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The Structure Of Intellect: Everything e-Learning Pros Need To Know

By Guest Blogger Christopher Pappas /  @cpappas 

christopher_papas_circle_final.pngAll of your online learners have unique abilities, skills, and experiences that form the basis of their intellect. The challenge is creating e-learning courses that cater to all their needs, even though there are countless combinations of talents and traits. In this article, I'll share everything you need to know about all of the "dimensions" of the Structure of Intellect that play a significant role in human intelligence.

Everything e-Learning Pros Need To Know About The Structure Of Intellect

The Structure of Intellect was first introduced by Joy Paul Guilford [1], a noted psychologist and psychometrist. The Structure Of Intellect theory of human intelligence consists of three core components: operations, contents, and products, which are known as "dimensions". Each of these dimensions play a crucial role in determining the intellectual abilities of your online learners. Together, they form up to 150 different types of intelligence or talents. Mary N. Meeker went on to apply the Structure of Intellect in educational settings, making it a valuable assessment tool for e-learning professionals.


Framework Of The Structure Of Intellect Theory

The Structure of Intellect Theory blends cognitions with mathematics to explore the nature of human intelligence. Here are the basic framework that you should follow when creating your e-learning courses and assessments:

  1. Reasoning and problem-solving skills comprise 30 intellectual abilities (out of 150). This includes both convergent and divergent operations. This number is calculated by multiplying 6 products by 5 contents.
  2. Memory operations make up 30 different intellectual abilities or skills.
  3. Language skills, which are categorized as cognitive operations, comprise 30 different abilities.
  4. Decision-making, or evaluation operations, make up 30 intellectual abilities.

Structure Of Intellect Operations

According to the Structure of Intellect theory, there are 5 distinct operations that are linked to a learner's intelligence. The “operations” dimension comprises 1/3 of their intellectual abilities:

1. Cognition

Understanding new information and discovering new ideas and concepts. This is also directly related to their level of comprehension and how well they can discover information on their own.

2. Memory

Acquiring and assimilating new information, also known as encoding, as well as retaining and recalling that information.

3. Convergent Production

Following rules and problem-solving. Online learners must be able to examine the problem and then arrive at a single solution.

4. Divergent Production

Deducing a variety of different solutions to a problem. This also pertains to creativity.

5. Evaluation

Determining if information is correct, incorrect, or relevant. Online learners must be able to use their knowledge and resources to gauge whether the information is accurate and pertinent to the situation.

Structure Of Intellect Contents

The Structure Of Intellect theory also states that there are 5 types of content that the human mind uses to carry out the aforementioned operations:

1. Symbolic

Information that appears in the form of signs or images which are symbolic. Roman numerals, music notes, and branding icons are all examples of symbols.

2. Semantic

The perceived meaning of verbal information. There are two primary areas of semantics: logical and lexical. Logical deals with references and implications, while lexical pertains to relationship between words and their intended meaning.

3. Figural: Visual

Part of the "figural" category, which pertains to real world information and things that appear in the learner's surroundings. Visual information is observed by our sense of sight. This includes images, charts, and videos, just to name a few.

4. Figural: Auditory

Another aspect of the "figural" category. Auditory information is picked up by our sense of hearing. This includes musicnarrations, and other audio elements.

5. Behavioral

This is actually an add-on content category that is not part of Guilford's final human intelligence theory. However, some e-learning developers still consider it to be an integral part of the Structure of Intellect. It deals with the perceptions of other's actions and their significance. For example, learning a new concept or idea by observing another individual. If the information is acquired through the online learner's own actions, it is considered to be kinesthetic, which falls under the "figural" category.

Structure Of Intellect Products

Based on the Structure of Intellect, there are a total of 6 products. Online learners apply the operations to the contents in order to achieve the results or "products":

1. Units: A Single Piece Of Knowledge.

This is the most basic product, as it does not facilitate any widespread change in the mental schema. For example, individuals who learn a new word or a simple concept are acquiring a unit of knowledge. 

2. Classes: A Collection Of Units That Has Similar Attributes Or A Common Denominator.

A set of rules or company policies would be an example of "classes". This information does not necessarily tie into preexisting knowledge.

3. Relations: Units That Are Somehow Related.

This may come in the form of sequences, opposites, or comparisons. In this instance, the online learner understands that there is a connection between the units and may group them together in their mental schema.

