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Understanding of Learning Styles

Updated November 13, 2021
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Understanding of Learning Styles essay

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The learning environment is filled with learners whose learning strategies are unique to each other. Understanding their differences is particularly important for any instructor or facilitator of the educative process. To prove the complexity of a person’s learning behavior, objective observations should be kept all the time. Consider these two types of learners: one who is always seen on his desk and reading course materials and a learner who seem not to pay attention but still get the same average with that of the previous type of learner mentioned.

Learning styles are a unique aspect of a learner’s initiative to gain new knowledge and are important as the basis for the mode of instruction that should be used. This is why I am inquisitive about researching the various learning styles and what effect if any does utilizing the knowledge and understanding of the various learning styles have when lesson planning and when teaching within the language classroom. There is a lot of research that has looked into the different learning styles and the effectiveness of implementing different teaching strategies to suit these different learning styles. What are learning styles? Reid (1995) defines learning style as ‘an individual’s natural, habitual, and preferred way(s) of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills’. In an exceedingly similar way, Brown (2000) states that ‘each person has their own natural process to perceive, transform, learn, and possess knowledge and data in their environment’.

The index of learning styles (ILS) was originally written by Richard M. Felder from North Carolina State University and Linda K. Silverman from the University of Denver 1987. They defined a learning style test as something that ‘classifies students according to where they fit on several scales pertaining to the ways they receive and process information’ (Felder, 1998). In 1991 Felder worked with Barbara A. Soloman to revise the ILS. The current version measures a student’s preferences on four different scales. The scales examined are active and reflective, sensing and intuitive, visual and verbal, and sequential and global. The inventory consists of forty-four multiple-choice questions and asks the student to mark the answer that applies more frequently.

For example, the first question asks, ‘I understand something better after I (a)try it out, or (b) think it through’ An answer of (a) indicates a preference down the active scale and (b) down the reflective scale. Another question asks ‘Once I understand (a) all the parts, I understand the whole thing or (b) the whole thing, I see how the parts fit’. An answer of (a) indicates a preference towards the sequential side and (b) towards the global side of the scale (Folder 1991). Each dimension has eleven questions devoted to it, and by following the grading rubric a score along each dimension is produced. Each end of the four continuums has six positions labelled using odd numbers from one (balanced between the two ends) to eleven (very strong preference), for a total of twelve positions. The suffix ‘a’ indicates the left side of the scale and ‘b’ towards the right side. For example, a score of 5a on the active/reflective scale indicates a moderately active preference while a score of 9b indicates a strong preference for the reflective dimension(Felder 1991).

The four dimensions assessed in the ILS are measured on four corresponding continuums. They are not either/or categories, and students can move towards one end or the other without restraint. Changes on the continuum can occur as often as a change of situations, such as a different class(Felder 2010, 2005) or overtime. The strength with which a student leans to one side of the scale or the other can be mild, moderate or strong (Folder, 1993) and a student who scores strongly in one area of the ILS will exhibit those characteristics in most situations, but will occasionally show some qualities linked to the opposite side as well (Felder, 2005).

The ILS does not identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses and can’t measure their skill. It merely points out preferences that a student has towards one end of the scale or the other (Felder, 2005). If a student scores a 5 on the reflective scale it shows that they are more likely to do better when it comes to reflective tasks than active tasks. Although this student is scored higher on his reflective scale than on the active scale, another student who has scored a 5 on the reflective scale could be much better at using those skills than the first student, despite having the same score. The ILS will only rank a student’s skill against himself/herself (is the student better at reflective skills or active skills?) and not provide a ranking compared to other students (Felder, 2005). There have been several studies done to test the reliability and validity of the ILS. Zwyna, Livessy, et al, and Litzinger at el each conducted separate studies of the reliability and validity of the ILS. They all concluded that the ILS is both reliable and valid and is suitable for assessing learning styles, although they also recommend that studies continue to test the ILS)Zwyno 2003, Litzinger et al 2005, Felder 2010, 2005)

Reflective learners are introspective processors and opt to think about information and manipulative it before they apply it (Felder, 1993) They want to design a plan and make sure the theory is strong before attempting it. Active learners, on the other hand, want to share their ideas with others to get feedback and are more impulsive than reflective learners(Felder, 1993). Reflective learners would rather work alone or in pairs.

Visual and Verbal Learners: Pictures, diagrams, and demonstrations help illustrate information for visual learners, while verbal listeners prefer written and spoken explanations and mathematical formulas (Felder, 1993). In western culture, most people are visual learners, so Felder assumes that most of his science course students are also visual (Felder, 1993). The problem is that lectures in universities, for example, are very verbal. Even writing definitions and formulas on the board falls under the verbal category. Many classes only utilize diagrams, charts, and demonstrations sporadically, but more consistent use would be very beneficial to visual learners. If the information is merely said and not shown, there is a high chance that visual learners will not remember it, even on a short-term basis (Felder, 1993).

Sequential and Global learners: Sequential learners have a linear thinking process and learn in a progressive sequence. Global learners learn in large, seemingly unconnected leaps and have a holistic thinking process(Felder, 2005) Sequential learners learn in small connected chunks. Their solutions are usually easy for others to follow, and they can solve problems without fully understanding the process. They good at understanding and applying the details of a topic, but they may miss out on the board picture and connectors to other classes and disciplines (Felder, 1993).

