Visual Reading & Writing Auditory Tactile/Kinesthetic Creative Theoretical Assertive Proactive

Learning Styles

How do we learn? The idea that people learn differently has existed for over 2500 years. The ancient Hindus proposed that people needed four yoga or basic pathways of practicing religion. There exist numerous examples throughout history of the negative results when teacher and student are incongruent.

All learning is a cycle of being introduced to new information, organizing this information and understanding its real world applications, and finally integrating the material into our memory for future decision making. Or in more common terms: what is this, why do I need it, how will I use it and when? In the past thirty years a plethora of research was conducted in the area of learning which resulted in a myriad of multidimensional models representing learning styles. Several models in fact correlate two fundamental orientations to learning:

  1. Those who tend to analyze information logically and break it down into smaller parts (holistic or global learners)
  2. Those who tend to search for patterns and relationships between the parts (serial or sequential learning).

Learning styles can be examined at numerous levels including perception preferences, information processing, social interaction, multiple intelligences, personality and instructional methods. We will employ the two dimensional model introduced by David A. Kolb in which perception preferences and information processing correlate to learning style.

We use all learning styles during a cycle of learning, however as individuals with distinct personalities, most of us have a preference for a specific learning style. As we progress through the cycle of experience, observation, conceptualization and action we spend the greatest time in our preferred style. Our preferred learning style is the way we learn with the greatest efficiency.

Perception is how we take in reality through our senses. Our four modalities of perception are Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing and Tactile/Kinesthetic. Everyone uses all four modalities, but rarely on an equal basis and each of us has a higher efficacy specific to sensory data. Most of us have a dominant visual based perception modality. Visual and Reading/Writing modalities utilize the eyes as receptors; however, a Visual modality collects shapes, colors, form and spatial concepts where as the Reading/Writing modality collects symbols of a written language to form associations. The Reading/Writing modality is the default in most formal educational environments. Identifying the dominant perception modality of a class as a basis for designing an instructional plan provides the most effective learning based experience. When information is presented to you in your weak sensory modality, you are forced to internalize it in a subdominant process or transfer the information into another form.

Processing our thoughts is how we store this information as memories to draw upon at a later time. We internalize our sensory data by four different processes: feeling, watching, thinking and doing.

During the initial introduction to information through our senses we have feelings about our experiences and create an emotional association. We identify this process as feeling. This can be thought of as our first impression, which is a powerful motivator in the learning process. When we process information through feeling we learn things that are important and relevant to our immediate lives. We have concrete experiences that have personal meaning. Concrete learners pay attention to what is observable. We focus on details and tend to perceive tasks in parts or steps. Concrete learners prefer actual, tangible tasks and take a no-nonsense approach to learning. Those of us who favor learning through concrete experiences prefer to deal with situations in a very personal way. We perceive by sensing and feeling and take an intuitive approach to solving problems. We function well in unstructured environments.

As we continue to observe the situation we watch and reflect on the information we are receiving in order to organize it in various ways so it makes sense to us. We identify this process as watching. When we process information we prefer to watch others and reflect on the things we are learning. We like to plan things out and take the time to make sure that we understand the topic accurately. Those of us who favor processing new information through reflective observation are interested in understanding a situation through careful observation. We are often capable of seeing many points of view and generate many ideas about how and why things are occurring. We value patience and good judgment.

As we continue to process and internalize, we think about this new information and theorize its future applications. We identify this process as thinking. We infer abstract conceptualizations based upon our understanding of the material. We absorb many concepts and gather lots of information on new topics and prefer to learn ideas, facts and figures. Abstract learners look at a task from a broader point of view. We tend to focus on the “big picture” or an overview of the situation. Abstract learners focus on large ideas, meanings and relationships. Those of us who favor learning through abstract conceptualization generally prefer to think things through. We analyze, intellectualize and build abstract theories to understand our experiences. We take a scientific approach to solving problems and function well in a well-defined, structured environment.

At this point we incorporate this information into our decisions about our behavior and how it influences our plans. We identify this process as doing. We engage our senses through active experimentation. We prefer trial and error application of ideas and practice what we learn with hands-on activities. Those of us who favor processing new information through active experimentation prefer to jump in and start doing things. We immediately look for the practical applications of what we learn. We generally do not mind taking risks and are results orientated. We keep trying new approaches to problems until we are successful.

The combination of preferred perception modality and appropriate cognitive processes is a powerful and efficient learning style in which concepts and great amounts of information are understood and memorized. We change learning styles to suite the situations we find ourselves in as we journey through the learning cycle. As we become better learners we adapt to the most effective learning style to move through the cycle in less time. We identify the four Learning Styles as Creative, Theoretical, Assertive and Proactive.

