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Perkins' Theory of Learnable Intelligence

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  • 0:06 Perkins & Intelligence
  • 0:56 3 Types of Intelligence
  • 2:40 Learnable Intelligence
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

What is learnable intelligence? Find out in this lesson and learn to differentiate between the three types of intelligence described by David Perkins in his theory of learnable intelligence.

David Perkins and Intelligence

The year is 1967. A young graduate student is working on a doctoral degree in mathematics and artificial intelligence at MIT when he becomes one of the founding members of Project Zero. This research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education will embark on a 25-year mission to explore learning processes in children, adults and human organizations. In the process, he will boldly develop a new theory of intelligence that no one has proposed before.

Mathematics and artificial intelligence is a bit of an unusual background for a theorist on human intelligence, yet David Perkins has developed a powerful theory that describes intelligence as three-dimensional. These three dimensions are the neural dimension, the experiential dimension and the reflective dimension.

Three Types of Intelligence

Neural intelligence involves the genetically determined abilities of a person's neurological system. Perhaps borrowing from his artificial intelligence background, Perkins calls this the 'hard-wired, original equipment' that determines the processing speed of our brains, similar to computer hardware. There is not much that can be done to increase neural intelligence. This is the type of intelligence that is measured by traditional IQ scores.

Experiential intelligence is the knowledge you obtain through experience. Experiential intelligence is accumulated as we navigate through the various contexts of life. Because of this, the more we experience, the more we expand our experiential intelligence. Experiential intelligence encompasses all of our experiences as a whole. Since this type of intelligence can be accumulated, people who are exposed to stimulating environments have an intellectual advantage over those who are exposed to less stimulating environments. If we want to follow through on the computer analogy, we would think of this as the different programs that we can run.

Reflective intelligence refers to a person's ability to use and manipulate their mental skills. These are the thinking strategies we use to effectively utilize our neural and experiential intelligence. This includes self-monitoring and self-management. You can increase your reflective intelligence by increasing your awareness of how you think and making changes to those patterns when necessary. This would be like a computer's operating system. Reflective intelligence would utilize the hardware to run its programs. Like operating systems, it can also be upgraded.

Learnable Intelligence

We now have a working understanding of Perkins' three types of intelligence. How do these come together to form his theory of learnable intelligence? Learnable intelligence is the combination of experiential intelligence and reflective intelligence. The main premise of learnable intelligence is Perkins' belief that we can learn to think and act more intelligently.

Our reflective intelligence is the key to this opportunity. When we engage our reflective intelligence, we can learn new strategies for problem solving or making decisions by directing our experiential intelligence towards getting specific information that is most useful to us. In other words, we can learn to be more intelligent even though we cannot make changes to our neural intelligence.

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