So You Think You’re
An Introduction to the Theory of Multiple Intelligence
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In 1983, a Harvard education professor by the name of Harold
Gardner created a new theory of intelligence. Previously,
intelligence, as measured by the two most prominent tests, the Wechsler
scales and the Stanford-Binet, has been assigned a number known as an
“intelligence quotient” or “IQ.” The higher your IQ, the smarter you
were supposed to be. An IQ of 100 is considered average; anything below
70 is said to be some level of mental retardation, while anything above
130 is said to be superior, with all the intervening levels in between.
But those numbers apply only to a very narrow range of
abilities. Dr. Gardner hypothesized that there are actually EIGHT forms
of intelligence, not only a few of which are assessed by the
traditional IQ test. According to this theory of “multiple
intelligences,” each of us can be more or less bright with respect to
each of these non-overlapping types.
One of the major implications of Gardner’s theory is that perhaps
some or all of those who have had difficulties learning have had those
difficulties not because they are dull-witted but because their
preferred way of learning---their type of intelligence---is not being
accessed. The theory of multiple intelligence says that if we teach
people in a way that is congruent with their preferred way to learn,
then learn they will. At its farthest end, multiple intelligence
theory casts the problem of “learning disabilities” in a new light.
Perhaps, Gardner hypothesized, LD folks just needed to be instructed in
a different manner. There are 8 different “potential pathways to
Types of Intelligence
refers to being “word smart”
refers to being “number/reasoning smart.”
is intelligence expressed visually.
is “body smart,” or the ability to process
information via interaction with the surrounding space
refers to heightened ability to learn via sounds, rhythms
These are those folks who are “people smart.”
refers to people who have a heightened ability to be
self-reflective and self-analytical
is the ability to relate to the natural world
In order to
facilitate learning, a subject should be taught in a way that accesses
as many of these intelligences as possible. And if someone is having
trouble learning from a traditional teaching style (which historically
has heavily emphasized linguistic and logical/mathematical styles), then
the same information should be presented in a teaching style that is
more synchronized with the learner’s style of intelligence.
Moreover, each of us,
in addition to our different levels of intelligence in each of these 8
areas, also has a preferred perceptual
modality of learning.
There are 3 main learning styles:
visual learners learn best by seeing
Auditory: auditory learners prefer to hear things to learn them best
Kinesthetic: this type of learning style depends on physical interaction
with the subject to be learned
Visual learners do best with lectures, and should sit at the front of the
class in order to see the instructor’s body language and in order to
avoid any visual obstructions. Since they’re likely to think best in
pictures, illustrations, maps, videos, flipcharts and hand-outs are
Auditory learners, on the other hand, while similar to their visual cousins
in their need for lectures, learn by talking things through, through
discussions and picking up on vocal tones and other auditory nuances.
They will learn better if written information is read aloud to them.
learn best via a hands-on approach and need to actively investigate the
subject at hand. Kinesthetic people often find it difficult to sit
still for prolonged periods of time due to their strong need for
activity and exploration.
But this is only
one theory of how people learn. Another professor, Richard Felder,
suggests that each of us falls somewhere on each of 4 different
1)Affective vs. Reflective learners:
While active learners retain learned information best when they do
something with the new knowledge---e.g. discuss or apply it, or explain
it to others---reflexive learners prefer to “think things through” and
prefer to work alone. Each type of learner should make sure that if
their academic environment does not provide a sufficient amount of time
with the way that they learn best, they should structure their study
time so that it best fits their learning style.
Intuitive Learners: Most of
us use both styles at different times. Sensing learners prefer to
learn facts, while intuitive learners are more at home learning broader
possibilities and relationships. Where sensing learners gravitate
towards solving problems by standard methods and shy away from
innovation, intuitive learners are attracted by innovation and dislike
repetition. While sensing learners are patient with details and
memorization, intuitive learners do better with understanding new
concepts and abstractions and even mathematical formulations.
will remember best if they see how the new information connects to the
real world; they need specific, real-world examples of the concepts
being learned. Intuitive learners, on the other hand, will do better if
they ask about the theories that link the facts that need to be learned.
2)Visual vs. Verbal Learners:
While visual learners learn best through what they see (pictures,
diagrams, films, demonstrations, etc.), verbal learners better retain
information that is gained from words, both written and spoken.
Visual learners can facilitate their learning experiences
by finding or creating any visual representation of verbal course
material. Things like diagrams, sketches, photos, flow charts, videos
or computer displays will help. A concept map that lists main points
enclosed in boxes and with arrows showing connections amongst concepts
can be useful. Highlight any notes taken so that everything about one
concept is the same color.
Verbal learners, on the other hand, can increase their
learning by writing summaries or outlines of what they have learned.
Sometimes it helps to work with peers and exchange verbal understanding
of the information.
3)Sequential vs. Global Learners: While a sequential learner learns best by advancing
understanding in a stepwise, linear fashion, a global learner prefer to
learn “in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing
connections, and then suddenly ‘getting it.’ A sequential learner needs
a logical path to find a solution, whereas a global learner can solve
problems once they have grasped the overall picture.
A sequential learner can assist his/her learning by making
outlines. A global learner may feel frustrated or “dumb” because s/he
can’t follow along in a logical step-by-step manner. To assist such a
learner in getting to the point where everything suddenly all makes
sense, a global learner might try skimming through an entire chapter to
get an overview of the subject matter, then trying to relate the subject
to what is already known or ask your teacher for help with this.