I had the opportunity to hear Howard Gardner speak in New York this year at the AERA annual conference (2008). His idea that intelligence is not a single purpose capacity made me think about the diversity in thinking among online, adult learners. Many studies and articles describe such diversity yet try to create a model or framework for a singular design of instruction. I don’t think this is useful.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is one concept of how humans’ cognition, thinking and intellect work. He proposes, in his web page on more frequently asked questions (http://www.howardgardner.com/FAQ/faq.htm ), that an intelligence is a potential to process information in certain ways. However, this does not include an interest in a certain domain (activity, cognitive capacity), but the skill or talent with a certain activity/process such as with mathematics or crafts. There can also be subintelligences, which might help those designing learning or training.
The two statements that he makes is quite telling about how adults might process information:
“As individuals become older, our intelligences simply become internalized. We continue to think differently from one another – indeed, differences in modes of mental representation are likely to increase throughout active life. These differences are simply less manifest to outside observers.”
“The recesses of our mind remain private. No one can tell the mind exactly what to do. As I see it, the challenge to the mind is somehow to make sense of experience, be it experience on the street or in the classroom. The mind makes maximal uses of the resources at its disposal – and those resources consist in our several intelligences.”
These assumptions speak to the idea of customized, personalized learning and open learning environments. The challenge for academia is to share the power over content and curriculum design with the learners. To somehow share their authority on knowledge (new or old) with a learning and researching community. To somehow be a leader but also a peer in sharing the generation of knowledge, and allow (and lead) students to explore, discover and create knowledge that might be slightly different, even off beat, in order to stretch the boundaries.
Such a step would be hard for academia with its rigid paradigms and its assumed responsibility of being the intellectual sources of society. However, knowing in the knowledge based world is not for anyone to own – knowledge has become illusive, transparent and fluid all at the same time.