By Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz, Supervisor, Instructional Design
In 2015, I wrote the blog “Should we retire the term ‘Learning Styles?’”. Many eminent academics and educators have written about this learning myth, and I have only tried to do my small part in generating some discussion around the topic. In that blog post, I quoted Howard Gardner, who in 1983 published about the theory of multiple intelligences, which seems to have been a foundation for the theory of learning styles. In 2013, in an op-ed in The Washington Post, Gardner urged educators to drop the term “styles” because it is confusing both to educators and to students. Unfortunately, I still hear within the academic community, a frequent mention of “learning styles”, a catch phrase that seems hard to eradicate.
Those accepting Gardner’s suggestion might find a “workaround” in talking only about multiple intelligences (which, one could presume, shape the most efficient ways we learn, resulting in multiple “learning styles”), without explicitly mentioning the word “styles”. Problem solved!
However, in the 2016 book “Scientists Making a Difference”, Gardner wrote an essay answering the question posed to 100 scientists about their greatest accomplishments. He wrote about his theory of multiple intelligences and admitted that it has made him famous, largely thanks to his choice of words (“intelligence” instead of “talent”). Gardner wrote:
“Many writers – both scholarly and lay – had written about the diversity of human talents. (…) I termed the resulting categories “intelligences” rather than talents. In so doing, I challenged those psychologists who believed that they owned the words “intelligence” and had a monopoly on its definition and measurement. If I had written about human talents, rather than intelligences, I probably would not have been asked to contribute to this volume.”
If you are still inclined to use the term “multiple intelligences” in your work or everyday life, you might find it interesting that even Gardner would probably not advise you to do so. Here are a few more statements from this essay:
“I had expected the work to be discussed chiefly by psychologists. But, in truth, most psychologists, and particularly most psychometricians, have never warmed to the theory.”
“Nor (…) have I carried out experiments designed to test the theory.”
“I readily admit that the theory is no longer current.“
I don’t think this short blog needs a summary (I suggest reading Gardner’s essay in full), but if I were to write one, it would read as follows: Howard Gardner hasn’t tested his theory of multiple intelligences. He was referring to what is usually deemed as “talents” but the term “intelligence” attracted attention, and he thinks the theory is no longer current. Therefore, maybe it is time to consider retiring another phrase from our vocabulary and looking for some new ones that better describe our current understanding of the diversity of learners and individual differences?
I hope this gives you some material for an interesting conversation the next time someone in your vicinity evokes the topic!