorporate movement are presented as well as a table of potential problems and practical solutions for implementation. Read more Storer (2005).

Education: a study in a science course offered as a general education elective explored students’ preferences for different instructional media according to their learning style, major and gender. They found that all students valued a mix of media and that the following media were considered to be effective for learning: lectures, chalkboard notes, overheads, Powerpoint slides, clicker, review grids, online quizzes and PowerPoint notes. Read more D’Arcy et al (2009).

Education: a teacher education course explores multiculturalism and aims to instill in students an understanding of diversity that moves them from tolerance of difference to affirmation and solidarity. The course draws on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence model and develops interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. Read more Strasser and Seplocha (2005).

How it is applied in teaching contexts

What should you think about when implementing strategies that support diversity in learning in your teaching

Teaching philosophy: I believe in student-centred learning. I think about the contribution I am making to the development of students’ skills and capabilities for their future professional lives.

Pedagogies: Approaches that encourage diversity in learning and characteristically emphasise constructivist learning suit my teaching.

Curriculum: There are specific learning outcomes that I wish my students to have in my course.

Tools for learning: I can motivate my students to adopt learning strategies that encourage diversity in learning and knowing. I can incorporate these strategies into my course.

Commitment: I can identify an ‘active or self-directed learning’ champion who will support innovative practice.

Why is it important?

An increase in student numbers and massification of higher education means that there is more diversity in class, gender, race, ethnicity, academic preparation, mature age in the university classroom (Barrington, 2004). Responding to cultural diversity encourages students and staff to become interculturally knowledgeable for today’s globalised world (Hermida, 2009).

There are many ways to know and be intelligent (Gardner, 1999). Acknowledging different ways of knowing could support students to find greater meaning in their work and thus augment their learning (Barrington, 2004).

A constructivist approach to learning and teaching validates the different realities that students bring to the learning space, therefore embracing diversity. Constructivist learning strives for the individual to achieve goals of deep understanding, cognitive development and changed conceptions (Biggs, 2003).

What is it and how does it support learning? What does recent research say?

Diversity is not just about access to education for underrepresented groups, but acknowledging diversity of passion, intelligence and preference. Teaching should encourage students to engage in different modes and ways of learning and to explore constructions beyond the traditions of the discipline (Parker, 2007).

A pedagogy that respects and supports diversity could be based on any of a huge number of learning style models. For instance, Gardner’s (2006) Multiple Intelligences acknowledges there are eight ways of knowing and allows students to draw on their strengths and learn in ways beyond the traditional academic verbal and logical intelligences while Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory categorises learners in any of four types. Snook (2007) cautions against the use or even validity of learning style models stating there is contradictory evidence about their effectiveness for supporting learning.

An awareness of the learning culture from which international students come and an understanding of the issues they face as students is essential for creating appropriate environments that will build on their inherent learning approaches and give them confidence to adopt other ways of learning (Valiente, 2008). For instance, strategies such as memorization, external motivation, passiveness and collaborative learning which are generally regarded in Western higher education as ‘inferior’ approaches to learning tend to be adopted by international students. It does not necessarily mean that such learning behavior leads to low quality learning as evident in their local cultural settings, however students need help to acculturate and adjust to the learning requirements of their new environment (Valiente, 2008).


Barrington, E. (2004). Teaching to Student Diversity in Higher Education: How Multiple Intelligence Theory Can Help. Teaching in Higher Education, 9(4), 421-434.

Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for qulaity learning at university: What the student does (2nd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2004). Teaching, learning and study skills: a guide for tutors. London: Sage Publications

D'Arcy, C. J., Eastburn, D. M., & Bruce, B. C. (2009). How Media Ecologies Can Address Diverse Student Needs. College Teaching, 57(1), 56-63.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind: What all students should understand. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. New York: Basic Books.

Hermida, J. (2009). Inclusive Teaching Strategies to Promote Non-Traditional Student Success Retrieved October 2nd, 2009, from

Parker, J. (2007). Diversity and the Academy. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(5-6), 787-792.

Snook, I. (2007). Learning styles and other modern educational myths. Paper presented at the Creativity, enterprise, policy : new directions in education : proceedings of the 2007 conference of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia, Wellington, New Zealand.

Storer, M. (2005). Let's get physical : exploring and exploiting movement in the classroom. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 18th English Australia Educational Conference 2005.

Strasser, J., & Seplocha, H. (2005). How Can University Professors Help their Students Understand Issues of Diversity through Interpersonal & Intrapersonal Intelligences? Multicultural Education, 12(4), 20.

Valiente, C. (2008). Are Students Using the "Wrong" Style of Learning?: A Multicultural Scrutiny for Helping Teachers to Appreciate Differences. Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(1), 73-91.