Learning Styles: Review

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One of the first times I realized about the existence of learning styles occurred in a high school advanced science course. The instructor was excellent and knowledgeable, and the curriculum was on par with my level of intelligence, and although I passed the course, I found myself consistently struggling to comprehend the material. The teaching process emphasized memorization while I had always been a practical kinesthetic learner as will be discussed later. Learning styles matter significantly in a broad variety of educational contexts and are necessary to make learning accessible to many students. Learning theories that are discussed in this course and the following paper have allowed me to reflect better on my own learning experiences as well as understand shortcomings where I struggle as a future educator. Learning styles go beyond holistic theory but serve as applicable strategies in the classroom. This overarching reflection will examine my learning styles generally, my style, analyze specific paradigms of Kolb and Jung, and discuss the application of learning styles and their future.

Overview

Learning styles can be defined as the predisposition of individuals to perceive or process information in a specific way or combination of methods. Learning styles can be perceived not only through preferences, but in terms of intelligence, the primary sense, or even social concepts (learning individually or in a group). Most students according to research in the field, cannot internalize or comprehend difficult academic information without relying on individual learning styles. The three primary learning styles that are recognized are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (physical). However, numerous other models exist which introduce other styles such as verbal, logical, and social. Educational theorists and instructors have been aware of the existence of learning styles for more than two decades, recognizing that individuals learn in unique ways, that improves comprehension of the curriculum as well as performance in varying subject matters (Celli & Young, 2014).

According to the theorist Reid in 1998, he recognized that learning styles inherently differed from strategies. While learning styles are internal skills and characteristics which are acquired unconsciously, learning strategies are consciously learned and applied to improve the level of comprehension. Learning styles are acquired in childhood and become difficult to replace in later years, with some theorists suggesting that it is a consistent pattern of behavior rooted deeply in personality (Yassin & Almasri, 2015).

Learning styles are a way in which each person absorbs and retains information. The process differs and is internalized uniquely for each student. Therefore, instructional methods, resources, and environments that are highly effective for one student may be less helpful to others. Learning styles goes beyond using a single or combination of sense but can be identified as a method used by students to focus in, process, and analyze difficult information, tasks, and even skills. Additionally, learning styles are influenced by aspects of age, culture, gender, individual experiences, and achievement level. They are a composite of charactistics such as cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as consist indicators of how a student responds to the learning environment (Truong, 2016). Meanwhile, educators can utilize learning styles to differentiate instruction in a manner which appeals and engages various types of students based on their needs.

In the context of education, there are advocates of sensory modality preference which suggest that individual have a dominant sense, similar to learning styles, visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (VAK). Material should be studied through this modality, improving learning. However, scholars have largely debunked this theory that there is a dominant sense present in a normal human being. Nevertheless, there are supporters of sensory-based learning which engage students in according to their preferences and better function of sense to process information. It suggests that this learning style uses a combination of the three senses, that is led by a predominant sense. It essentially goes alongside the learning styles, and guides educators to engage the individual students with these senses (Lodge, Hansen, & Cottrell, 2015). It is also important to note that there are other approaches to learning styles such as personality-based learning, focusing on Jung’s Personality test modalities that offer insights in perceptions and thought processes of individuals.

Personal Learning Style

I thought that in the general discussion of learning styles, it would be relevant to examine in-depth my personal learning style. Briefly covered in the Week 5 journal, I noted the style as kinesthetic. Kinesthetic learners perceive learning and information through movement and touch, physical manipulation of objects. Elements such as “hand-eye coordination, reflexes, motor-memory, sports, art, drama, experimenting” are highly effective for this learning style (“Study Strategies for Kinesthetic Learning Styles,” 2018). It is also considered one of the rarer styles and does not easily fit in with traditional instruction such as lectures, reading, or note-taking that emphasize auditory and visual learning. An education model by Zull (2002), demonstrates a need for action since ideas are “expressed in the physical form of body action and sensory interactions with people and objects in the world…create concrete experience” (p. 208). Sensation leads to the integration of knowledge resulting in action, which in turn provides sensory feedback to the brain and knowledge is comprehended. Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting that motor coordination which is processed through the cerebellum positively affects cognitive function and information reception.

