Personal Intelligence Management: Manage Your Own Intelligence


Recent advancements in brain research, cognitive psychology and other cognitive sciences have created a new climate for understanding intelligence and learning. Theories of cognitive modifiability, multiple intelligences, and constructivism emphasize the uniqueness of each brain and its ability to grow connections throughout one’s lifetime. The people who support the model currently in vogue, standards-based learning, are oblivious to this momentous research and base their programs on a prescribed set of outcomes that all students are expected to master, in sequence, by a particular time.

(Note: An updated article on this topic can be found HERE )

Of course schools have historically been designed to teach specific learning thought to be of value to society. These included information, skills and processes that became both more specific and abstract as the students grew older. Interest, aptitude and parent prodding were
among the forces that moved individual students along particular paths as they advanced through the various grades and stages of scholarship. Children either learned, or didn?t learn, to manage their own learning. Few, if any, were taught to do this and serendipity seems to have played a major role for those who actually found a way to set their own path through the land mines of academia.

Surviving in the modern world requires individuals to understand what they need to know to navigate successfully the domains of family, work and society in general. Further, they need to apply this knowledge in appropriate circumstances and be able to adjust the process if the first approach is not successful. It is argued here that current research shows that it is both possible for an individual to improve what we commonly call intelligence and for the individual to learn the skills needed to manage such improvement. An approach to such a program is described in the following sections. A description of commonly held beliefs about the brain, intelligence and learning is followed by a discussion of various learning characteristics of individuals along with ideas about how an individual can track these characteristics during their own maturation as a learner. A third section details what we know about the various kinds of material to be learned while the final section presents a format for using this information to design a program to teach students to manage their personal intelligence.

What we know About Intelligence and Learning

Although the details are still lacking, it is generally believed that the act of learning involves the growth of new dendrites or, at least, the growth of new protein receptors on the dendrites of neurons in the brain. New research at Stanford suggests that glial cells in the brain may play some role in the development of new connections. The additional connections resulting from this process foster the development of networks of neurons related to specific learning experiences. As new experiences foster dendrite growth and new connections, the individual becomes more knowledgeable and skilled.

While this line of work continued, a number of practitioners and researchers developed ideas about what intelligence is and how it is distributed in the population. This very exciting work has led to a theory of cognitive modifiability that has revolutionized the way we think about teaching and learning. Feurstein, for example, has shown that structured experience can lead to increases in the cognitive abilities that are measured by I.Q. tests. David Perkins, in Outsmarting IQ, identifies three kinds of intelligence, two of which can be modified by experience. Neural intelligence, in Perkins terminology, is genetically controlled and is the basis for what else is to come. Experiential (learning your way around the various domains) and reflective (being aware of your thinking and being able to adjust appropriately) intelligence are developed through life experiences. This is very good news, of course, because it means that each of us can increase our ability to solve life’s problems (read, “increase our intelligence”) by learning and applying new habits of mind and by immersing ourselves in selected experiences designed to help us learn our way around new territories.

In an attempt to identify promising practices the author spent several years collating the work of brain researchers, cognitive psychologists, learning theorists and practitioners. What has emerged is a short list of learning postulates that has wide acceptance across these disciplines. It is not the purpose of this paper to go into detail on each, but they are identified as follows:
Genetics plays a major role. Each brain is hardwired to deal with very specific tasks and brains of all humans are essentially the same.

The brain of a growing child shows signs of stage development. That is, certain brain functions tend to develop at predetermined intervals.
Beginning very early in life, humans tend to develop mental models, or theories, to explain why things happen in their environment. At the time they are developed they are plausible to the individual and they may be very difficult to dislodge later in life, even if evidence strongly indicates otherwise.
Emotions play a major role in learning. High stress seems to inhibit learning while a do-able challenge may add to learning. Emotions also seem to serve as markers for learning as in the case of recalling great detail surrounding an emotional event in one’s life.

Learning has a social component and seems to be enhanced by social interaction. Discussing new information with a friend or learning in a congenial group setting are examples of situations that can lead to enhanced learning.
The brain has long-term plasticity and for many individuals this can extend throughout their lifetime. Experience can overcome deficits of genetics, stage development and mental models.

These postulates serve as a template for the evaluation of teaching and learning strategies. If a strategy is not consistent with the postulates, one should question its viability.

Getting to know your own Brain

Armed with a general sense of how the brain learns, support for the idea that intelligence can be enhanced through experience and reflection, and identification of an array of factors that seem to influence learning, we are now ready to look at how our own individual brain learns. The scope of this paper does not allow us to explore all of the
models that might be useful, but we will focus on two that allow us to begin to manage our own intelligence.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner has described eight different forms of intelligence that are possessed in varying degrees by everyone. In other words, we each have a multiple intelligence profile. Each of the intelligences is characterized as a domain-specific set of problem solving skills with biological origins that are a valued part of human cultures. The intelligences identified so far include musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. For a detailed description of each see Gardner’s work. For our purposes here, it is important to note that each individual possesses these problem-solving skills to varying degrees resulting in a profile of strengths and weaknesses. Following Perkins’ lead, experience in the use of any one skill should increase intelligence in that domain. Tests are available to measure the development of each intelligence, enabling the individual to track growth in each of the various intelligences.

