Multiple Approaches to Understanding
Howard Gardner
Harvard Professor Howard Gardner is known worldwide for his influential theory of “multiple intelligences,” which was first put forward in 1983. As intelligence may be understood as the capacity or potential to learn in various connections, Gardner’s work has also been an important contribution to learning theory – though Gardner is not primarily regarded as a learning theorist. He has chosen the text below to be published because it deals with his view and understanding on learning and education in extension of his work on multiple intelligences. (p. 106)

Introduction Students arrive in schools with different kinds of minds, with different strengths, interests and modes of processing information; this fact can become an ally for teachers to deliver effective teaching. Students manifest different intelligences. And if the teachers are able to use different pedagogical approaches, there exists the possibility of reaching more students in more effective ways. Given a topic, how will it be approached from the vantage point of multiple intelligences? Gardner proposes three increasingly focused lines of attack: (pp. 108-112) 1. Entry Points These are the ways to engage the students in discussing a topic. Six discrete entry points are identified: a. Narrative: This entry point addresses the students who enjoy learning about topics through stories. b. Quantitative/Numerical: This entry point speaks to students who are intrigued by numbers, the patterns that they make, the various operations that can be performed, the insights into size, ratio and change. 3. Foundational/Existential: This entry point appeals to students who are attracted to fundamental “bottom line” kinds of questions; they are asked usually in the realms of myths and arts and would pose verbal argumentation. 4. Aesthetic: Some individuals are inspired by works of art or by materials arranged in ways that feature balance, harmony, a carefully designed composition. 5. Hands-on: Many individuals find it easiest to approach a topic through an activity in which they become actively engaged – where they can build something, manipulate materials, carry out experiments. 6. Social: Many individuals learn more effectively in a group setting where they have the opportunity to assume different roles, to observe others’ perspectives, to interact regularly, to complement one another. The “entry point” perspective places students directly in the center of a disciplinary topic, arousing their interests and securing cognitive commitment for further exploration. 2. Telling Analogies

which examples are most likely both to capture important aspects of the topic and to reach a significant number of learners. we must acknowledge that the topics do not exist in isolation – they come from and are. Every topic is different and each topic must be dealt with in its own complexities. telling analogies convey revealing parts of the concept-inquestion. The theory motivates us to continually revisit one’s topic and to consider fresh ways in which to convey its crucial components.For all its positive points. But education cannot remain merely instrumental. schemas and frames. the “entry point”. defined by the ensemble of existing and emerging disciplines. Approaching the Core Entry points open up the conversation. We want people to understand so that they will be positioned to make the world a 2 . the “core notions” of a topic in a reliable and thorough manner? Firstly. Purpose of Learning We may use varied instruments to learn. Analogies can be powerful. even technology. The key step to approaching the core is the recognition that a concept can well be understood if an individual is capable of representing that core in several ways. intelligences. Can one use knowledge about individual differences in strengths and modes of representations to create educational approaches that can convey the most important. Moreover. which analogies. Secondly. The theory of multiple intelligences provides an opportunity to examine a topic in detail to determine which intelligences. there are commonly used ways of describing and explaining a concept. 3. we must recognize that there is no uniform approach. but they can also mislead. The teacher is obliged to qualify each analogy as appropriate and make sure that the misleading parts will not distort or cripple the students’ ultimate understanding. Yet. Education must ultimately justify itself in terms of enhancing human understanding. Here the teacher now is challenged to come up with instructive analogies drawn from already understood material and that can convey important aspects of the less familiar topic. Thirdly. the challenge to convey the central understandings till remains. however. to some extent. does not necessarily inculcate specific forms or modes of understanding. it is desirable if the multiple modes of representing draw on a number of symbol systems.

