Nurture Your Intelligences to Learn More Effectively
By Ariana Marshall, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of STEM at American Public University and Caribbean Sustainability Collective Director
Are you one of those people who can remember the lyrics to a song but can’t remember where you left your keys? How is it that we can remember how to swim the butterfly stroke but we can’t remember which plants butterflies prefer? Why can we remember the melody of a song but not the name of the song?
The answer to all three questions is that we have multiple intelligences. We retain and apply what we learn most efficiently when we nurture our preferred intelligences. This way, we enjoy and improve the process of learning and using information in our daily lives.
In his article, “Multiple Intelligences (Part 1): How Many Do You Have?,” professor Craig Gilman summarizes this concept for us:
“……intelligence encompasses the ability to create and solve problems, create products or provide services that are valued within a culture or society. Just as an individual will possess a unique combination of learning styles, everyone also possesses a unique combination of intelligences.”
If I had to rank my multiple intelligences, music would be number one on my list, followed by kinesthetic, naturalistic and existential intelligences tied for second. When you choose to design education with multiple intelligences in mind, we can also recognize that our intelligences can be complimentary.
Mnemonic Learning Strategies Appeal to Our Multiple Intelligences
One way we recognize our efficiencies and learn more efficiently is through experimenting with mnemonic learning strategies that appeal to our multiple intelligences. When we pay attention to these intelligences, we strengthen our ability to translate learning to literacy.
Our literacy — i.e. our ability to retain relevant information and apply it in school, at work or at home — depends on our learning preferences. We can still learn information that doesn’t appeal to our preferred multiple intelligences, but it is more difficult to do.
The stifling pressure created by self-assessment and self-criticism brings on insecurity or discomfort with the learning process. If we overcome this pressure, we then reinforce the confidence and therefore competence in our own skills, knowledge and literacy.
We need lifelong learning to cope with the volume of information created by new technologies, old problems and new solutions. Coping with this information is absolutely necessary to evolve in our careers and pursue our personal goals.
Our complex world can be simplified only if we focus on exactly what is most important. We must refine how we use information on our lifelong learning journey to evolve in our changing fields and keep pace with peers and mentors.
Coping with the Challenges of Information Saturation
When I took my first ecology course in graduate school, the information completely overwhelmed me. The overall theme of the course was that everything that happens in our environment affects everything else. At that point, I was ready to quit everything involving environmental science.
This wide range of possible information relationships created far too much information for me to keep up with. With this complexity, I found myself asking how would I make sense of even being an environmental scientist, further contribute to the field of study and then actually apply what I learned to address related societal issues.
But completing my Ph.D. in environmental science led to a shift from honing the skill of massive retention of information to honing the skill of knowledge application through practicing how best I learn. That degree also taught me to understand what I needed to learn when I needed to learn it and to use what I had learned often.
Finding the Right Information Among Many Potential Sources
The “Principles of Ecology” course taught me it is impossible to retain all the information we are required to learn to stay informed about advancements in science. However, we need to know how and where to find information in today’s information-saturated world. When we learn how best we learn and how to find information more efficiently, we can do research more quickly and efficiently.
Music Is the Universal Intelligence
Music is a universal key that opens doors to our intelligences and has been proven to be exactly what is needed in our learning experiences. In 1995, educator Chris Brewer summarized research from the Western scientific community to confirm our understanding of our personal experience with music.
In his article, “Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom,” Brewer suggested methods of integrating music into classrooms for focus, creativity and active learning. Music has unique cultural and evolutionary differences, depending on where and by whom it is created.
However, the effect of music is universal. This effect and these differences mean that learning through music is a cross-cultural, diverse and far-reaching tool.
Music recalls memories, feelings, thoughts or visions, either removing you from your surroundings or helping your focus. I use music as a focusing tool, an anti-procrastination strategy and a stress management tool. When I have a lot on my mind and I want to focus, I’ll listen to some music to quiet my thoughts and then work on the first “to-do” on my list. Music motivates me to get tasks done.
Music is just one of the nine ways we can learn through mnemonics, but perhaps the most popular. We practice mnemonics every day when we watch television, listen to the radio, view Internet advertisements and make purchases.
Music is everywhere, from jingles to musical cues (such as TV’s well-known “Law and Order SVU” Dum-Dum sound effect). Music also includes the melodies and rhythm of voices in commercials, especially if there is an accented voice that differs from ours, e.g. the GEICO lizard’s British accent.
Intelligence Discovery Tips to Help Retention Skills
Think about which classes you’ve enjoyed the most and why. If you haven’t enjoyed any of them, think about which commercials you like and why. More than likely those commercials are using mnemonics to help you retain information or appeal to your multiple intelligence profile.
Take a Multiple Intelligences Assessment. These tests have simple questions such as, “Do you look forward to visiting the zoo?” But don’t let this Multiple Intelligences Assessment completely define your learning preferences.
Tune into what you do know, what led you to that knowledge and why you followed that path. In the process, assess the best way you learn. Experiment with all types of mnemonics to see which consistently work best for you. When you force yourself to learn, you probably are not using your preferred multiple intelligences.
Name Mnemonics Help Retain Unusual or Rarely Used Terminology
My colleague Zakiya Hoyett, who studied the environmental impact of PCPs, introduced me to name mnemonics when we were co-teaching high school ocean science. Our students needed to both learn basic ocean science concepts and retain a large volume of information on current oceanographic discoveries.
One mnemonic device I like is “Keeping Precious Creatures Organized For Grumpy Scientists” to help students remember the taxonomic ranking of organisms: Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species. I like it because it is not completely random but is relevant to the purpose of retaining the information, organizing information for grumpy scientists!
Your Style of Learning Is All Up to You
It seems as though the world we live in requires all types of intelligences. Each of us needs to realize which ones we are most comfortable and which ones we want to develop. Then we can devise diverse mnemonic strategies to aid us in our learning process. This practice is even more necessary for online learning, because students are in greater control of the “how” and “when” of the learning experience.
You are the only person who can actually apply what you learn to your life, so you are in charge of finding and using your multiple intelligences. Your learning, literacy and intelligence are yours to shape. Shape it with all of your senses and enjoy the process.
About the Author
Dr. Ariana Marshall is a faculty member with the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, American Public University. She is the Director for the Caribbean Sustainability Collective and focuses on culturally relevant sustainability and climate change adaptation. Ariana completed her doctorate in environmental science at FAMU.