9 Multiple Intelligences and how we learn things

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9 Multiple Intelligences and how we learn things


In the first of a two-part series on intelligence, creativity and faith, I’ll be discussing the most effective ways we learn things. How does our particular form of intelligence affect our creativity?

Part 2 of this series is here, where I talk about how we can use our different learning styles to complement our Christian faith. 


Is there a link between our learning style and our creativity?

Why do some people have trouble with particular subjects at school? How come certain skills come more easily to some people than others? What makes us struggle at being creative in some areas while in other areas it flows more naturally?

When I was a teacher, there was a girl named Merriam who was an above average student. However, she was slightly dyslexic. She performed fairly well at school in most subjects except for maths and science. As a result of her dyslexia, this meant that she often had difficulty with sequencing words, numbers, symbols or notation.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that she had a major role in the school musical during the year before. Somehow she had managed to learn all of her lines, stage direction and choreography. An impressive feat for someone who was dyslexic!

When I looked at the previous year’s reports, I found that Merriam had excelled in areas which involved some form of linguistic aspect. These included subjects such as drama, French or music (particularly the vocal aspect of it). Where she found difficulty was in subjects involving logical patterns or symbols such as maths or science.

Together, we identified that she could grasp concepts if they were explained in a concrete, tangible way. By contrast, she had much more difficulty thinking in abstract terms. She was unable to pinpoint the exact manner in which she achieved her learning. However, it became clear that her particular learning style had often been overlooked when it came to the way certain subjects such as Maths or Science were taught at the school.

How can we recognise the areas we are good at? Likewise, can we use our preferred learning style and apply it to the way we learn other things?




9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things

In his book, Frames of Mind (1983), Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner introduced the theory of multiple intelligences.

Originally he proposed that each person has 7 distinct groupings of abilities or skills which he called “intelligences”. These enable us to learn, remember, perform and understand things in different ways. Since then, he added a further two categories, taking it up to its present-day number of 9.

While we possess each of these and may even use a combination of them, we all differ in the strength of these intelligences. Consequently, we tend to rely on only a few that work best for us and produce the most effective results. However, we can develop and improve upon these.

The multiple intelligences theory is widely accepted now, and taught particularly when people are training to be teachers.

Here are the 9 intelligences or talents. For a quick summary, you can download a cheat sheet below.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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If you’re someone who possesses musical intelligence, this means you’re music smart. Naturally you’ll enjoy music. However, you’ll also be sensitive to mood and emotion. You’ll have a keen awareness of sounds in your environment.

It’s quite likely you play an instrument and enjoy singing and any other things musical. Retaining melodies or learning a new instrument isn’t too much effort. It’s also easy to appreciate musical patterns and to compose or improvise. Recognising different rhythms, musical pitches and intervals, and different tones barely requires too much thought.

I play several instruments including the saxophone, piano and guitar, and I also write songs. Generally I don’t find it too difficult to pick up a new instrument and learn it. The hardest part for me is the technical side – learning exactly where the notes are placed or a particular technique. However, once I’ve mastered the basics, I can usually use the same transferable skills from one instrument to another such as playing by ear or improvising.

If you have high musical intelligence, you might find that you study or perform certain tasks better with music playing in the background. Music can have an effect on your productivity depending on the type of genre you’re listening to. Certain songs can work with the natural rhythm of your brainwaves and complement them, actually helping you to retain information. Others work against and interrupt your brainwaves and leave you unable to concentrate properly.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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Do you find you’re easily able to recognise faces or scenes and observe minute detail? Maybe you have a vivid imagination and and can create mental images and translate them into reality. This is a clear indicator that visual intelligence is one of your strong points.

Spatial intelligence often goes hand in hand with visual intelligence. However, it is more about the ability to visualise objects and mentally manipulate them from different angles in space. Those with this kind will have a keen awareness of their environment and the physical space around them.  These traits are typically found in architects or navigators who are good at reading maps and charts.

If you have visual-spatial intelligence, then you think and learn in terms of pictures, multi-media, maps, charts and diagrams. You might also enjoy drawing and painting, 3D-modelling and animation, photography, filming videos and designing things.

You may also like to solve jigsaw puzzles. Tetris is an addictive video game that also requires you to rotate and manipulate falling geometric blocks into a horizontal line at the bottom of your screen. The object is not to leave any gaps or allow the blocks to stack up. In order to do this successfully, you need to juggle these in your mind to see where they can best fit.

Spatial intelligence can be found in chess players. They need to visualise several moves ahead of time before their opponent has even moved these pieces on the board.

Visual and spatial intelligence often manifests itself early in childhood. However, it can take a back seat later on in life and even diminish if we are discouraged from pursuing it. This is probably one of my most dominant intelligences or talents. I first started drawing from around the age of two, and have been creating artwork in different mediums ever since.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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Verbal-linguistic intelligence means you are word smart. You have an ease with language and highly-developed or advanced auditory skills. Reading is also something you enjoy, as well as writing and using words, word play, anagrams, cryptic crosswords and storytelling.

You have the ability to express yourself effectively. Finding the right word for the right occasion is a piece of cake. You pretty much think in terms of words.

Learning a new language and identifying the structure of the language comes easily. You enjoy learning by reading books, listening to sermons, lectures or podcasts and assimilating the information via the words. However, you also like to perform these words and speak them out loud. This helps you to memorise them with greater ease.

If you possess verbal-linguistic intelligence, you might be a lawyer, theologian, writer, poet, interpreter, actor, teacher or speaker.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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If you fall under this category, you have the ability to perform mathematical operations, scientific thinking and deductive and inductive reasoning. Your logical side enjoys precise, abstract, structured and critical ways of thinking.

