Multiples Approaches to Understanding

From ETEC 510
Jump to: navigation, search

This page was originally authored by Valeria Gallo Stampino (2008). This page was edited by Paul Klintworth (2009)

Multiple Approaches to Understanding, Multiliteracies and Technologies

Derived from his psychological theory of intelligence, Howard Gardner’s Multiple Approaches to Understanding may provide a useful framework in support of the educational use of a variety of technologies in the classroom. In addition, Gardner’s views on Multiples Intelligences may be seen as presenting some points of intersection with pedagogical models that critique the traditional one-dimensional notion of literacy and that instead propose a broader concept.


The Theory of Multiple Intelligences is based on findings from cognitive and differential psychology that have challenged the effectiveness of a generic approach to education epitomized by the administration of IQ tests. The theory was developed in 1983 by Howard Gardner at Harvard Graduate School of Education. This theory claims that not all human minds work in the same way and that they present different cognitive strengths and weaknesses (Gardner, 1999, p. 77). Gardner's Theory of Multiples Intelligences states that there may be at least eight relatively discrete information-processing mechanisms, briefly defined here as (Gardner, 1993, 1999):

Howard Gardner, credit: Harvard Gazette
1. Linguistic intelligence: refers to a sensitivity to spoken and written language, and the ability to effectively use language for rhetoric or poetic expression;
2. Logical-mathematical intelligence: involves the ability to analyze problems logically and carry out mathematical operations;
3. Spatial intelligence: this type of intelligence relates to the ability to recognize and use spatial patterns effectively;
4. Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence: involves the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.
5. Musical intelligence: refers to the ability to create and recognize musical sounds;
6. Interpersonal intelligence: involves the capacity to understand other people and work effectively around people;
7. Intrapersonal intelligence: involves the ability to understand oneself;
8. Naturalist intelligence: was added to this list by Gardner later on in 1996. This intelligence relates to observing, understanding and organizing patterns in the natural environment.

According to Gardner, all human beings possess a combination of different types of intelligences, with different degrees of strength in one or a few intelligences over the others. Though individuals may exhibit more strength in a specific intelligence, the development of strength in other intelligences can be encouraged through practice.

Multiple Approaches to Understanding

In an essay written after his development of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardner (1999) raises the question of how this framework can help him find a way to enhance understanding of important topics or themes (such as the Theory of Evolution or the Holocaust) amongst students. Gardner believes that students exhibit understanding when they can "invoke [ ... ]sets of ideas flexibly and appropriately to carry on specific analyses, interpretations, comparisons, and critiques" (p. 89).

To focus on understanding as a learning outcome, Gardner proposes an approach that begins by considering different entry points to capture the interest and attention of students according to the multiples intelligences (see examples below). Then, the facilitator introduces analogies that help shed light on key parts of the topic being covered. Finally, he proposes the use of representations tailored to students' intelligences to portray the topics. In this last point, Gardner sees a strength in today's technologies--e.g., the opportunity to simulate evolutionary processes in computer programs--that provide real affordances to enhance understanding.

Entry Points

According to the Multiple Approaches to Understanding, it is crucial to find diverse ways to engage students within a topic of study. A diversity of entry points can facilitate the engagement of students with strength in the different types of intelligences described above. Examples of entry points are (Gardner, 1999):

  • Narrational: This entry point intends to address students who enjoy learning through stories.
  • Quantitative/numerical: For students who prefer numbers and patterns.
  • Foundational/existential: This could be an entry point for students curious about fundamental kinds of questions.
  • Aesthetic: Intends to appeal to students who are inspired by works of art.
  • Hands-on: For students who "learn by doing" and like to manipulate objects and materials.
  • Social: Capitalizes in the effectiveness of group learning settings where students can interact with each other and assume different roles.

Stop Motion on Entry Points

Learning Styles

Various researchers (Gregorc, Kolb, Dunn & Dunn) have identified different learning styles that may be more predominant in individual learners. Learning styles may be broadly characterized as auditory, visual and tactile/kinesthetic, mainly sensory based. This then may lead to implications for teachers who may wish to make affordances for the different learning styles exhibited by their students. Some researchers have looked at ways of connecting multiple intelligences theory with different learning styles, as there may be complementary themes in both approaches (Silver, Strong, and Perini, 2000)

Implication for Educational Technology

As mentioned above, Gardner sees that technology can be used in a way that it can enhance his approach to understanding. In particular, networked computer applications can be particularly useful to facilitate the delivery of a more personalized practice. According to the author, personalized education has been almost impossible to implement in traditional classroom settings where one teacher needs to accommodate the learning styles of dozens of students. Gardner encourages the use of software that provides students a variety of entry points, that allows them to exhibit their own understanding in different manifestations, and that provides teachers with a multitude of tools to rapidly examine student work.