Learning Styles

Over the last twenty years an extensive body of research has grown up in the field of learning styles. Various approaches have been tried, but the one we will discuss here is based on the work of Carl Jung. Many readers will be familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which is based on the Jungian model. Bernice McCarthy, Anthony Gregorc, and Harvey Silver and J. Robert Hanson have developed learning style theories with wide application in school settings. The Silver-Hanson theory provides a framework for what is proposed here.

In essence, Silver and Hanson identify four styles which involve both an emphasis on the processes of learning and the personality of the learner. Four learning styles are proposed: the Mastery Style is a concrete sequential style, the Understanding Style focuses on logic, reason and evidence, the Self-Expressive Style uses emotion and feeling to guide learning, and the Interpersonal Style focuses on concrete information learned in a social setting. As with multiple intelligences, tests are available to help an individual pinpoint his or her learning style preferences. Since each of us uses each of these styles to varying degrees, we again can profile our current disposition to help us develop a growth plan for styles we wish to cultivate.

What We Know About What Is To Be Learned

Knowing something about how our own learning propensities and a general understanding of how brains learn is a good start toward personal intelligence management. A final piece in the cognition puzzle is understanding the nature of what is to be learned as a factor in this management process. Authors have broken this out in various ways including taxonomies of cognitive skills (Bloom), broad learning goals including learning skills, academic subjects, creative thinking and personal attitudes (various authors), stages of intellectual development (Piaget), and dimensions of learning (Marzano and others). The Marzano model has a strong research base and is especially adaptable to the purposes of Personal Intelligence Management. The following section provides a brief introduction to the framework provided by this model.

Dimensions of Learning

Five types of thinking are at the core of this model. They include attitudes and perceptions about learning, acquiring and integrating knowledge, extending and refining knowledge, using knowledge meaningfully and productive habits of mind. How we feel about our chances of learning and the learning tasks that are involved play a major role in actually accomplishing the learning. The expectation of eventual success may lead us to persevere. Knowing that we have alternative learning strategies adds to our willingness to accept the risk of attempting new and difficult tasks.

The learning we are most familiar with, acquiring and integrating knowledge, is not without its difficulties. If the new information is not connected to previous learning or is at a level far above current understanding most of us do not have a strategy for bringing it into focus. Observation skills have not necessarily been honed to a level that is appropriate for the required learning. Stress and other factors can inhibit the learning of information that is within the realm of the learner under ordinary circumstances.

Extending and refining knowledge requires us to compare and contrast, classify, deduce, analyze and exercise other feats connecting learning to the intellectual environment. Current emphasis on learning about things emphasizes acquiring knowledge at the expense of doing something with it. Recognizing that the learning task requires us to recognize similarities and differences, for example, must trigger a different learning strategy from that used to memorize a list.

The fourth dimension of learning is using knowledge meaningfully. In a job or in the many facets of living a life, this is the dimension that counts. Can you use the information you have accumulated to make decisions, solve a problem or conduct an investigation? Can you use knowledge from one subject matter area to conduct an inquiry in another? Some individuals have obviously developed this ability. Can people improve abilities in this critical dimension?

The final dimension of learning is the one upon which the entire idea of Personal Intelligence Management is based. Productive habits of mind include being aware of your own thinking, learning style, and needed resources. It necessitates seeking feedback on your intellectual growth and evaluating the effectiveness of your learning strategies. Your willingness to extend your learning boundaries and to explore new intellectual territory are habits that must be cultivated if you are to achieve life-long cognitive growth. Personal Intelligence Management provides the learner with the tools to achieve learning goals, but these habits of mind are responsibilities the learner must exercise to be successful in the endeavor.

Formats for Teaching PIM

Management of personal intelligence can be learned by individuals at virtually any age but the format probably needs to vary with the sophistication of the learner. With children the concepts and strategies must be introduced incrementally over a period of years as they become developmentally appropriate. Piagetian-style stage development theory helps us determine when particular strategies should be introduced. Teenagers and adults can learn the management principles in a more concentrated format. One and two day workshop sessions where participants learn about their own brains, develop intelligence and learning style profiles, and participate in structured experiences with different kinds of learning tasks, can be interspersed over a few weeks or months as needed. Occasional follow-up sessions with a facilitator and co-learners to discuss progress are a final component of the adult model.


The cognitive sciences have provided us with the tools to identify our own learning propensities and to adjust our strategies to fit the learning tasks we encounter. It is now possible to both increase our effectiveness as learners and to teach children to manage their own learning. Personal Intelligence Management is the key to learning independence.


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