Someone with mathematical-logical intelligence will enjoy solving problems and puzzles, and figuring out solutions without the need for words. Analogies, syllogisms and logic games will also play a large part in the way they learn.

Maths was never my favourite subject at school. I always found it more difficult to grasp. However, I can think logically.

My first degree was in theology. This was a subject which required very precise terminology as well as abstract thought. I went on to do a Masters degree in Systematic Theology. This particular branch of theology involves discussing, formulating and explaining fundamental doctrines in a logical,  structured and systematic way.

I then used these skills later on for my second degree in law. This was another discipline that required extremely precise terminology and analytical thought.



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Have you ever found yourself having trouble describing exactly how to do something when asked to explain it using words? In contrast, you seem to have a natural intuition of how to do it once you actually perform it instinctively.

If you’re in this category, then you likely have a high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. You probably find it easier to learn by doing something, rather than just reading or hearing about it. The physical movements can enable you to create neural pathways associated with muscle memory that allow them to learn things more easily.

People in this category usually have a good bodily co-ordination as well as eye-hand co-ordination and a keen sense of timing. These include dancers, athletes, gymnasts, musicians, artists, actors, soldiers or builders. They will often be good at sports and other physical activities and enjoy exercise.

Alternatively, you might not excel at overall body coordination, but you might being able to handle objects skillfully.

An individual with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence possesses good dexterity with objects and skill with handicrafts. You can typically see this in surgeons, sculptors, jewellers, mechanics and model makers.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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If you have high interpersonal intelligence, you may find you relate well to others and are good at communicating effectively. Maybe you notice that you are sensitive to others’ feelings and moods. Perhaps you’re aware of others’ motivations and are able to understand and sympathise with other people’s viewpoints.

Small group activities, teamwork, interviewing tasks and other kinds of collaborative learning are also something you’ll typically enjoy. Similarly, you’ll find debate and discussion highly stimulating and that you learn best by interacting with others.

I often find live webinars or Q&A sessions more useful than simply reading a book. Here I can discuss things with others and ask questions. That helps me retain the information more easily.

Similarly, when I’ve had to teach someone something, I usually remember it better than learning it for myself.

Those with high interpersonal intelligence are often teachers, lecturers, pastors, therapists, mediators, sales people, instructors, social workers, nurses or politicians.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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Intrapersonal intelligence has to do with having a high degree of self knowledge. It refers to your ability to understand what your own strengths and weaknesses are. You can tune into your own emotions and form judgments and conclusions from them.

A person with intrapersonal intelligence will be highly self motivated, have a strong sense of values and the ability for meaningful introspection. Sometimes they may prefer to keep to themselves or study on their own rather than in a group.

I remember when I was training as a teacher, the lecturers kept drumming into us the need to be a reflective practitioner. This meant that we needed to be able to look back upon the work we did and see how we could improve or learn from our experiences – our mistakes, our triumphs, our discoveries along the way.

We shouldn’t be content to continue at the same standard we were operating at. This is something we can apply to other areas of our life.

Now that can sometimes work against someone with higher bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. I mentioned above that if we over analyse, it can hinder our progress. However, there is a time for everything and a place even for introspection. It’s all about getting the right balance between reflective practice and a post-mortem examination.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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Naturalistic intelligence was not part of Gardner’s original seven, but was added later on in the mid-nineties. Those falling under this category are nature smart. They have the ability to relate to their natural surroundings and understand, process and organise information they gain from observing it.

Those with naturalistic intelligence have a particular affinity to the world outside and to certain animals. Such individuals will enjoy documentaries or books on nature and animals. The ability to catalogue different species of animals or plants is an uncanny knack they seem to have. They also have a special attention to detail when it comes to their outdoor surroundings. This allows them to make observations that others might fail to see.

If you enjoy animals, or outdoor activities like camping, climbing, hiking,  gardening or star gazing, you might very well belong to this class of intelligence.

Typical professions found in this category include botanists, zoologists, biologists, astronomers, geologists, paleontologists or archaelogists.



9 multiple intelligences and how we learn things
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Someone with existential intelligence tends to ask the big questions about life, death, the universe and existence.  You have an acute awareness and curiosity about the deeper questions of your existence. These are typically questions of a spiritual nature.

We could call this spiritual intelligence. However, Gardner refused to acknowledge to acknowledge this as a category using this term. This was because he believed it was too challenging to codify any kind of scientific criteria to measure this. Instead, he believed that “existential intelligence” was a viable alternative. I’ll use his term here, because that’s the one with which people are most familiar.

Like naturalistic intelligence, existential intelligence was only added later on by Gardner as another possibility in the late-nineties/ early 21st century.

You’ll typically find theologians, philosophers, anthropologists and scientists in this class of people.

As human beings, it’s common for everyone to ask these kinds of questions at some point in their lives. However, you do get some people who go through life from day to day. They never think about such matters and simply living like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes it can take a life-changing event. This acts as a wake up call to get them thinking about life beyond the here and now.

Others are constantly pondering their existence and purpose in life. I know I am, which is part of what led me into pursuing a Bachelors and Masters degree in theology.



In part 2, I’ll discuss how Christians can apply Gardner’s 9 multiple intelligences to their faith to help them be more creative in their walk with God.

Now that you’ve learnt about multiple intelligences and creativity, here are some questions for you to think about for yourself:

1. In what ways do you use your multiple intelligences to be more creative? 

2. Which of the multiple intelligences have you used the most or the least? 

3. And have you ever stepped outside your comfort zone and experimented with one of your weaker intelligences? If so, what did you learn from that experience?

Leave me a comment below. I’d love to know your thoughts.

Finally, would you like a one-page summary of all the 9 intelligences? This comes with more creative ideas you can try. You can download a printable cheat sheet below:

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