Monday, September 19, 2011

Learning Styles

Most people develop their learning styles as children and continue to prefer that style as adults. An assessment of a person’s learning style will give us, as teachers, clues as to how that person will best take in information.  Understanding a person’s learning style helps to identify the best conditions for that person to achieve an optimal learning outcome.  Additionally, learning styles describe how a person will best process information and the most effective way for them to retain that information.

As with teaching styles, there is no “best” learning style.  Most people use a combination of learning styles although they may prefer one style over another.  Different approaches to learning are personal and it becomes a part of who that person is.  When teaching, it is important for the teacher to understand a student’s learning style.  Understanding how a student best processes information allows the teacher to capitalize on that student’s strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.  A person’s learning styles just identifies their various learning habits.

It has been suggested that teachers should assess their students learning styles and then adjust their teaching methods to best fit those styles.  Although not all authorities agree that this is important, a large number of studies do suggest that teaching to a student’s style is beneficial.  If a student is not being taught using his/her preferred style, she/he may not perform at the optimum level and could be mistakenly labeled as an underachiever. The majority of learners typically possess portions of all three learning styles.  To engage the largest number of students, a multi-sensory approach works best most of the time.

According to the VAK Model, there are three basic learning styles; Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic.

Visual learners are learners who need to see what they are learning.These students need pictures, charts, and other visual images to help them comprehend what they are studying.  These students relate to words such as see, observe, and imagine and may use a phrase such as “I see it this way.” To help visual learners retain what they learn, the instructor will need to help them create mental images of the information. The visual learner needs written instructions to help them master the required skills.  By reading and following directions and by using charts, diagrams, and other visual images, visual learners are able to be successful in their studies.

Auditory learners need to hear the information.These learners prefer to hear a lecture or have someone talk them through the steps needed to complete a science lab.  They are often associated with phrases such as “I hear you or I hear what you are saying.” It is not uncommon for auditory learners to talk to themselves as they go through the steps to complete a task.  Auditory learners prefer to do the task themselves while having someone else read the instructions to them.

Kinesthetic learners are hands-on learners.They prefer to do something to aid in their learning.These learners learn through movement and often do well as performers or athletes.  The kinesthetic learner is associated with phrases that incorporate the word “feel.” They work well with their hands and are typically well coordinated and have a strong sense of timing.  They prefer learning a physical skill or doing something that requires practice. Simulations, lab sessions, and outside fieldwork allow kinesthetic learners to work with the material.

Much research supports the idea that when students’ learning preferences match their instructor’s teaching style, student motivation and achievement usually improves. David Kolb, who is credited with initiating the learning style movement, notes that it is more effective to design curriculum so that there is some way for learners of every learning style to engage with the topic, so that every type of learner has an initial way to connect with the material, and then begin to stretch his or her learning capability in other learning modes.

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