While “hands-on” learning is encouraged in early years of education or in some unique contexts such as science laboratories or physical education, the majority of traditional education does not even consider a kinesthetic learning approach. It is unarguably difficult to implement it in many subjects despite its benefits. However, research demonstrates that strategies exist. There strategies can be separated into three distinct categories. The first is something implemented by learners without the instructor, such as using a physical method of memorization or fidgeting with something during the learning process. The second category includes strategies from an instructor without a specific learning goal, such as creating breaks for physical movement around during a lecture to stimulate blood flow. Finally, the third category consists of active learning strategies which incorporate physical movement or representation into the specific learning goal. An example of this may include introducing a Socratic seminar by changing positioning of desks in the classroom or creating a simulation of Senate operations to understand how it works (Cheney, 2017). These strategies are relatively simple, but can significantly improve the learning process for someone like myself who prefers the Kinesthetic approach to learning.

Kolb Paradigm

The Kolb learning style paradigms built upon original learning style research and created models that are widely utilized in academic and instructional circles. David Kolb published what is known as the Experimental Learning Theory (ELT) in 1984 which includes a four-stage cycle of learning. Focused on internal cognitive processes, the theory suggests that learning takes the acquisition of abstract concepts which are applied flexibly based on situation. However, the beginning of development of new concepts is facilitated by new experiences. Therefore, effective learning occurs when an individual progress through all four stages of the cycle, experience, reflection, conceptualization, and testing in future situations, which leads to new experiences in turn. In addition to the cycle, Kolb introduced his own take on learning styles which were positioned on a processing-perception continuum. He argued that variables on a single axis cannot be performed at the same time. Therefore, each style is a combination of two preferred styles which combines a perception and processing action (Sudria, Redhana, Kirna, & Aini, 2018. The cycle and continuum can be in the figure below.

Kolb Cycle 
Figure 1: Kolb Cycle

Applying Learning Styles

The application of the above theories is undoubtedly the most challenging concept of this course and learning style education. All students are inherently unique, with each classroom having a different range of learning styles which are diverse and overlap. With each student having a different preferred learning style, it may seem difficult to be an effective educator in class lectures. However, by incorporating various methods and modalities into the teaching process, it is possible to reach the majority of students in most contexts.

In the context of theories discussed above, it is important to note that similarly to students having individual styles of learning, educators and institutions commonly have their own teaching styles that would make instruction more effective. For example, elementary school teachers may be more socially oriented to observe for behavior, while secondary school teachers are focused on methodology and independent decision-making. Teachers may fall into a fallacy of misdirecting assumptions since teaching goes beyond telling and learning, it is a much deeper concept. A mismatch may occur between students and teachers due to difficulty of recognizing characteristics of learning and teaching styles. Furthermore, even if a teacher is highly knowledgeable, without an understanding of learning styles in practice, the result will be poor (Yassin & Almasri, 2015). Similar to their students, instructors rely on methods (and learning styles) that makes them comfortable in a teaching situation, believing students will imitate the teacher, and thus learn to comprehend. Teachers commonly teach the way that they were taught, believing it is the best way. However, recognizing how students learn, customizing teaching styles to the learning styles can gain much more response and stimulate performance results.

For example, teachers in a school district began teaching to individual learning styles. Teachers used approaches and resources that complemented unique learning styles. Lesson plans were created and provided to students in advance which motivated them to familiarize with the instructional objective and how they can achieve it. It is a backward design of education that provides openness and information about the class which also helped teachers to match their teaching styles to the students and provide a scope that allowed students and parents to prepare for the lesson and its mastery. Taking on the approach that emphasizes that everyone in the classroom is both a learner and a teacher at the same time, provides an opportunity for educators to step back and facilitate the learning processes (Yassin & Almasri, 2015).

