©2001 NewFoundations

The Educational Theory Of Robert Sternberg

Analyst: Julie Chini

edited 8/18/11

1. Theory of Value: What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of education?

The knowledge and skills that Sternberg believes are worthwhile learning come from the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence entails analytical, creative, and practical knowledge and skills

CREATIVE: Knowledge-acquisition components are processes used in learning new things. (Intelligence Applied, p 28-29)

ANALYTICAL: Metacomponents are higher-order processes used in planning, monitoring and evaluating performance of a task. (p 24)

PRACTICAL: Performance Components are processes used in execution of a task. (p 24).

Meaningful learning is important to intellectual ability. Vocabulary learning, with people’s ability to use context to add to their knowledge base, is an important skill in intelligent behavior. (p 24)

The goal of education is to promote higher level thinking by teaching for successful intelligence. Education needs to capitalize on individual strengths while working toward improvement of their weaknesses through analytical, creative, and practical instruction. Following this Triarchic Theory of Intelligence will provide students with skills and abilities for higher level thinking and real life success.

2. Theory of Knowledge: What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? What is a lie?

Knowledge is a form of intelligence. Intelligence is redefined to incorporate practical knowledge.

Knowledge is the ability to think and learn within new conceptual systems. (Intelligence Applied, p 30)

Intelligence is a mental activity involved in purposive adaptation to, shaping of, and selection of real-world environments relevant to one’s life. (p 33)

Knowledge is mental self-management. (Triarchic Mind p 72)

Beliefs are viewed as very high-level knowledge structures that can have a profound impact on the ability to comprehend and interpret information. A system’s intelligence can only be viewed relative to its belief system. (Metaphors of Mind, p 136-137)

A sign of intelligence is not ever making mistakes, but rather learning from those mistakes so that they are not made again and again. An intelligent person can be forgiven for making mistakes, but perhaps not repeatedly making the same ones. (Intelligence Applied, p 338) I could not find lie specifically defined in the resources.

3. Theory of Human Nature: What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?

In the resources used, Sternberg did not directly address the qualifying and unique characteristics of a human being. He regards that human beings have the intelligence to behave in a wide range of activity.

He defines limitations in human potential as weaknesses. He believes that human beings are weak when they insist on a preferred way to learn. Human beings, with a specific learning preference, limits themselves to the intelligence needed for success in real-life.

4. Theory of Learning: What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?

The ability to learn is an essential part of intelligence.

Learning is divided into explicit learning (making an effort to learn) and implicit learning

(learning with no particular effort). Learning is exemplified, as one is able to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, putting together the relevant information and relating new information already stored in memory. (American Educator, p 50)

Children develop expertise in the skills needed for academic tests as well as expertise in skills needed in real-life experiences. (p 12)

Through a combination of genetic endowment and experience the acquisition of skills and knowledge are achieved. Purposeful engaging experiences add to the acquisition process. (p 12)

The model for developing expertise has five key elements: metacognitive skills, thinking skills, learning skills, knowledge and motivation. The collaborative influence of these elements led to the acquisition of skills and knowledge. (p 50)

Instruction should be geared not just toward advancing a knowledge-base, but toward developing reflective analytical, creative, and practical thinking with a knowledge base. Students learn better when they think to learn. (p 51)


5. Theory of Transmission: Who is to teach? By what methods? What will the curriculum be?

Collaborative function of the internal world: students themselves, external world: teachers and parents and world experiences: social interactions. (Triarchic Mind, p 73)

All children can learn better than they do now. To improve student learning is to teach them in a way that better responds to their diverse learning styles. In teaching for successful intelligence students should be taught through a system of balanced instructional methods meeting various learning styles, specifically memory, analytical, practical, and creative skills. These pedagogical sound methods include direct instruction, active participation, role modeling, learner-centered, and rewards. (American Educator p 12)

In the resources Sternberg made no direct indication of what the curriculum should be. However, Sternberg calls for implementation of the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence in both instruction and authentic performance assessment. In designing the curriculum, teachers need to incorporate tasks that are similar to the real world

6. Theory of Society: What is society? What institutions are involved in the educational process?

The issue of society was not specifically addressed. What I did find is the impact of culture on society where, society can be culturally driven. Ideas and skills are only viewed as intelligent if they are important to the society or culture. (Triarchic Mind, p 72)

Intelligence is something that grows or forms in a social setting. (Skeptic, p 6)

Society places much emphasis much emphasis on intelligence testing. There is something to be said about what people can do. (p 6)

Societies combined with formal schooling are the institutions where critical thinking and teaching for successful intelligence are carried out.

7. Theory of Opportunity: Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?

The questions of whom are to be educated and who is to be schooled is not directly answered in the resources. Yet, in reading several Sternberg pieces it is evident that education is a continuous process. The entire population is a constantly being educated. All social interactions provide opportunities for higher level thinking. Throughout the education continuum all people experience purposive adaptation to, shaping of, and selection of real-world environments relevant to one’s life. (Intelligence Applied, p 33)

Students reach a kind of expertise at which he or she becomes a reflective practitioner who is able to consciously use a certain set of skills. But expertise occurs at many levels. People thus cycle through many times on the way to higher levels of expertise. (Abilities and Expertise, p 51)

The number of years of schooling is not a good measure of how much education a person has. (Skeptic, p 5)


8. Theory of Consensus: Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?

These questions were not directly answered, yet the question of consensus can be applied to the cultural ideas and skills of society In society we all need to adapt, select, and shape environments at various times, but we do so in different ways. There is no one set of criteria for fitting in environments that can suit everyone. For example, given the same external circumstances, what may be the right thing to do for one person may not be the same for another. Having said this, consensus is achieved as individuals acknowledge, respect, and accept these differences. (Triarchic Mind, p 72)


A. Sternberg, Robert., (1986). Intelligence Applied: Understanding and Increasing Your Intellectual Skills. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

B. Sternberg, Robert., (1988). The Triarchic Mind. New York: Viking.

C. Sternberg, Robert., (1990). Metaphors of Mind: Conceptions of the Nature of Intelligence New York: Cambridge University Press.

D. Sternberg, Robert., (1994) Answering Questions and Questioning Answers: Guiding Children to Intellectual Excellence. Phi Delta Kappan. 76(2), 136-138.

E. Sternberg, Robert., (1995) Skeptic Magazine Interview with Robert Sternberg. Skeptic, 3 (3),72-80.

F. Sternberg, Robert., (1999). Ability and Expertise: It’s Time to Replace the Current Model of Intelligence. American Educator. 23(1). 10-13, 50-51.