4. Systems: Information That Is Interconnected.

These units form a network of interrelated concepts and ideas. This is a highly complex structure that may draw upon preexisting knowledge.

5. Transformations: Knowledge Is Altered.

It may be converted into new information, or the online learner may change it altogether based on new ideas or beliefs. They not only assimilate the units, but manipulate information.

6. Implications: Learners Can Foresee The Implications Of Acquiring The Information. 

For example, they may be able to predict the outcome or make inferences about how it relates to existing knowledge. They can also determine the consequences, negative or positive, that are involved.

Guilford's Structure of Intellect Theory gives you the opportunity to assess the abilities of your online learners in order to create meaningful and relevant e-learning courses. From decision-making to language skills, you can identify their strengths and areas for improvement before you start the eLearning development process.

Multiple Intelligences is another popular learning theory that explores the idea of intellectual combinations. Read the article Multiple Intelligences In eLearning: The Theory And Its Impact to discover how to apply it in your e-learning course design and the impact it may have on your audience.

Criticism of Guilford's Structure of Intellect Theory

There are two main criticisms of Guilford's Theory. The first is that the research and statistical approach are unreliable. The second is that the theory is only part of a more comprehensive evaluation strategy. Let's examine both concerns in greater detail:

Research and statistical analysis

Much of Guilford's theory is based on psychometric tests, which he used to predict and measure SI abilities. Guildford had previously stated that the g-factor (general intelligence factor) was insupportable [3]. In fact, the SI theory is based on the idea that intelligence is comprised of multiple factors. As such, it couldn't be represented by a single number. Arthur Jensen, a noted professor of educational psychology, suggested that Guilford's belief was influenced by the U.S. Air Force cognitive testing. Jensen stated that Guilford did not observe any direct correlations that significantly varied from zero. Therefore, he assumed that the g-factor was unsustainable [3]. Upon reanalysis, researchers stipulated that the cognitive tests in question may have been effected by "artifacts and methodological errors." 

Further studies that involved more stringent methods found that Guilford's data as "positive", while another suggested that random models were as supportable as the SI theory. Thus, many critics suggest that the SI research and statistical techniques are merely "exploratory," as they are not wholly reliable. However, it can still be used to develop learning assessments. In some cases, it can serve as a basis for other theories and hypotheses about the traits of intellect.

It's important to note that Guilford, himself, refined the theory over the course of many years. The theory was originally published in 1955, which consisted of 120 components. It was then expanded to 150 intellectual abilities. Later, it became 180 components when Guilford created a separate category for memory functions.

Limited scope

Some critics suggest that the psychometric testing used to evaluate intelligence is flawed and that it limits the applications. For example, the tests only consider certain factors and do not account for other important issues. Additionally, many believe that the measurement criteria has a limited scope. It can produce a general overview of an individual's intellect, but it is unable to provide a detailed picture. For instance, it does not reveal the level of contextual intellect. Guilford and other researchers even went on to develop a series of creative tests that expand on the SI theory [2]. These evaluations help to define the specific category of intellect.

As such, many critics believe that the SI theory should be used in conjunction with other assessment and evaluation methods. If Instructional Designers do choose to use this approach, they should pair it with other diagnostics to discover the exact category and breadth of intellect.

The SI theory relies on extensive testing. As such, there are a variety of other contributing factors that eLearning professionals must consider. For example, the testing environment, the learner's emotional state, and their personal background. These concerns all play an important role in the evaluation process, as they can affect the learner's test results. Even the testing format can have an impact on the learner's psychometric scores.

The SI theory has been expanded on, revised, and transformed over the years. However, despite criticism, Guilford's theory did serve as a springboard for other intelligence theories. In many respects, he was a trailblazer in the world of educational psychology. He viewed intelligence as a multi-faceted concept that couldn't be represented by a single number. In fact, the SI theory is still used by some to gauge creative intellect. Additionally, Guilford should be credited for his ideologies and forward thinking. Many of the SI principles and methodologies form the basis of intelligence tests that are in use today.



1. Guilford, J.P. (1967). The Nature of Human Intelligence.

 2. Four Ways to Measure Creativity

3. Jensen, A. R. (1998). The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability. Westport, CT: Praeger.


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About Author

Christopher Pappas
Christopher Pappas

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