EdTech 504 Learning Theory Paper

Jenifer Crook

Triarchic Intelligence Theory


According to Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Intelligence Theory (1997) “successful intelligence is the use of an integrated set of abilities needed to attain success in life, however an individual defines it. People are successfully intelligent by virtue of recognizing their strengths and weaknesses and finding ways to compensate for them. Successfully intelligent people adapt to and select environments through a balanced use of their analytical, creative and practical abilities.”


Born in 1949, Robert Sternberg suffered from extreme test anxiety that resulted in being an inadequate test taker his entire life. He never felt that a test was a good measurement of true knowledge and academic abilities. Because of this, he created the Sternberg Test of Mental Agility (STOMA) in the 7th grade as a part of a science project; this was his first intelligence test. All of this sparked his interest in psychology. Robert went to Yale and did so poorly in his first Psychology class that the professor told him he should consider a different major. Dr. Sternberg has published more than 1,400 journal articles and books since 1972 and continues to be a strong leader in intelligence theories (Henshon, 2008).

Major Principles

The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence predicts that as “intelligent” people, we will know our own strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge helps us to make the most of our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses. The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence is divided into three areas. First, analytic intelligence is commonly viewed as “book smart.” This refers to the ability to complete academic, problem-solving tasks such as those used on traditional intelligence tests. Second, creative intelligence involves the ability to deal with new situations using past experiences and current skills. Third, practical intelligence may be viewed as “street smart.” This element refers to the ability to adapt to a changing environment. Practical intelligence is involved when dealing with common personal or practical problems. (Sternberg, 1997).


According to Sternberg & Spear-Sterling (1996) this theory has three major implications for educational psychology. First, teaching for all types of intelligence through differentiation is important because students need to capitalize on their strongest abilities at the same time they work to develop the abilities in which they demonstrate weaknesses. Second, students’ strongest abilities are directly connected to their most amenable learning styles. Teachers should know the learning preferences of their students and, when possible, capitalize on them. Third, because these variable abilities exist there should be many diverse assessments of school achievement, not only those that focus on traditional analytical abilities. Ability-based and personality-based styles matter, the goal of teaching should be to reach all students. Research has indicated that learning in at least partially matched conditions is significantly superior to that in mismatched conditions. People are successfully intelligent to the extent that they capitalize on their strengths in these areas and correct or compensate for their weaknesses. (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Zhang, 2008).


Henshon, S. E. (2008). Adventurous navigator of the dimensions of high Ability: An interview with Robert J. Sternberg. Roeper Review, 30(2), 75-80. doi:10.1080/02783190801954726

 Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Successful intelligence. New York: Plume.

Sternberg, R., Grigorenko, E., & Zhang, L. (January 01, 2008). Styles of learning and thinking matter in instruction and assessment. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 6, 486-506.

Sternberg, R. J., & Spear-Swerling, L. (1996). Teaching for thinking. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association


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