Are we wrong about Multiple Intelligence?

I invite you to read Multiple Intelligences Theory: Widely Used Yet Misunderstood. From the article...

“It’s true that I write a lot and also that I am misunderstood a lot,” says Gardner, who originally proposed seven distinct intelligences, adding an eighth a decade later. The big mistake: In popular culture, and in our educational system, the theory of multiple intelligences has too often been conflated with learning styles, reducing Gardner’s premise of a multifaceted system back to a single “preferred intelligence”...

Over 90 percent of teachers believe that students learn better when they receive information tailored to their preferred learning styles, but that’s a myth, explains Paul Howard-Jones, professor of neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol. “The brain’s interconnectivity makes such an assumption unsound, and reviews of educational literature and controlled laboratory studies fail to support this approach to teaching.”

As we often discuss both learning modalities and multiple intelligence, does this information change your ideas on either topic? How do you best address the suggestions, such as using multiple ways of accessing information, individualizing lessons, and incorporating arts into lessons. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
Kathy Tracey



Thanks for bringing up this topic, Kathy.  In workshops where I talk about learning styles, I stress that there is no correlation between teaching to someone's preferred learning style and their educational gains.  Many teachers argue that because they know they learn best "visually" that there must be a correlation.  So we spend a lot of time talking about traits of a good learner, including the ability to process information in various forms and adapt to different learning environments.  We usually arrive at an "aha" moment where they realize that they may have a learning style preference, but they use all learning styles available to them.  The best designed lessons will introduce content through multiple modalities.

As far a multiple intelligences, the most common misconception that I've come across is that they are distinct traits when in reality they all work together, like nucleotides forming a chain of DNA.  The end result is more than an amalgamation of individual parts.  The other misconception that I've come across is that intelligence in any one domain is fixed.  We've learned that people can improve their intelligence in any area.  Even people who are tone deaf can and can't clap their hands on the downbeat can improve in musical intelligence.  (My dad and best friend are both living proof, but don't tell them I said so.) 

For me, it's important to remember that these types of taxonomies are useful to us as educators and researchers, but only if we can get down to the practical application for teachers and students.  So what is the take away?  I think I'll let other people chime in on how they use learning styles and multiple intelligence theory in program and lesson planning.  I'm curious to see what folks are doing with these concepts.

Thanks again for the interesting post.


Kathy, like Glenda and others here, I'm sure, I have long offered workshops to instructors, first on learning styles and, more recently, on multiple intelligences (MI), which I consider to be more specific and helpful. Glenda touched on a few misconceptions regarding MI, which I have often found among teachers. 

In my view, there are many benefits to exploring MI (now nine) with students, not so that they can determine one preference over another, but to help them become more aware of how humans integrate new information. I have found that self awareness leads to greater learning independence. One of the biggest benefits of exploring MI with teachers is to help them find ways to differentiate instruction.

Certainly, the more "intelligences" we learn to use, the more options we have for absorbing new knowledge presented in different ways. Folks with learning disabilities may be more restricted in that sense, but they, too, benefit from exploring their own learning avenues. 

Howard-Jones reported on his studies on other human brains, but I speak from personal experience with my own brain, and find that I benefit from knowing that I learn using nine intelligences, depending on the topic being covered. I find the exploration fun and helpful. Leecy

I get so weary of people saying "learning styles are bogus!"   and that "there's no support for the learning styles idea!"   (the second is pretty much the exact wording from a tweet last week).   

That's actually very different from the idea that overall, statistically speaking, students don't really benefit from being taught in the way they prefer.    

Lets  start with this: for students I work with who have specific language learning disabilities... teaching to their "style" can mean the difference between success and failure.   Not all students follow typical patterns.   Even students w/o diagnosed differences often benefit from the differentiated instruction you describe, Leecy, especially w/ math where it's too easy to stick to manipulating symbols and memorizing procedures.... bringing in different modalities and intelligences can profoundly deepen understanding.

Understanding different ways of perceiving and processing and expressing knowledge is an *awesome* way to guide students to owning their learning and seeing it as more than regurgitating some stuff to pass a test.  

(oh, and I weary of the whole "are we wrong" approach, which falsely assumes that I've bought into the specific issues that have been deemed unsupported.   Some of us, believe it or not, recognize that education is more complicated than "yes" or "no.") 


I hear you! Perhaps the title of the thread should be, have we over simplified theses ideas? You are spot on when you say teaching practices are greater than yes or no ideas. In the idea of multiple intelligences, Gardner recognizes that people don't have a single intelligence and that when we try to identify "which single intelligence" best fits an individual, we misunderstand the idea that there is more than one way to process information. Kathy