Walter McKenzie

MI21: Multiple Intelligences and Preparing Children for the 21st Century

Society is quickly shifting, and so with it shifts the dialog about meaningfully learning and contributing. What used to pass for preparation to participate in a democratic society with a free market economy no longer holds true. Public schools currently reflect the 1900s more than the 2000s, even as education bureaucracy has clamped down and locked in on traditional, measurable standards and assessments. Instead of opening things up to the marketplace of ideas, public schools have opened themselves up to the assessment and technology marketplace, investing in solutions to document and justify the last century's ideals.

This will change; societal pressures over time will ensure that. No civilization maintains irrelevant institutions. As the conversation continues to evolve, specific skills that are valued in the knowledge economy workplace are being identified. Among them:

  • New Literacies: cultural, visual, digital social-emotional, global, civic, scientific, information, media
  • Working Cooperatively: with peers, coworkers, subject matter experts, coaches, mentors, partners, agencies, businesses
  • Sharing Ideas: reading, writing, speaking, listening, document publishing, web conferencing, social networking
  • Creativity: seeing, imagining, envisioning, describing, drawing, designing, innovating, inventing, producing
  • Predicting Outcomes: identifying patterns, gaps, deficits disconnects, weaknesses, challenges, opportunities
  • Generating Solutions: critical thinking, heuristics, solutions, capacity building, value creation, contributing new knowledge
  • Virtual Productivity: manipulating objects, digital probes and adaptive technologies, navigating environments, building models, testing attributes
  • Data Fluency: aggregation and disaggregation, application, analysis, classification, categorization, hierarchization, curation
  • Professional Capital: self-awareness, self-regulation, self-evaluation, values, standards, empathy, tenacity, grit, resilience, expertise

While educators make the shift to provide learning experiences that support the development of these new and valued skills, the ways we learn remain the same. Howard Gardner's framework for human intelligence offers a practical, empirical model for addressing all the paths to learning, regardless of the content, skills, or desired outcomes. These distinct intelligences are:

  • Linguistic: expression through the spoken and written word.
  • Logical: problem solving through reasoning.
  • Visual: having the ability to see, envision and imagine.
  • Kinesthetic: interacting with one's environment.
  • Interpersonal: interacting with others.
  • Intrapersonal: affective learning, values, and attitudes.
  • Rhythmic: identifying and extending patterns.
  • Naturalist: classifying and categorizing data.
  • Existential: using contexts and connections to prior understanding.

You can read about the intelligences in greater depth here.

Looking across from skills to technologies, we can identify actionable, observable competencies that knowledge workers must be able to demonstrate in today's workplace:

There is a natural correlation between the skills valued in the 21st century workplace and the paths to human learning and productivity.

In addition, in my previous work, I categorized the intelligences into three instructional domains that empower teachers to target instruction by specific clusters of intelligences:

  • The Analytic Domain targeting the processing and application of information: the logical, rhythmic, and naturalist intelligences.
  • The Interactive Domain focusing on interaction with others and with the environment: the linguistic, kinesthetic, and interpersonal intelligences.
  • The Introspective Domain promoting the affective components of learning and working: the visual, intrapersonal, and existential intelligences.

There are a number of instructional implications for these domains, which can be explored in more detail on my Multiple Intelligences website.

You can read more about the three intelligences domains here.

Given these working definitions, a new model emerges illustrating the relationship between 21st century skills, each of the intelligences, and the competencies that today's workers must possess:


Instead of turning Gardner's model inward to examine individual intelligence profiles, this new model points multiple intelligences theory outwards to identify a communal intelligence profile that aligns to specific, highly valued skills. Furthermore, each of the intelligences support the acquisition and mastery of analytic, collaborative, and generative competencies key to workplace productivity and success.

As society and citizenship become more global, Gardner's definition of intelligence resonates stronger than ever:

"[T]he ability to find and solve problems and create products of value in one's culture ..." —Dr. Howard Gardner

Using this model mindfully, educators can apply the principles of Gardner's multiple intelligences theory in planning and implementing learning experiences that:

  • Address the emerging demands of the knowledge economy workplace.
  • Support learners in developing the skills, values, and attitudes that will make them college, career, and citizenship ready.
  • Provide the conditions for the necessary instructional shift that will transform public education to meet the needs of society today and in the future.

While Howard Gardner created his intelligence theory at the dusk of the industrial age, his greatest impact may well be its application in the dawn of the information age.

Walter McKenzie is a lifelong learner, teacher, leader, and connector. A director of Constituent Services for ASCD, he served 25 years in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional technology coordinator, director of technology, and assistant superintendent for information services. He is internationally known for his work on multiple intelligences and technology and has published various books and articles on the subject. Connect with McKenzie on the ASCD EDge® social network, on his Actualization blog, or by e-mail at wmckenzie@ascd.org. This article originally published on Actualization in July 2014.

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