Intelligence and Learning

What is intelligence? Do you really have to be intelligent to be an expert learner? Are there multiple types of intelligence? These have all been questions that have crossed my mind multiple times. Other than hearing about incidents such as Super 30, in which an Indian Mathematician Anand Kumar, trained 30 students from the most rural and poor background and placed them in the elite Indian Institutes of Technology, have not really thought about this or read about this. Just had an opportunity to read and learn more about how intelligence is defined and its role in learning, as part of What Future For Education Coursera Course being taught by Dr. Clare Brooks.

It was very interesting to learn from Dr. Gordon Stobart, an Educational Psychologist and author of the book “The Expert Learner” that intelligence is not something that one is born with. There has been an increased use of a new word, ability, in the educational community and this is a cover for the term “intelligence”. Whether you call it intelligence or ability, both refer to the measure of learning and not the causal factor for learning. Interests may vary from person to person and whatever be one’s area of interest, the ability of that person to become a “natural” in the area of their interest depends on whether that person comes from a privileged or deprived background.

Relating to my own experience, I had an interest in mathematics and was fortunate enough to be trained by my friend’s mother, from my very young age. This lead me to being good in math, and I kept hearing from my relatives that a person good in math could be a good engineer and this was how my educational and career path got shaped. I saw the progression of small multipliers of positive reinforcement leading up to further opportunities to learn.

While in college, I was exposed to how my classmates perceived what intelligence is. Students who followed procedural methods of solving the problems were considered to be meticulous, while students who had asked questions of why were considered intelligent. Apparently I was classified in the former category. The way I found out about this was through an incident where one of my classmates indicated that he would not be asking me the question to understand “the why” of a particular concept. That was quite a judgement that was made about my “intelligence” and little did my friends or I knew that “intelligence” is acquired and that it depends on the background, exposure and training.

Since intelligence is a measure of learning, I believe the relentless and deliberate practice and learning is critical to becoming an intelligent person. For this one has to be a life long learner. This thought has been shaping up my journey. Even though I was formally trained in Engineering, learnt and applied manufacturing and quality principles when the need came up. The latest example of continuous learning is my taking the Coursera Course, What Future For Education.