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Can Everyone Be Smart at Everything? | MindShift

This is a very fine article that provides excellent arguments and evidence about the fundamental dangers of rewarding results rather than effort in learners, and the extreme silliness of learning styles. The notion of a 'learning quotient' rather than an 'intelligent quotient' is a nice distinction. The idea of fixed abilities and ways of thinking is highly antagonistic to learning - telling people they are good at something or that they are not good at something, or that they learn in one way and not another reduces motivation to become more than they are. We are not static and unchangable beings. To learn is to change, and the best and most rewarding learning is that in which we learn to learn. While there are certainly limits to what an individual can expect to be able to do in a single lifetime and we are all better at some things than others, with enough effort and an appropriate way of going about it, we can almost always learn more, learn to learn differently, and expand our horizons further. 

There are some interesting follow-up comments too: some are predictably dumb, but someone had to make them. There is a particularly heinous opener in which the author claims that rewarding results and punishing failure is what it is like in the real world so learners had better get used to it. This is wrong on so many levels, but mainly because the author completely misses the point that it is about becoming competent, which is not at all the same thing as using that competence once it is achieved. It is possible to learn about reward/punishment systems too, and how to cope with them, but that's a separate problem, and simply punishing or rewarding every result, without further reflection on and examination of what that means, is definitely not the best way to go about it. However, though there are a few more comments of this nature, the conversation explores a lot of the issues in some depth in a way that extends the depth of the original article considerably. Well worth reading.


  • Do you believe the premise of learning styles is silly or how they are being used is silly?


    I would argue that any idea that can help a learner understand their preferences, strengths and weaknesses are valuable as you can play to your strengths when appropriate and work on improving your weaknesses to become more versatile in general. However, if the premise of learning styles is used to justify why the learner can not accomplish it seems to be taking specialization to a truly unfortunate level.

    Eric von Stackelberg November 8, 2011 - 10:29am

  • Really interesting Jon - Thanks

    This does create great challenges especially in the formative K-5 years when children have parental and home expectations buffeted against whatever philosophy may or may not exist at school and/or with their peer communities. How many parents have the time to appreciate the implications of the issues raised here and can create effective and supportive environments to allow their children to grow with an reasonable balance of product and process? I guess society needs a good mix of "types" although I am not really sure what a good mix is.

    Stuart Berry November 8, 2011 - 11:41am

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