Learning Styles

(Reading time: 2 - 4 minutes)

It is well established that using a variety of teaching styles in our classrooms increases the chances of our students retaining and enjoying what is taught.


Understanding learning styles is a key component of how students learn, and teaching styles –which adapt to those learning styles or not– are the means for the instructors to both affect and effect learning.


One well-established schema proposes four dimensions or categories of learners:

(1) sensing (concrete, practical, oriented to facts) versus intuitive learners (conceptual, innovative, oriented to theory);


(2) visual (pictures, diagrams, images) versus verbal learners (written and spoken);


(3) active (tries things out, works with others) versus reflective learners (learns by thinking through, works alone);


(4) sequential (linear, orderly, learns in steps) versus global learners (holistic, systems thinkers, learn in large leaps).


Difficulties occur because traditional lecture-style teaching results in classes that are verbal and passive. Most students are sensors, visual learners, and active learners.

Both the majority of students and teachers are often sequential, but this leaves out the subset of students who happen to be global learners.


Due to this disparity, active learning approaches that apply a variety of teaching experiences to engage all kinds of learning styles have been developed and used successfully in classrooms because they cross-match more categories of learners.


Teaching styles and learning modes used to overcome the learning-style mismatch include active learning, collaborative and cooperative learning, and problem- or project-based learning.


There are methods for determining the preferred learning styles of students. Some researchers have developed basic questions to be considered at the beginning of the term to help assess the class.


These assessments help the instructor design curricula and activities, but also aid the students by providing information to help them adjust when their learning style does not match the teaching style.


From this, a positive sense of empowerment can result. The students can capitalize on what they do best and learn to compensate when there are difficulties with mismatches in styles.


Tileston, while drawing conclusions similar to other established models, describes a simpler model of learning styles by presenting three modalities. The modalities are auditory (learn by hearing), visual (learn from a mental model that can be seen), and kinesthetic (learn through movement and touching).


Lecture favours auditory learners, but even this group loses interest after about 15 minutes. Tileston suggests teaching activities from all three modalities, and having
new information given in 15- to 20-minute segments (college age and above, less for younger students) to enhance learning.


In Silberman’s text on Active Learning, he starts out by reinforcing the notion of learning styles with some research on student preferences for learning modes. He has assembled data from 15 years of having instructors use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator on incoming college students.


These results show that 60% of the students have a practical rather than theoretical orientation toward learning, and that this percentage is growing. Other research has shown that students prefer concrete active learning activities to abstract reflective learning by a ratio of 5 to 112.


The general conclusion is that active modes of teaching and learning create the best match for today’s students. These can include small-group discussions and projects, in-class presentations, debates etc.

 Silberman also discusses the social side of learning, “[Students] tend to become more engaged in learning because they are doing it with their peers.

Once involved, they also have a need to talk about what they are experiencing with others, which leads to further connections.” This can only happen with active learning and collaborative learning activities.


Motivation and Higher Learning

Learning styles and active learning and the importance of understanding each in the design of in-class activities, course experiences, and homework cannot be understated.


As educators we should be striving to develop activities to empower students to think at a higher level. Much of what is done in a traditional lecture is considered passive and material is presented in a linear fashion.


This tends to cultivate the students’ ability –and thus inclination– to follow a recipe approach to solving problems. It is well known that the use of active and problem-based learning inspires students to think on a higher, more multi-dimensional level. In addition, it provides students the opportunity to learn in teams.


In order to be successful in attaining our learning objectives we must ensure ‘constructive alignment’ that is, we must design or construct course elements with adequate explanation and assessment while also trying to make sure students are motivated and have obtained the required perquisite knowledge.

Researched by Annie Manders, EFL Teacher


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