Good online course design seeks to create relevant, interactive learning activities that encourage engagement in the hearts and minds of our learners. The challenge for designers, of course, lies in connecting these learning goals to the unique motivations, preferences, and purposes represented in the wide array of learners who come into our courses. And although most learning management systems allow designers to differentiate learning to accommodate these differences, how could we ever customize the learning pathway enough to accommodate for every individual difference and preference?
Horizon’s response to this question is that you should not approach your design work in this way, as it would undoubtedly leave you and your students frustrated. What we have found helpful in addressing learner differences is what Howard Gardner refers to as creating multiple points of entry to understanding . Gardner first suggested this idea as a practical response to his theory of multiple intelligences. This theory was first published in 1983 and has gained considerable momentum across a spectrum of disciplines and industries. In essence, as the web resource points out, this theory posits that people have substantively different kinds of intelligence that lead them to approach learning and come to understanding in vastly different ways. Gardner identified eight unique intelligences that influence how we as learning designers can approach our learners.
As you consider Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences below, think about how you might design different points of entry into your subjects that could connect with individual learners who bear these qualities. Once again, it would be infeasible to design eight different learning pathways into the subjects we are addressing in an online course. However, leaning on Gardner’s big idea, take a moment and think creatively about how you might leverage several of the categories below in building points of entry into your subjects at some point along the way in your course.
Visual-spatial intelligence often looks for meaning in visual representations like photos or art. Often in our Horizon courses, we will pick an image that may have a more subtle or nuanced meaning related to a subject. These subtleties in turn encourage learners with this affinity to ponder the possible connections between the selected picture and the material.
Musical intelligence finds meaning and generates emotional connection with learning via the varied genres, styles, and complexities of music. Incorporating meaningful videos produced with musical components, or music as cultural artificact connected with a subject, or at times allowing for expressions of learning via music can encourage engagement with muscial learners.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence involves a learner using his or her own body to do an activity. Learners could create something with their hands and upload a picture of it to a forum or post a video of themselves practicing a skill or role-playing a response to a scenario. In these ways, the activity of touch or bodily action enhanses engagement and even memory.
Interpersonal intelligence involves awareness of the emotions, desires, and motivations of other people. Collaborative learning activities like discussion forums, peer review, and group projects require learners to exercise interpersonal skills. Synchronous class meetings can also encourage engagement for interpersonal learners.
Intrapersonal intelligence involves awareness of one’s own emotions, desires, and motivations. Learning activities that encourage reflection before, during or after learning, that prompt learners to evaluate an experience, or that encourage learners to ponder the very learning experience itself all encourage intrapersonal learners to engage in the learning task.
Naturalistic intelligence finds meaning through relating to the environment, making connections between natural objects like plants, animals, geology, etc. Designers can include images displaying the beauty of creation or even push learning into the environemental contexts of learners lives. For environmentally conscientious learners, going green online can be another motivational factor.
Logical-mathematical intelligence sees meaning in numbers, equations, and calculations. Logical learners are motivated to analyze or solve problems, look for patterns, or systemize ideas. Statistical or quantitative representations of data such as tables, charts, or graphs encourage engagement in the learning task.
Verbal-linguistic intelligence reflects the capacity to express one’s thoughts using words. These learners appreciate complexity in language, enjoy word play, and are motivated by the expression of language in a both written and verbal formats.