Creative learners combine feeling and watching during their learning experience. They combine concrete experiences with reflective observation. People with this style are best at viewing concrete situations from many points of view. Creative learners approach tasks imaginatively. They learn through discovery and experiment. They enjoy flexible, open-ended tasks and dislike rules. Their approach to problem solving is to observe rather than take action. They enjoy situations that call for generating new ideas and brainstorming. They have broad cultural interests and like to gather information. They have an imaginative ability and sensitivity to feelings.

Theoretical learners combine thinking and watching during their learning experience. They combine abstract conceptualization with reflective observation. People with this style are best at understanding a wide range of information and putting it into concise logical form. Their approach to a problem solving is the scientific method and they find it more important to have a theory of logical soundness than of practical value. Theoretical learners are objective and impersonal. They rely on facts and information to make decisions and solve problems. Rational learners are logical and often challenge or question a task. They enjoy prioritizing, analyzing, and arguing. They are more interested in abstract ideas and concepts and less focused on people.

Assertive learners combine thinking and doing during their learning experience. They combine abstract conceptualization with active experimentation. People with this style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. Pragmatic learners are practical and systematic. They approach tasks in an orderly, sequential manner. They like rules and learn step by step. Their approach to problem solving is in their ability to make decisions based on finding solutions to questions. They are focused on technical tasks and withdraw from personal and social issues.

Proactive learners combine feeling and doing during their learning experience. They combine concrete experience with active experimentation. People with this learning style primarily learn from hands-on experiences. They enjoy getting involved in new challenges and carrying out plans. Proactive learners are subjective and focus on feelings and values. They are socially conscious and are concerned about what others think. They seek harmony and base decisions on the effect on others. Proactive learners are skilled at persuasion. Their approach to a problem solving is their gut feelings rather than logical analysis. They rely on people for information rather than technical analysis.

Learning styles theory help faculty become more sensitive about their roles in the classroom. It can serve as a guide in designing learning experiences. Matching a students learning style is particularly appropriate with new college students and poorly prepared students. Mismatching will help students learn in new ways; however, discontinuity is very threatening to high-risk students. Identified Learning Style might suggest approaches to intervention counseling of individual students. Students become aware of their own learning preferences and strengths during orientation. Increasing the range of learning experiences as an individual develops can expand the role of the student to one of active participant.

Instructors generally teach using the same teaching style as their preferred learning style. This is usually very effective when his or her teaching style matches the dominant learning style of the class; however, for those students with learning styles significantly different to the instructor's style the learning process becomes much less effective. Unless an instructor has the time to teach to the unique learning style of each individual student, a composite learning style profile of the entire class is a valuable tool in determining the appropriate teaching techniques to accommodate the diversity in learning styles of the class. With this profile an instructor can present material in the dominant class style and select alternate techniques to enhance learning. During learning we cycle through the learning styles. We instinctively spend more time in one style as we focus our attention on our perception. Implementing strategies to balance predominant weaknesses allow students to move through the learning cycle more effectively. In a classroom environment where multiple learning style instruction needs to occur, a suggested approach would be to present material in the dominant class learning style with tutoring materials available in alternate formats. By providing study materials in multiple formats students are able to receive this information in their preferred learning style and internalize it more efficiently.

The Learning Styles Inventory that is presented here can be administered on-line via the college web site or manually in class using a paper and pencil version in which each question is read out loud by the instructor while it is being read by the students. The purpose of the inventory is for individuals to identify their personal preferences in learning and for instructors to obtain a general overview of the dominant style of the class. Students need to be informed that there are no right or wrong answers and a grade will not be issued. There are four answers to each question and each student should choose the answer that best describes their experience. Students will be presented the results of the inventory in which their predominant learning style is identified. The results will also include their learning strengths and weaknesses and recommended activities to enhance their learning experience.

Instructors will obtain a composite learning style profile that indicates the dominant style of the class. This profile will allow the instructor to use the recommended strategies to effectively teach the course material and provide supplement resources for those students with a learning style significantly different than the dominant style of the class. Predominant strengths and weaknesses of the class and activities specifically addressing these issues are included as a supplement to the class profile. By incorporating some of these recommended strategies into their instructional plans a blended learning experience can occur in the classroom that facilitates an effective learning based experience for all students. Learning how to learn is an empowering experience that is necessary for life-long learning.

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Web References

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