Thinking Outside the Box: Multiple Intelligences Theory

By: Salome Bwayo Weaver, PharmD, BCGP; Valerie U Oji, PharmD, BCPP

Recently, we thought about the laboratory-based learning that students receive. We have taught pharmacy laboratory courses over the past decade, and wanted to reflect on our expectations for students’ learning. Could students be considered practice ready or did they feel ready? How could we frame their different learning styles? Childs-Kean and colleagues conducted a systematic review of the following learning styles: 

All of these frameworks are used by the health sciences academy, but interestingly, the study found little or no evidence of correlation to actual learning outcomes.1 Although not studied in this population, another framework called Multiple Intelligences Theory might have utility in pharmacy education. We believe its basics should be a framework for teaching our students to achieve positive learning outcomes.2

What is Multiple Intelligences Theory?

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, consistently used in the K-12 system, illustrates that human intelligence is comprised of specific modalities rather than a single ability.2 Individuals tend to have one or more dominant intelligences in their learning and interactions:

  • Body-Kinesthetic: Handling body movements and objects skillfully.
  • Existential: Tackling deep questions of human existence or life’s meaning.
  • Interpersonal: Detecting and responding to moods, motivations, desires of others.
  • Intrapersonal: Self-awareness and connecting with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes.
  • Logical-Mathematical: Conceptual and abstract thinking, discerning logical or numerical patterns.
  • Musical: Developing and appreciating rhythm, pitch and timbre.
  • Naturalistic: Recognizing and categorizing plants, animals and other objects in nature.
  • Verbal-Linguistic: Well-developed verbalizing skills and sensitivity to sounds, meanings and rhythms of words.
  • Visual-Spatial: Thinking in images and pictures, visualizing.

Application in Pre-APPE Didactic Curriculum

This theory has utility for diverse learners to grasp common concepts. According to the theory, educators should teach the same concept in multiple ways, using multiple core concepts to help engage learners. There may be more emphasis on logical-mathematical, interpersonal or body-kinesthetic intelligences in health care encounters, while the benefits and applications of others are yet to be fully explored. For example, combining existential and visual-spatial intelligence could facilitate philosophical class discussions about ethics, “survivor’s remorse”, moral injury or suicide by frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students could practice inter- and/or intrapersonal intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence with screening questions for distress, or musical intelligence in counseling and rating scale items for manning portions of a session for health coaching in relation to COVID-19. 

Application in Interprofessional Education

Multiple intelligences can also be utilized in teaching interprofessional education competencies. Use of the theory could explore communication style differences and focus of care to enhance learning about how the incorporation of multiple perspectives betters patient care. Student intrapersonal self-awareness and reflection on personal learning styles and strengths can contribute to their teams. Interpersonal  concepts have shown promise in building capacity for teamwork, program design and development, patient counseling and self-care education.3 By addressing differing perceptions, other professions may learn benefits of working with pharmacists and further advance pharmacists’ roles on the interprofessional team. Whether some disciplines lean towards one or more of the multiple intelligences could be explored (eg. naturalistic, intrapersonal, logical-mathematical, etc.) or whether any combination of intelligences can boost successful learning. 

Application in the APPE Curriculum

Pharmacist interns have expressed shared perceptions of being underutilized and experience barriers to providing patient care and addressing medication-related problems.4 They express interest in learning activities that reinforce “readiness” skills and interpersonal/professional communication.4 Additional concerns include career challenges such as staffing limitations, provider status recognition and reimbursement, and constraining stereotypes of pharmacist roles.4 Multiple intelligences theory could be put to use to address varied needs with multiple intelligence modes (eg. visual-spatial, inter and intrapersonal, etc.) in internship-based learning such as disease state protocols/policies, scope of practice, treatment guidelines, health service and policy issues that facilitate an optimally utilized health workforce. The theory could also be applied to teaching verbal-linguistic or logical/mathematical problem-solving skills in leadership. 

Questions for the Academy:

  1. How do we evaluate the Multiple Intelligence Theory in pharmacy education?
  2. What outcomes are important to showing success with the incorporation of Multiple Intelligences Theory?
  3. Do we need to revamp curricula to support the Multiple Intelligences Theory or to ensure positive learning outcomes are achieved?
  4. How can we apply learning frameworks in pharmacy education to groom future health professionals for greater parity?
  5. What kinds of activities would you design with multiple intelligences?   


  1. Childs-Kean L, Edwards M, Smith MD. A systematic review of learning style framework use in health sciences education. Am J  Pharm Educ. Feb 2020; “Epub Ahead of Print” .
  2. Multiple Intelligences: What Does the Research Say?  Accessed April 26, 2020
  3. Flowers LK, Thomas-Squance R, Brainin-Rodriguez JE, Yancey AK. Interprofessional social and emotional intelligence skills training:study findings and key lessons. J Interprof Care. 2014;28(2):157-159.
  4. Khobahy E, Nwosu N, Abbasgholizadeh R, Oji VU. Interns experiential training perspective on pharmacist prescribing protocol development. Int J Pharm 2016; 6(3):1-10. 

Salome Bwayo Weaver is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Howard University College of Pharmacy. Her research interests include simulation and laboratory instructional methods, geriatrics and sickle cell disease. In her free time, Salome enjoys reading and traveling with her husband and two children.

Valerie U Oji is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Her research interests include innovative health service models, health policy and women’s mental health. She enjoys swimming, family and friends, live music, watching Judge Judy and The Voice.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

1 Comment

  1. Great idea of conceptual framework, Drs. Weaver and Oji! I hope your efforts do not stop with this, but build towards a hole you have identified in the literature. Off hand, I cannot think of any measurement instruments for it, but I would think that there would be (…though cannot speak for the quality of those instruments). Thank you for sharing this, and I will hope and look forward to seeing more in the future!


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