Adult Learning: Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Can Spark Learning 

Dr. Allana Da Graca


It is important to create a learning environment that promotes an (1) inclusive, (2) relational, and (3) inspiring curriculum. When Students can engage in critical questioning, explore language as social practice, and employ spoken, written, visual, and spatial aspects of learning, then they have an opportunity for authentic learning.  Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years, highlights the growing need for teachers to enhance teaching delivery by integrating both neurological and psychological influences of learning. His distinctions of these varied contexts can be broken down in the following categories:

1.    Linguistic (Language and beyond)

2.    Logical (mathematics)

3.    Music (Cadence)

4.    Spatial Awareness (Imagery)

5.    Naturalistic (Nature)

6.    Interpersonal (Connections with Others)

7.    Intrapersonal (Self-Awareness)

8.    Existential- (Abstract)

9.    Laser (Overlapping)

His research which stemmed from psychological foundations sparked interests from scientists and educators around the world. The term Multiple Intelligences (MI) would shake up the foundation of educational practice because it challenged the rhetoric of using IQ testing as the only method of student assessment. With regards to adults it offered eight intelligences that learners could identify with in order to discern learning methods that would encourage learning from varied perspectives.

An adult with strong abilities of speaking a particular language may exceed in his/her grades pertaining to verbatim and word syntax. The linguistic intelligence would provide adults with this strength to use their ability for the most increased learning. This same individual may not want to sit through a long discussion around visualization of varying concepts. A student who displays the naturalistic intelligence may enjoy the subject of botany and display a passion for visual intelligence. Someone with interpersonal intelligence may be great at offering advice but also appear as an introvert not comfortable with the intrapersonal and existential intelligences. Adults will find themselves completing programs of study when they can establish the connection of self with their subject.

One of the most vivid examples I can recall is teaching a communication course to a student who did not speak for the entire school year. Now don’t get me wrong, he did complete assignments and submit major work but was completely silent the entire time.  I knew he had a final project coming up and I really wanted him to step outside of himself.  I asked him if there were any other areas in life that he thought were really interesting. He mentioned that he played the guitar. I pleaded with him to bring his guitar in as part of his presentation. To my surprise, the entire class was amazed to see that he had something to say. In an untraditional way, he played for us a song that represented some of the themes of the given assignment. In this space, he controlled his learning and sharing. It is wonderful when we see this type of learning that can be stemmed from intrinsic momentum that is defined by the student.


Gardner,  H. (2003). Multiple intelligences after twenty years. Retrieved March 3, 2008 from



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