Professor at the University of Göttingen. Rather. and in this presentation. only the opportunities that depend upon our social structures are at our disposal. This is the inherent contradiction. Workers seldom choose a job right out of school and work there until retirement.” new family circumstances. However. People make choices based on new ideas of their “self. the perceived opportunity of a “better” situation. contending that they surface tension from opposing perspectives. in this sense. Learning is an important part of this interaction. For the performances of understanding that truly matter are the ones that we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world. These “problems” he identifies as contradictions. he provides an overview of the theoretical understanding of learning in a biographical perspective. 116) Introduction Peter Alheit is trying to make a successful attempt in exploring both the need for lifelong learning and the problems our current systems of lifelong learning are producing. in this kind of world. 117) The learner believes himself autonomous. this new system of learning to learn is widening the gap between perceived skilled or knowledgeable and unskilled or unknowledgeable.better place. are constantly exercising their “choice” of redesigning their biographicities (Alheit’s term which will be defined later on). then. The German sociologist Peter Alheit. Conversely. It is therefore important that we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The 3 . (p. Cycling. social. Biographical Learning – Within the New Lifelong Learning Discourse Peter Alheit Biographical research is about how people’s life courses develop through interaction between the individual subjectivity and the societal conditions. making it a perfect place to live in. Economic. and of course educational consequences are produced by this new understanding of re-identification cycling. etc. important learning can only be understood correctly in relation to the biography of the learner. is a core person in the development of European biographical research and theory. Learners. yet not every conceivable opportunity is open to us. 114-115) II. On the other hand. produces a need for workers who can learn to learn rather than workers who can hold a wide array of set knowledge. and therefore biographical research of necessity includes a conception of learning. (p. we can still not possibly explore all that is within the conceivable. (pp. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do. even within a limited structure.

but now involves alternating phases of work and further training. for him.. 118) 2. and even self-chosen alternation between employment and family-centered phases. Changing Nature of ‘Work’ in the Societies of Late Modernity "Average employment no longer means practicing one and the same occupation over a substantial span of one's life. lifelong learning relates to all meaningful learning activities that are taking place: (p. then. (p. voluntary and involuntary discontinuities of occupation. therefore. A. The intention is to strengthen freedom of biographical planning and the social involvement of individuals. namely the concept of biographical learning – the micro-perspective. New function of knowledge 4 . with a large body of unskilled individuals which burdens our economy with increased welfare commitments and also produces a body of population who feel disenfranchised and worrisome. learning environments should be engendered in which the various types of learning can complement each other organically. Non-Formally: Non-formal learning processes usually take place alongside the mainstream systems of education and training .at the workplace. According to Alheit. i. In the second part. This leaves us.e. The Macro-Perspective: Lifelong Learning as Reorganization of the Education System 1. Learning. The following analysis will focus on the curious tension between these two perspectives. in clubs and associations. in civil society initiatives. 117) Formally: Formal learning processes that take place in the classical education and training institutions and which usually lead to recognized diplomas and qualifications. should not only be systematically extended to cover the entire lifespan. a particular theoretical view on ‘education in the lifespan’ will be put forward.opportunities for unskilled labor are becoming narrower and the expectations of new knowledge are heightening. innovative career switching strategies. The first part looks at the social framework for lifelong learning – the macro perspective. Informally: Informal learning processes are not necessarily intentional and which are a natural accompaniment to everyday life Learning. in the pursuit of sports or musical interests. Lifelong learning ‘instrumentalizes’ and ‘emancipates’ at one and the same time. acquires a new meaning. but should also take place “lifewide”.

. Disfunctionality of established educational institutions According to Alheit. modernized societies. or who choose not to participate. rather than subject-based knowledge. . In this field of life. but which learning environments can best stimulate self-determined learning. Contours of a New Educational Economy? According to the OCECD: For those who are excluded from [the continuous learning] process. led in the majority of those affected to a loss of motivation and to an instrumental attitude to learning that is in no way conducive to continued. self-managed learning in later phases of life. The learner is required to be highly motivated in the direction of a personal change linked to 'reading' the market and continually adapting to the needs of the socio-economic environment. Yet to be able to handle this different modernity. the precondition for such balance is that learning 5 . types of capital . however.in other words. This also means addressing non-formal and informal options for learning. p. . in under-used human capacity and increased welfare expenditure. . (p. A balance between . . 1997b. . Nobody is excluded from the outset. The key educational question is no longer how certain material can be taught as successfully as possible.The knowledge of the information society is doing knowledge. 1992) (p. 120). . and social. 120). However. .1) Alternatives are therefore needed . And this demands fundamental changes in the entire educational system. "simply extending primary schooling. 121). but which tends rather to suppress such learning (Schuller and Field. to a social ecology of learning in modern. However. . could lead to a new kind of 'educational economy' or. a kind of lifestyle that determines the structures of society far beyond the purely occupational domain and lends them a dynamic of ever-shorter cycles. Individualization and Reflexive Modernization The visible trend towards individualization of the life-course regime and the concomitant pressure to engage in continuous ‘reflexivity’ on one’s own actions has led to a different. The consequences are economic. the human capital theory of the 1970's: assume[d] that extending [formal education's] duration [would] have positive impacts on willingness to engage in a lifelong learning" (p. the generalization of lifelong learning may only have the effect of increasing their isolation from the world of the 'knowledge-rich'. social skills and flexible competences. . Everyone is an expert . 1999) . Smith. we are all lifelong learners. in terms of alienation and decaying social infrastructure. more correctly perhaps. individuals need completely new and flexible structures of competence that only be established and developed within lifelong learning processes. how learning itself can be learned (Simons. p. 119) 3. Usher too believes education must undergo a 'silent revolution' (Alheit. d. . 1992. (OECD. without drastic changes to the conditional framework and the quality of the learning process. What is fore-grounded is the need for flexibility and continuous learning. 2009. reflexive modernity. 121) e. (p.