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge for most instructors remains a probability of a highly diverse group of learning styles among the students. This creates a conflict since it is challenging or impossible to cover all learning styles in the classroom. First, to achieve effective teaching, instructors should measure learning styles at the beginning of the academic period to save students’ time and effort since a pre-existing knowledge of the learning styles can make the teaching process much more effective. In turn, it can help to design learning environments or lessons which are suitable for students with different preferences (Celli & Young, 2014). Good teachers with the help of modern classrooms and technologies develop educational methods that cover the majority of learning preferences. Meanwhile, a recognition of these learning styles enables educators to cover a broader spectrum of styles, empowered by methods that make teaching effective and positively reinforce material.

The Future

One concept to consider is that education in its various forms is taking on more virtual forms through e-learning systems. At the current level of technological development, this actually creates even more challenges for kinesthetic learners such as me. However, that may change in the future with greater progress of virtual reality and such. Nevertheless, e-learning has its benefits for learning styles. First, the computerized systems using statistical algorithms that are much more accurate and comprehensive at detecting personal learning styles of students than typical questionnaires or instructor human assumptions. An adaptive e-learning system then takes on these characteristics and effectively personalizes educational content. Large datasets present an opportunity to observe online behaviors and develop new instructional frameworks that incorporate learning styles based on individual learning needs and preferences (Truong, 2016).

Going forward, as I hopefully achieve my goals of becoming a mental health counselor or physical education teacher, the concepts acquired in this course regarding the importance of learning styles will be critical. In a complex world, each child’s academic needs and the way they perceive information should be considered. This ensures that no one is left behind and as an educator, one can adapt the curriculum that would help retain the information, accommodating to their academic needs, and helping them to diversify their learning styles and capabilities. I believe as educational institutions are becoming more technologically integrated there will be a greater number of tools to work with students based on specific learning styles and opportunities to shift the instructional process to a more intimate individual approach for students.

Conclusion

Learning styles which have in the past been regarded as a supplemental approach, have been recognized in recent years as central to the educational process. Institutions ranging from schools and colleges to corporate trainings and professional learning have been adapting learning styles into the curriculum and instructional process. Surprisingly, a simple change to approach in learning styles can mean a difference between understanding a subject matter or not for some students. It is an area of education that still requires practical development and recognition but is seeing more diverse applicability in the classroom setting. It is my hope that this field will continue to grow and see further theoretical and practical development that can be used by educators in a variety of contexts.

References

Celli, L.M., & Young, N. D. (2014). Learning style perspectives: Impact in the classroom (3rd ed.). Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing

Cheney, R. (2017). Kinesthetic teaching strategies for adults in a lecture setting. Web.

Lodge, J. M., Hansen, L., & Cottrell, D. (2015). Modality preference and learning style theories: rethinking the role of sensory modality in learning. Learning: Research and Practice, 2(1), 4-17.

McLeod, S. (2017). Kolb’s learning styles and experiential learning cycle. Web.

Study strategies for the kinesthetic learning style. (2018). Web.

Sudria, I.B., Redhana, I.W., Kirna, I. M., & Aini, D. (2018). Effect of Kolb’s learning styles under inductive guided-inquiry learning on learning outcomes. International Journal of Instruction, 11(1), 89-102.

Truong, H. M. (2016). Integrating learning styles and adaptive e-learning system: Current developments, problems and opportunities. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 1185–1193.

Yassin, B. M., & Almasri, M. A. (2015). How to accommodate different learning styles in the same classroom: Analysis of theories and methods of learning styles. Canadian Social Science, 11(3), 26-33.

Zull, J. E., (2002). The art of changing the brain. Sterling, VA: Stylus

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