Do you enjoy debating on Facebook? Do you have your own blog? Have you ever used software to compose music or make your own video? Did you ever take a tour in an online or virtual museum? Thinking that technology cannot cater for your preferred intelligence(s)? Think again.
The cognitive revolution took place in the 1950s when psychologists tried to explain “Learning” — not only on the basis of behavior — but by how the human memory works to promote learning. Instead of the behaviorists’ focus on actions and reactions, cognitive scientists’ attention is directed towards the nature of human mental representations. Howard Gardner, the originator of the theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983, finds this revolution strongly coupled with the inauguration of the computer.
“The advent of the computer changed psychology forever and spawned the cognitive sciences” says Gardner. The development of the computer brought about the revolution in the understanding of how the human mind learns and functions. Cognitive ideas where triggered by the common sense that if a machine can store, represent, and manipulate information, so can the human brain that created and programmed these machines.
Boon for Different Intelligences
Every individual brain is unique in construct and content. While humans possess varying levels of different types of intelligences, parents and educators can nurture dominant intelligences they find in children. Individuals who come to recognize their abilities can also work on creating or moving into an environment which makes use of the intelligences that appeal mostly to them.
The theory of multiple intelligences is based on the concept of a mind being a collection of experiences and mental representations. The mind’s structure is continuously updated and adjusted as new information is entered, manipulated, and retained. This unique structure of the individual’s mind is what Gardner addresses when he proposes that all humans have varying degrees of the different intelligences.
Would it be an overly simplistic view to say that that technology can put all those different ways of thinking at our fingertips? Indeed, most computer-related activities involve simple keyboard strokes and mouse clicks. But, the real power of modern technology lies in its ability to present material captured in a wide range of symbolic systems in different ways that can address a range of intelligences.
Technology can readily address people according to their mental representations. People are being given the opportunity to express their understandings using media and representations that make more sense to them. So, while your fingers may be doing the input, your mind is thinking and processing information in many different ways.
It is no longer only about reading and writing. Today, a spatial person may find relief from having to read long instructions by observing an interactive video that visually explains the topic he is trying to understand. The same person can express himself artistically using various technologies; not only that, but also have his work posted on the Internet for other people to enjoy and appreciate.
With the possibility of digitizing almost all paintings and photographs, the visual person can satisfy his passion for art by taking an online-tour to the Louvre Museum. (Ok, this definitely doesn’t compensate for an actually visit to Paris, but not having it all doesn’t mean you have to miss it all!).
Many people find pleasure in discussing their thoughts and ideas with others. Via the tools like Facebook, Twitter, and online discussion forums, there are no time or location boundaries for this communication. Language barriers can be overcome using free online translators. Computer tools also exist for helping people with visual or audio impediments to connect with others across the globe.
Even the lucky ones who enjoy the highly-valued verbal/linguistic abilities can become luckier with the help of technology. A simple google search can be very exciting to verbal people, where they can happily explore meanings of different words, or learn how to speak different languages. Such people can enjoy expressing their thoughts and ideas on personal blogs, and publish their articles or poems for other people to read and critique.
While people with kinesthetic intelligence may not be able to move around with their computers, software that allows them to move objects around the screen and create animations will have their appeal to them. Those with mathematical intelligence have a wide range of problem solving games and software that they can use to satisfy their love for logic and numbers.
Effects on Learning
The idea that individuals possess varying strengths in different intelligences poses a difficult challenge for teachers. Recurrent controversies exist against grouping students based on the level of their academic accomplishment. The movement has been going towards instructing heterogeneous groups with mixed levels of multiple intelligences. It is here where technology becomes indispensable.
Curriculums can be designed to appeal to different intelligences by using technologies to allow learners to understand or express themselves in a way they are more comfortable and happy with.
Because of this personalized nature of learning, students gain an added sense of responsibility towards their work. They are encouraged to submit assignments of higher quality that reflect how they utilized their special intelligence(s) to present their work.
The relationship between technology and brain studies operates in a continuous “cause & effect” pattern. Although some opposition exists, the view that technology affected the way scientists view the memory and how the brain learns cannot be overlooked.
The shift to cognitivism in turn resulted in more focus on how technology can be used to support this new approach. Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory is based on cognitivism and seeks to further analyze the human brain to come up with divisions that technology readily addresses. Technology has been evolving as a result of this discovery, with more attention directed towards using it to support the strengths possessed by individual brains.
Does this mean that computer and Internet technologies are a panacea for all learning problems? Definitely not. But they do provide an easy access to a wide range of material that readily address the different ways in which people think. And such contributions should not be understated.
This article is from Science’s archive and we’ve originally published it on an earlier date.
- Gardner, Howard: “The Complete Tutor”, Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology 9/3, pp. 10-13. (Fall 2000).
- Weiss, Ruth Palombo: “Howard Gardner Talks about Technology”, Training & Development 54/9 pp. 52-56. (September 2000).
- Solomon, Gwen: “Making a Difference: Technology and the Non-Tracked Classroom”, Electronic Learning 13/2, pp. 18-19. (October 1993).