B. the contours of our life within the specific contexts in which we (have to) spend it. we come to the idea of social justice. . We must also remember that "biographicity means that we can redesign again and again. What is important is the finding that our basic feeling-. we still have considerable scope open to us" (p. imperative for institutions of higher learning to open their doors even wider. If learning individuals are 'taken more seriously'. or making us lose a loved one or all that we possess. from scratch." And that "solely when specific individuals relate to their lifeworld in such a way that their self-reflexive activities begin to shape social contexts is contact established with that key qualification of modernity (biographicity)" (p. Learning Processes Within Transition Many of us are at a point where our unexpected circumstance provides us with the opportunity to experience transitional knowledge and become actors in our own transformational learning. making us irrecoverably ill or unemployed. Biographical learning is both a constructionist achievement of the individual integrating new experiences into the self-referential ‘architectonic’ of particular 6 . we must first recognize that "Knowledge can only be genuinely transitional if it is biographical knowledge. 123) 2. and not only because fate could deal us a blow at any time. then the expertise that they bring to the class will have equal merit. we do not posses all conceivable opportunities.individuals be taken more seriously -. but within the framework of the limits we are structurally set. The 'Hidden Capacity' to Lead Our Own lives Alheit reminds us that although: the impression [is] that we hold our own lives in our own hands . And so. and they will be spared the feeling of alienation that could place them in jail or an early grave. therefore. . .that we can act relatively independently over our own biographies--does not necessarily conflict with the fact that the greater part of our biographical activities are either fixed to a large degree or require various 'supporters' to initiate them. The point is rather that our supposed autonomy of action and autonomous planning is subordinated to 'processual structures' in our biography that we can influence to only a very marginal extent . with others and with itself. this impression could be exceptionally problematic. and foster support for those still considered 'marginal'.which would also involve a shift in analytic perspective (p. and that we experience these contexts as shapeable and designable. This is because it is the only way to truly work toward the creation of this shift in analytic perspective. 122). It significantly affects the way in which new experience is formed and built into a biographical learning process. (p. In our biographies. 125). However. 125). It is. to intentionally work on 'inclusivity'. The Micro-Perspective: Aspects of Phenomenology of Biographical Learning 1. The biographical structure is an open structure that has to integrate the new experience it gains through interacting with the world. .

as a young man. finishing by writing a dissertation on artificial intelligence. (p. he lived in Hong Kong for three years. So. that it is best separated from the rest of our activities. California. meaning. one that places learning in the context of our lived experience of participation in the world? What kind of understanding would such a perspective yield on how learning takes place and on what is required to support it? (p. Within this context. and that it is the result of teaching. 7 . are largely based on the assumption that learning is an individual process. this fact is a central aspect of learning.210) • We are social beings. 210) The assumptions as to what matters about learning and as to the nature of knowledge. A conceptual Perspective: Theory and Practice The kind of social theory of learning that Wenger proposes is not a replacement for other theories of learning that address different aspects of the problem. that it has a beginning and an end. This book also launched the concept of “communities of practice” as the environment of important learning. and knowers can be succinctly summarized as follows. to the extent that they address issues of learning explicitly. and identity.personal past experiences and a social process which makes subjects competent and able to actively shape and change their social world. together with Jean Lave. Later he studied computer science in Switzerland and the US. it does yield a conceptual framework from which to derive a consistent set of general principles and recommendations for understanding and enabling learning. Far from being trivially true. and it was by the end of this period that he. (p. 209) A. knowing. a term Wenger cemented in 1998 and elaborated further in his book Communities of Practice: Learning. A Social Theory of Learning Etienne Wenger American Etienne Wenger was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and. published the famous book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation in 1991. what if we adopt a different perspective. He starts with four premises: (p. For ten years he was then a researcher at the Institute for Research on Learning in Palo Alto. 209) Introduction Our institutions. it does constitute a coherent level of analysis. 126) III. (p. But it does have its own set of assumptions and its own focus.

