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The Theory of Multiple Intelligences was first presented in 1983 by Howard Gardner, a psychologist, when he published his book Frames of Mind. He declared that learning occurred through many types of intelligences, and that people had various levels of each.
Traditionally, it was believed that intelligence was pre-determined and fixed. Despite one’s best efforts, one is not able to grow or increase his or her intelligence. People accepted that this was unvarying – if you possessed only a small amount of intelligence, there was not much you could do to change this. There were tests that could determine your level of intelligence based on your answers to what were considered standard questions. Gardner returned to the original definition of intelligence and reflected on the skills and abilities needed to solve problems within a culture. Based on current knowledge of the world, the brain, and communities, what skill set is desired and what are humans capable of? What he realized was that intelligence could not be limited to one group, but instead could be classified into nine separate intelligence areas. To further make his theory unique, Gardner argued that we possessed all nine, but that each individual was strong in different intelligence areas. A typical classroom setting prioritized learning from the logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic intelligences. It is imperative for instructors to incorporate learning tasks that support more of the intelligences in order to help students become more successful. This will also help students apply their knowledge to new situations and develop each type of their intelligences in turn.
See also: Theory of Moral Development – Piaget
When Gardner published his Multiple Intelligence Theory, many were in disagreement. Prior to the 1980’s, the educational field believed that intelligence was already determined at birth. Researchers used short-answer tests to assess one’s intelligence, and it was unheard of to assume that one’s cognitive capacity could grow. In his theory, Gardner simply viewed it differently. He defined intelligence as:
- The capacity to create solutions to life’s problems.
- The ability to acquire new knowledge to gather understanding on a topic.
- A skillset that is useful to the community, whether it be a product or a service.
Gardner also had some additional beliefs:
- All humans have all nine unique intelligences, potentially more which have yet to be researched.
- Everyone possesses all nine intelligences in various amounts.
- Each individual is made up of a unique combination of all nine intelligences.
- These intelligences are uniquely arranged in each individual’s brain and may or may not work collaboratively together.
- Students can experience greater success if learning tasks were directly related to their developed intelligences.
- Intelligences can be developed or weakened, ignored or strengthened with practice.
The Multiple Intelligences Theory states that it is to the benefit of both the student and the instructor if the student’s intelligence can be identified. Identifying a student’s intelligence allows the instructor to select appropriate activities for the student in the classroom and guide their learning journey more effectively. While there are nine different intelligences in total, it must be noted that instructors traditionally gear tasks towards the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. The nine intelligences are listed below:
1. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
The ability to manipulate both the body and objects with a keen sense of timing is known as bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. These people are able to accurately manipulate objects due to a strong mind-body union. This can be demonstrated in the form of physical skills, for example, athletes and dancers, or in precision and steady movement, such as surgeons and crafts people.
See also: Andragogy Theory – Malcolm Knowles
2. Existential Intelligence
The ability to be able to have deep discussions about the meaning of life and human existence is known as existential intelligence. People with this intelligence are sensitive but can rationally address difficult questions, for example, how we got here and why everyone eventually dies.
3. Interpersonal Intelligence
While the ability to communicate effectively with others is common knowledge on the basis of interpersonal intelligence, it is not merely limited to verbal interactions. People with developed interpersonal intelligence are also able to read the moods of others. Sensitivity to temperaments and the ability to communicate nonverbally allow these individuals to understand differences in perspectives. Because they can often accurately assess the sentiments and motivations of others, these individuals make good social workers, teachers, and actors.
4. Intrapersonal Intelligence
The ability to understand one’s own thoughts is known as intrapersonal intelligence. Individuals who demonstrate intrapersonal intelligence are acutely aware of their feelings and can show an appreciation for themselves and other humans. Often misconstrued as “shy,” these people are actually self-motivated and able to use their understanding to direct the course of their own lives. Philosophers, psychologists and religious leaders may all show high levels of intrapersonal intelligence.
5. Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence
The ability to express oneself using words and language is known as verbal-linguistic intelligence. This intelligence is unique because it is the most commonly shared human ability. It allows us to apply meaning to words and express appreciation for complex phrases. Through reading, writing and sharing stories orally, we are able to marvel at our use of language. We see examples of this skill in journalists, poets, and public speakers.
6. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
Sometimes misconstrued as simply the ability to calculate mathematical equations, logical-mathematical intelligence is much more than that. Individuals with this developed intelligence demonstrate excellent reasoning skills, abstract thought, and the ability to infer based on patterns. They are able to make connections based on their prior knowledge and are drawn to categorization, patterning, and relationships between ideas. With experiments and strategy games as two coveted activities, it would make sense that possible careers would include a scientist, a mathematician, and a detective.
7. Musical Intelligence
The ability to acutely reflect on sounds is demonstrated by those who possess musical intelligence. These people are able to distinguish between specific pitches, tones and rhythms that other may miss. Someone with musical intelligence is often a sensitive listener, and can reflect or reproduce music quite accurately. Musicians, conductors, composers, and vocalists all demonstrate keen musical intelligence. As young adults, we can witness these people humming or drumming to a self-directed rhythm. Musical intelligence is also closely related to mathematical intelligence, as they share a similar thinking process.
8. Naturalist Intelligence
A sensitivity to features in the natural world is most closely tied to what is called naturalist intelligence. The ability to distinguish between living and non-living things was notably more valuable in the past when humans were often farmers, hunters or gatherers. Nowadays, this intelligence has evolved to more modern-day roles such as a chef or a botanist. We still carry traces of naturalist intelligence, some more so than others, which is evident by our preferences for certain brands over others.
9. Spatial Intelligence
Visually artistic people are known to demonstrate spatial intelligence. These abilities include manipulating images, graphic skills, and spatial reasoning – anything that would include more than two dimensions. They may be daydreamers or like to draw in their spare time, but also show an interest in puzzles or mazes. Careers directly linked to spatial intelligence include many artistic vocations, for example, painters, architects or sculptors, as well as careers that require the ability to visualize, such as pilots or sailors.
See also: Social Learning Theory: Albert Bandura
How to Use Multiple Intelligences in Teaching and Learning
While it is not possible to address all learning styles at once, utilizing a variety of project and lesson formats will help reach many more students. There are many ways for instructors to use the Theory of Multiple Intelligences in their educational programs:
- Utilize a variety of lecture and lesson formats.
- Offer students the opportunity to work with their peers in addition to independent work.
- Allow students to choose the topic of their project based on what they are interested in.
- Integrate their interests into the program, either through discussions or learning portfolios.
- Give students the option to work with their peers or independently on a task.
- Provide engaging interactions with the educational content, such as polls or virtual labs.
- Allow multiple presentation or project options, including a variety of tasks and activities.
- Encourage students to reflect on course assignments using the multiple intelligences.
- Diversify the deliverance of course content; use videos, texts, audio lectures, discussions and group work to reach students in different ways.
- Promote active learning by encouraging students to interact with the material in some way: interview an expert, share ideas on social media, or attend a show related to the topic.
It is important to point out that research does not support the idea that matching activities to one’s learning style improves learning.
See also: Problem-Based Learning (PBL)