In short, the Multiple Intelligences Theory encourages the use of technology to enhance its goals and means. For Gardner, "the question is not "computers or not?", but "computers for what?", and more broadly, "education for what?" (1999, p. 88). Educational technologies can certainly be used to provide alternatives for different types of learners as long as there is a consideration of what is being taught, why, and what the expected outcomes are.

Practical Applications

What's in my bag? Re-thinking fieldtrips, credit: Simon Crowley on Flickr

Educators have interpreted Gardner’s framework and the use of technology within this framework in a variety of ways (e.g., Amerson, 2006; Johnson and Lamb, 2007; Sweeder, 1998; Williamson and Slye, 2002: Zavala, n.d.). For example, Amerson (2006) suggests the following possible uses of technology in nursing education as entry points for students with strengths in different types of intelligences:

  • Using discussion boards, chatrooms, email and social software to encourage group interaction (interpersonal intelligence).
  • Creating podcasts or link to existing audio files (musical intelligence) that students can download to portable mp3 players and listen to while walking/jogging (kinesthetic intelligence)
  • Using a presentation software with interactive graphics or video (visual intelligence)
  • Providing a journal article to read independently and then asking students to write for a class blog or wiki (intrapersonal; linguistic intelligence)

Specific technologies have also been seen as providing affordances that can be exploited for specific types of intelligences. For example, Johnson & Lamb (2007) have identified specific technologies as tools to support classroom activities for different intelligences, such as:

  • Discussion lists and forums - discussing, debating (Verbal/linguistic intelligence)
  • Audio and video cameras used to record the natural world (Naturalistic intelligence)
  • Handheld Palms (that can be carried anywhere), joystick, and other devices for movement, Virtual worlds (Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence)
  • CAD - Computer-Aided Design Software (Spatial intelligence)
  • Interactive books with audio elements or sound and music files (Musical intelligence)

Other examples of multiple intelligence affordances of technology in the classroom CasaCanada (2000) include:

  • Wordprocessing, desktop publishing, blogging and email (Linguistic)

  • Datahandling, problem solving, adventure games, programming - Scratch [1] Logical - mathematical)
  • Draw / paint programs, 3D modeling software, floor Robots, Turtle graphics [2] (Visual - spatial)
  • Podcasting, composition software - Garageband (Musical - aural)
  • Point / click adventure games, animation (Body - kinesthetic)
  • Collaborative programs, social networking - Club Penguin etc. (Interpersonal)
  • Personal blog - reflective (Intrapersonal)

Reflection on Multiple Approaches to Understanding, Multiliteracies and Technologies

From multiple theoretical perspectives in the field of education and related areas of study we are starting to encounter approaches to facilitating learning that call for the recognition of less traditional forms of literacy. These approaches may present points of intersection with Gardner’s proposal of multiple approaches to understanding. Along these lines is the New London Group (1996) report which uses the term "multiliteracies". For the authors of this manifesto, more than "mere literacy" is needed in today's society. Multiliteracies are needed to decode a variety of text forms including those created with multimedia technologies (p. 60). The Group goes one step further in adding that also multiliteracies need to be understood in the context of a globalized society where multiple cultural values and languages coexist. The London Group then advocates a more flexible and broad concept of literacy, the incorporation into curriculum of a variety of forms of representation, all seen within the reality of diverse cultural contexts.

Game Teacher, credit:

Continuing with a similar logic, Gee (2003) --who participated in the development of the aforementioned Manifesto—makes a compelling argument in favour of the educational value of video games which often, when confronted with traditional technologies such as books, are commonly seen by some as not having any educational value. Gee ’s reflection on the role of video games in education may also present points of intersection and agreement with Gardner’s proposal. In fact, like Gardner, Gee criticizes a traditional approach to literacy seen as the ability to read and write and instead calls for a broader view of literacy. His call to broaden the notion of literacy to include abilities such as playing video games is based on the acknowledgment that in today’s society written or spoken language is not the only important communication system. Instead, images, symbols, artifacts and other types of visual signs are also powerful. In addition to the centrality of the image in today’s society, Gee encounters the increasing importance of multimodal texts--which mix words, images and also sounds, movement, bodily sensations and even smells. As Gardner, Gee believes that educators should not solely evaluate student performance for their ability to correctly read and write.