A social theory of learning must therefore integrate the components necessary to characterize social participation as a process of learning and of knowing.• • • Knowledge is a matter of competence with respect to valued enterprises – such as singing in tune. the primary focus of this theory is on learning as social participation. discovering scientific facts. being convivial. Knowing is a matter of participating in the pursuit of such enterprises. Practice: a way of talking about the shared historical and social resources. 211) • • • • Meaning: a way of talking about our (changing) ability – individually and collectively – to experience our life and the world as meaningful. but to a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities in relation to these communities. 210-211) ] Figure 15. Identity: a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities. Participation here refers not just to local events of engagement in certain activities with certain people. is both a kind of action and a form of belonging. Such participation shapes not only what we do. fixing machines. Community: a way of talking about the social configurations in which our enterprises are defined as worth pursuing and our participation is recognizable as competence. for instance. and so forth. writing poetry. As a reflection of these assumptions. but also who we are and how we interpret what we do. Participating in a playground clique or in a work team. frameworks. of active engagement in the world. and perspectives that can sustain mutual engagement in action. growing up as a boy or a girl. (pp. that is. Meaning – our ability to experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful – is ultimately what learning is to produce.1 Components of a social theory of learning: an initial inventory. 8 . These components include the following: (p.

he really uses it as a point of entry into a broader conceptual framework of which it is a constitutive element. 213) • For individuals. It is not something we do when we do nothing else or stop doing when we do something else. And the communities of practice to which we belong change over the course of our lives. Communities of practice are an integral part of our daily lives. It is part of our participation in our communities and organizations. • For organizations. learning is an integral part of our everyday lives.Clearly. when society explicitly places us in situations where the issue of learning becomes problematic and requires our focus. Communities Of Practice Are Everywhere We all belong to communities of practice. 214) 9 . 213-214) In our experience. We recognize the fact that there are times in our lives when learning is intensified. (p. communities of practice are everywhere. 212) C. but for the same reasons they are also quite familiar. (pp. it means that learning is an issue of engaging in and contributing to the practices of their communities. (p. They are so informal and so pervasive that they rarely come into explicit focus. whether we like the way it goes or not. An adequate vocabulary is important because the concepts we use to make sense of the world direct both our perception and our actions. In fact. We pay attention to what we expect to see. these elements are deeply interconnected and mutually defining. 211) B. • For communities. but rather that we do not have very systematic ways of talking about this familiar experience. The problem is not that we do not know this. it means that learning is an issue of sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows and thus becomes effective and valuable as an organization. it means that learning is an issue of refining their practice and ensuring new generations of members. Even failing to learn what is expected in a given situation usually involves learning something else instead. The analytical power of the concept lies precisely in that it integrates the components of Figure 15. But learning is something we can assume – whether we see it or not. and when learning gels. and we act according to our worldviews. Rethinking Learning Placing the focus on participation has broad implications for what it takes to understand and support learning: (p.1 while referring to a familiar experience. Therefore. when he uses the concept of “community of practice” in the title of the book. Learning in this sense is not a separate activity. (p. whether what we are learning is to repeat the past or to shake it off. we hear what we can place in our understanding.

it acts as a guide about what to pay attention to. A key implication of our attempts to organize learning is that we must become reflective with regard to our own discourses of learning and to their effects on the ways we design for learning. The Practicality of Theory A perspective is not a recipe. parents. and the technical. as well as what we do when we decide that we must do something about it – as individuals. youths. Wenger hopes to contribute to this urgent need for reflection and rethinking. health practitioners. In this sense. workers. our theories are very practical because they frame not just the ways we act. our policies. patients. In this spirit. and as organizations. (p. (p. But we must remember that our institutions are designs and that our designs are hostage to our understanding. and how to approach problems. A new conceptual framework for thinking about learning is thus of value not only to theorists but to all of us – teachers. policy makers. organizational. and our organizations. 215) Usually we find ourselves in institutions. spouses. as communities. 216) CONCLUSION 10 . (p. but also – and perhaps most importantly when design involves social systems – the ways we justify our actions to ourselves and to each other. 214) D. it does not tell you just what to do. and educational systems we design. our communities. managers. 216) A social theory of learning is therefore not exclusively an academic enterprise.Our perspectives on learning matter: what we think about learning influences where we recognize learning. citizens – who in one way or another must take steps to foster learning (our own and that of others) in our relationships. perspectives. 214) But perhaps more than learning itself. what difficulties to expect. (p. it is also relevant to our daily actions. Communities of Practice is written with both the theoretician and the practitioner in mind. it is our conception of learning that needs urgent attention when we choose to meddle with it on the scale on which we do today. and theories. students. By proposing a framework that considers learning in social terms. While its perspective can indeed inform our academic investigations. (p. Rather.

