Cats and Dogs

I’ve spent much time discussing Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles, and I usually offer Gardner’s model as demonstrated through the website at It’s an easy-to-use site, and has a multiple intelligences survey that produces immediate results. I ask students to take it first thing in the semester, and post their results and reactions.

The other day I was driving past one of those places where they train dogs in classes. I noticed one instructor and about a dozen dogs in this fenced area, and I thought, “to need training, that must be a pretty unruly bunch of dogs”. But they weren’t really. They seemed to be looking around to see what the other dogs were doing, and adjusting their behavior because dogs are, after all, pack animals. And I thought of my students.

I’m thinking I can reduce learning styles to two: Cat Learners and Dog Learners.

Leave Cat Learners alone with a book in a sunny window, keep it quiet, and they learn just fine. Cat Learners are independent, and are thus either self-motivated or not interested in having anyone motivate them. They shun social learning and avoid group work. Their judgement of the value of their work is internal. They tend to fit into Gardner’s logic, language and self learning models.
Dog learners are social, learn best in a group, and need active learning exercises. They require external verification and enforcement (“good doggy! have a biscuit”), and tend to fit into Gardner’s social and body movement styles. Dogs run with the pack, and aren’t comfortable doing anything by themselves.

Yeah, it’s a massive oversimplification. And certainly there are variations in individuals, just as some cats like company and some dogs are very smart and independent. But it’s helped me distill all my problems with teaching into one image: me the Cat trying to teach classes full of Dogs. Think I’ll break out the biscuits.

8 thoughts on “Cats and Dogs

  1. Love the analogy. I can’t stop giggling at the image of the poor little kiddies in my class looking around to see what the others are doing in hopes of earning a puppy treat!


  2. This so speaks to me. The analogy helps me understand why some of my students really hate group projects. My question is, do you think that the majority of professors are cat learners?


  3. You know, I would have said so until I started teaching workshops. Cat learners would want to stay home and learn online, right? Yet many instructors need those in-person workshops, that human touch (if not the puppy biscuit). But overall, being a professor is a very individualistic thing, and most graduate programs are not very collaborative. Perhaps the individual nature of graduate training in our disciplines tends to foster cat-like tendencies. I do notice that professors who tend to be in more collaborative fields or come out of programs that do value a group dynamic tend to work well in … um … packs.


  4. You analogy of cat and dog learners is a great way to introduce the subject of different types of learners. Your right – it is an oversimplification, but it creates a solid foundation from which those who are not immediately familiar with learning styles can recognize, understand, and use as a foothold when learning more about about the different styles.


  5. Jajajja… The fotos are great… jajajja… Yeah, I think now that I have to write also something about that in my spanish blog. I love this analogy too.
    See you in the cck08.


  6. Hi Lisa!

    As I thought so, I also enjoyed this post. Thanks for introducing me to, according to the multiple intelligence survey I tend to be a cat, lol. I am determined not to leave you a typo here.
    See you around. Love: Maru


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