This article originally appeared in The Washington Post.
It’s been 30 years since I developed the notion of “multiple intelligences.” I have been gratified by the interest shown in this idea and the ways it’s been used in schools, museums, and businesses around the world. But one unanticipated consequence has driven me to distraction—and that’s the tendency of many people, including persons whom I cherish, to credit me with the notion of ‘learning styles’ or to collapse ‘multiple intelligences’ with ‘learning styles.’ It’s high time to relieve my pain and to set the record straight.
First a word about “MI theory.” On the basis of research in several disciplines, including the study of how human capacities are represented in the brain, 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 www.multipleintelligencesoasis.org).
Even before I spoke and wrote about “MI,” the term “learning styles” was being bandied about in educational circles. The idea, reasonable enough on the surface, is that all children (indeed, all of us) have distinctive minds and personalities. Accordingly, it makes sense to find out about learners and to teach and nurture them in ways that are appropriate, that they value, and—above all—that are effective.
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