Howard Gardener Speaks Out: Multiple Intelligences ≠ Learning Styles

In a recent Washington Post Op-Ed, Howard Gardner discusses his thoughts on the misinterpretation of MI Theory.  Here are some highlights from the article.

What is ‘Multiple Intelligences’ (MI) theory:

Howard-Gardner“I developed the idea that each of us has a number of relatively independent mental faculties, which can be termed our “multiple intelligences.” The basic idea is simplicity itself. A belief in a single intelligence assumes that we have one central, all-purpose computer—and it determines how well we perform in every sector of life. In contrast, a belief in multiple intelligences assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers—one that computes linguistic information, another spatial information, another musical information, another information about other people, and so on. I estimate that human beings have 7 to 10 distinct intelligences (see”

Gardner’s criticisms for why ‘Learning Styles’ doesn’t* hold water:

  1. The very notion of ‘Learning Styles’ [that is, catering instruction to a learner’s—or many learners’—preferred intelligences] is not coherent…these labels [‘an impulsive style’ or ‘a visual learner’] may be unhelpful, at best, and ill-conceived at worst. [Just because someone is physically intelligent by nature, it doesn’t mean that every assessment they take should be a psychomotor assessment (e.g. perform a dance to demonstrate your understanding of composition of a chemical compound).  Educators are trying to prepare students for life, not to have them be laughed to scorn. Teaching methods should match learning objectives.]

  2. When researchers have tried to identify learning styles, teach consistently with those styles, and examine outcomes, there is not persuasive evidence that the learning style analysis produces more effective outcomes than a “one size fits all approach.”

What are Gardner’s recommendations for teachers?

As an educator, I draw three primary lessons for educators:

1.       Individualize your teaching as much as possible. Instead of “one size fits all,” learn as much as you can about each student, and teach each person in ways that they find comfortable and learn effectively. Of course this is easier to accomplish with smaller classes. But ‘apps’ make it possible to individualize for everyone.

2.        Pluralize your teaching. Teach important materials in several ways, not just one (e.g. through stories, works of art, diagrams, role play). In this way you can reach students who learn in different ways. Also, by presenting materials in various ways, you convey what it means to understand something well. If you can only teach in one way, your own understanding is likely to be thin.

3.       Drop the term “styles.” It will confuse others and it won’t help either you or your students.

Additional MI Resources:

MI Oasis (Official Authoritative Site of Multiple IntelligenceS) –

Dr. Gardener’s Personal Website

Wikipedia: Multiple Intelligences

Practical examples of Multiple Intelligences

Take a MI test!

MI from a Psychology perspective

Journal of Psychological Science (2008), features more articles debunking ‘Learning Styles’ (2009). Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences.

Thirteen ed online (2004). Tapping into multiple intelligences.

Armstrong, T. (2010). Multiple intelligences.

Howard Gardner’s book, Multiple intelligences. (2010)

Edutopia video and transcript of Dr. Gardener’s central message (1997)

*While the majority of the academic community has concluded that ‘Learning Styles’ is bologna, Gardner respectfully concedes that just because we haven’t yet verified something empirically, it doesn’t mean that it must be false. #Psychology #Falsification


About bryantanner

I'm obsessed with learning via the appropriate technology. My professional mission is to effectively deliver instruction to learners in a way that yields the greatest results for all stakeholders involved.
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One Response to Howard Gardener Speaks Out: Multiple Intelligences ≠ Learning Styles

  1. Fidelia says:

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