and that learning is a lot deeper from the ideas being imparted simply by a teacher or a book. I can also say that. I chose these three theories coming from Howard Gardner. And unless they truly and actively participate. the person gets to learn more convincingly that he needs the others to say to himself that he is learning more on account of others. we help build the community. But it is different when his thoughts are read with the “adults” in mind. we will continue to find meaning personally and collectively. and even as an organization. it happens not just to be happy or express sympathy. I get to believe more and more that learning is at its best once communicated. And I am grateful that this still drives me in the completion of this work despite my limitations. if we truly value participation. they will never achieve the fullness of learning that the occasion offers. Some people realize it but others do not. By participating especially in group relations or activities. People have to realize that every time the community gathers. Once we discover the real value of verifying our learning in the community. I encountered Howard Gardner before because his idea of Multiple Intelligences is becoming a trend now in Education. It is a challenge for a person to get out of his own story and involve others in their story for him to purify his thoughts. learning becomes a practice and the usual condition and purpose that perhaps may bring the members together. Somehow. The idea of Wenger teaches us that learning is also participation. and they gather to learn. the community will be a source of learning and 11 . If people will realize the value of the community participation. verified and shared by the community. they gather and learn something. The life of the community is a moment for continuous learning. it is a challenge to learn from one’s learning on account of others who find interest in the narration of his own story and learning. they will realize that it has something more to offer than just being there.Learning is fun. In short. Peter Alheit and Etienne Wenger not because I knew them already. At the beginning. they have also acquired other means in order to learn more. we get to see the meaning of life and the value of others especially the group or the community. learning is truly easier and deeper because at that stage. However. In fact. When they get to participate in the community life. The idea of biographicity of Alheit makes me think of the social dimension of learning. their theories are relatively new to me. The idea of multiple approaches of Gardner makes me think of convincing or making people learn in the manner that triggers most their interest. I believe that this is an unexpressed idea that some people in the community are not convinced about. And once the community is conditioned to find meaning in the collective experience. Then. on the personal level. in the context of adults desiring to learn. However. equally. It is a challenge that they will be able to reflect well by making them realize about their strength and make them contribute by means of their strengths to the building up of the community. we develop a community of practice. There are so many theories about learning.

Learning is vital for a community. they will come to their senses that it is beyond each of those. capacities and perspectives. For this.the collective experience will always be the ground and means to achieve it. Bibliography 12 . it will be easier to convince people to dwell into the value of the community that God has designed human beings to be. whether realized immediately or later. There will always be meanings either unexpressed or not. it is in consideration of one’s giftedness that one will learn to appreciate his value and the value of each one in building the community. It becomes so on account of the community which is composed of people of different gifts. consider others for who they are and from there build relationships. It is only in learning that an individual becomes open to accept the others. I believe that for adults who care about learning or just the community. I believe God has willed it so because no one man has the monopoly of building the community. it may even be both plus the other things that the person and the community may benefit from whether they realize it or not. God designs it to be so because it is only in consideration of everyone that the community is built. I believe that the ultimate goal why God allows learning to be simple and complex at the same time is that building His Kingdom is also a simple and yet so complex a process.

Illeris. Knud (ed. Three articles discussed in this paper work that are found in the book of Knud Illeris: 1. A Social Theory of Learning. Routledge. New York. pp. Gardner. Howard. Etienne. Multiple Approaches to Understanding. 209-218 13 . pp. pp. 2009. Peter. NY.). Contemporary Theories of Learning. Wenger. 106-115 2. 116128 3. Biographical Learning – Within the New Lifelong Learning Discourse. Alheit.

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