Furthermore, Gee claims that it is also important to encourage learners to become literate in a variety of semiotic domains. In addition to broadening the notion of literacy to include other abilities and skills such as painting, performing music or playing video games, Gee believes that educators should also do more work to encourage the development of these multiple literacies in diverse domains. That is, educators should encourage students to successfully develop the ability to function within the grammar of different semiotic domains. Literacy in a semiotic domain for Gee involves an understanding of both the content of a domain as well as the social practices associated with it. For Gee, it is crucial “...that all of us, regardless of our cultural affiliations, be able to operate in a wide variety of semiotic domains outside our lifeworld domain" (2003, p. 39). As Gardner, Gee also sees that learning technologies such as games have the potential to be exploited as tools to get us started in different semiotic domains and to acquire literacies which depart from the traditional concept associated with print texts. The recognition of multiliteracies and multiple approaches to understanding may result in a redefinition of how topics are introduced in the classroom but it also generates a challenge for assessment.


Gardner's theory has been well received and popularized but this has not been without criticism. The theory has been accused of not being supported by empirical evidence, and of lacking a solid definition of intelligence (Wikipedia, Theory of multiple intelligences). It has also been argued against the theory that it supports a form of intellectual relativism by implying that all human beings are equally intelligent (Wikipedia, Theory of multiple intelligences). Regardless of the possible validity of this opposing views, another problem with Gardner’s concepts is that they have been applied in widely different forms around the world (i.e., Sweeder, 1998; Kezar, 2001). In fact, educators have chosen elements from the theory to highlight while sometimes ignoring or re-interpreting others (Gardner, 2003). This means that the practical applications of the Multiple Intelligences Theory do not always follow Gardner's theoretical framework in a manner that would please the author (Gardner, 1999, 2003). Finally, though the Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been around for more than 30 years, even his founder acknowledges that much work still needs to be done to find out how the intelligences can best be stimulated to achieve specific pedagogical goals (Gardner, 2003).


Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences and his Multiple Approaches to Understanding may offer a theoretical foundation for recognizing the value of student’s diverse abilities and motivations. Educators interested in technologies may use Gardner’s ideas as a complement or as an alternative angle that, in conjunction with more recent work on the potential of technologies for learning, may continue guiding a discussion that moves away from a narrow concept of literacy towards a more complex and multifaceted approach.


Amerson, R. (2006). Energizing the Nursing Lecture: Application of the Theory of Multiple Intelligence Learning. Nursing Education Perspectives: 27 (4), 194–196.

Casacanada (2000). Retrieved January 25, 2009 from

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. E. (1999). Multiple Approaches to Understanding. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory, Vol.2 . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gardner, H. E. (2003). Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years. Retrieved February 14, 2008, from

Gee, J. (2003). Semiotic domains: Is playing video games a “waste of time"? Chapter in: What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave.

Kezar, A. (2001). Theory of multiple intelligences: implications for higher education. Innovative Higher Education: 26 (2), 141-54

Johnson, L. & Lamb, A. (2007). Technology and Multiple Intelligences. Teacher Tap. Retrieved February 14, 2008, from

New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review. 66(1), 60-92.

Silver, H., Strong, R., & Perini, M. (2000, January 1). So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences. . (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED449130) Retrieved January 26, 2009, from ERIC database.

Sweeder, J. J., et. al., (1998). Conjoining product technologies with multiple intelligence theory: rethinking teacher preparation. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 6 (4), 273-82.

Theory of Multiple Intelligences (n.d.). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2008, from

Williamson, E. & Slye, G. (2002). Multi Media Meets Multiple Intelligences: Training Teachers for the New Century. In C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2002 (pp. 1450-1451). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Zavala, C. (n.d) Enhancing Multiple Intelligences Through Multimedia. Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Educational Technology Department. San Diego State University. Retrieved August, 2006, from

See Also


Semiotic Domains

Multiple Intelligences

New Literacies

External Links

Howard Gardner

The Teacher Tap

How Technology Enhances Howard Gardner's Eight Intelligences

Multiple Intelligences in Education

Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

Project Zero