Most of our education is sequential, from courses, and textbooks to lectures starting from primary school and continuing to university. This causes difficulty to global learners because they can’t follow the pattern as well as their sequential classmates (Felder, 1998) Global learners will be lost and unable to comprehend the information until they understand the big picture, which often happens in a eureka moment. Poor homework and test marks are common before the moment of understanding. Once they understand the context of the information they see connections that sequential learners miss. They need to grasp the broad perspective and understand the relationships to prior experience and knowledge before they can even start to think about the details. Most teachers forget to explain these perspectives, leaving global learners behind as they struggle to keep up with their sequential peers( Felder, 1993)/

These four dimensions are not unique to ILS. All four are either directly or indirectly connected to other learning styles models. The verbal and the visual category is based on cognitive studies of information processing (Felder, 2005) Kolb’s model also has an active and reflective element and it’s comparable to the extrovert and introvert of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI) (Felder, 2005) Both active/reflective and visual/verbal groups are related to the visual/verbal groups are related to the visual/auditory/kinesthetic branch of modality theory (Felder, 2005). The sensing and intuitive category is taken directly from the MBTI (Felder, 2005) but is also related to Jung’s theory of psychological types. (Felder, 1998) and the concrete experience and abstract conceptualizations in Kolb’s model(Felder, 1998). The characteristics associated with the sequential learners have been called right-brain dominant, holistic, hierarchical and visual-spatial by other studies and learning style surveys. (Felder, 2005)

Honey and Mumford developed another instrument called the Learning Style Questionnaire (LSQ). Presumably, the LSQ has improved validity and predictive accuracy compared to the LSI. The LSQ describes 4 distinct varieties of learners: activists (learn primarily by experience), reflectors (learn from reflective observation), theorists (learn from exploring associations and interrelationships), and pragmatics (learn from doing or trying things with practical outcomes). The LSQ has been more widely used and studied in management and business settings and its applicability to academia has been questioned. Another option to the LSQ, the Canfield Learning Style Inventory (CLSI) describes learning styles along 4 dimensions. These dimensions include conditions for learning, area of interest, mode of learning, and conditions for performance. Analogous to the LSQ, the applicability of the CLSI to academic settings has been questioned. Additionally, some confusion surrounding the scoring and interpretation of certain result values also exists.

Felder and Silverman introduced a learning style assessment instrument that was specifically designed for classroom use and was first applied within the context of engineering education. The instrument consists of 44 short items with a choice between 2 responses to every sentence. Learners are categorized in 4 dichotomous areas: preference in terms of type and mode of knowledge perception (sensory or intuitive; visual or verbal), approaches to organizing and processing information (active or reflective), and also the rate at which students progress towards understanding (sequential or global). The instrument related to the model is thought because of the Index of Learning Survey (ILS). The ILS is predicated on a 44-item questionnaire and outputs a preference profile for a student or a complete class. The preference profile is predicated on the 4 previously defined learning dimensions. The ILS has several advantages over other instruments including conciseness and simple administration (in both a written and computerized format).

Several other instruments designed to live personality indexes or psychological types may overlap and describe learning styles in nonspecific fashions. One example of such an indicator is that the Myers-Briggs Index. While some relation between personality indexes and learning styles may exist, the utilization of instruments intended to explain personality to characterize learning style has been criticized by several authors. Therefore, the utilization of those markers to live learning styles isn’t recommended. The concept of emotional intelligence is another popular thanks to characterizing intellect and learning capacity but similarly mustn’t be misconstrued as a good means of describing learning

Similarly, Fleming developed the VARK questionnaire in the nineties by observing over nine thousand classrooms and he determined that children preferred learning in numerous ways. Thus he developed the VARK questionnaire to see someone’s ‘learning style.’ VARK, which stands for ‘Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic,’ sorts students into people who learn best visually, through aural or heard information, through reading, or with through ‘kinesthetic’ experiences. This has gained great popularity. The VARK questionnaire is a multiple choice type of test which provides questions about normal day-to-day activities which aims to identify the test taker’s learning style.

Learning styles are “biological and developmental set of personal characteristics that make the identical instruction effective for some students and ineffective for others” (Dunn & Dunn, 1993, as cited in Dunn & Griggs, 1998). All answers are to be evaluated which would be the basis of the type of learning style the test taker prefers. One option is for example being evaluated as a kinesthetic learner. According to Willingham (2010), “kinesthetic learners like to manipulate objects physically” which calls for actual involvement in the activity. Through this definition, we can assume that kinesthetic learners use all their senses to comprehend information. They learn best when engaged in field trips, trial and error activities, and laboratory experiments (in case of the study of the Sciences). John Dewey’s “learning-by-doing” summarizes what kinesthetic learning style is all about (Malone, 2003).

Putting the learner in the actual scene is the best way of making him granting that he is a kinesthetic learner. Vark’s learning style guide provided the characteristics of a kinesthetic learner from the most effective channels of information to the expected outputs. According to the descriptions, a multi-sensory approach in teaching would be beneficial to kinesthetic learners. Activities that would require outdoor experiences are effective in the learning success of these types of learners. If they should take down notes, they are likely to associate them with concrete examples because abstract concepts might confuse them.

However there has recently been some controversy about the effectiveness of the VARK questionnaire in today’s modern technological world. plenty of evidence suggests that students are not one certain learner or another. in an exceedingly study published recently within the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, Husmann and her colleagues had many students take the VARK questionnaire to see what reasonably learner they supposedly were. The survey then gave them some study strategies that appear like they would correlate there with learning style. Husmann found that not only did students not study in ways in which gave the impression to reflect their learning style, people who did tailor their studying to suit their style did not do any better on their tests.

Husmann thinks the scholars had fallen into certain study habits, which, once formed, were too hard to interrupt. Students gave the impression to have an interest in their learning styles, but not enough to truly change their studying behavior. And whether or not that they had, it would not have made a difference. Another study published in 2019 within the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning visually thought that they would remember pictures better, and people who preferred learning verbally thought they would remember words better. But those preferences had no correlation to which they remembered better later on—words or pictures.

Essentially, all the ‘learning style’ meant, during this case, was that the subjects liked words or pictures better, not that words or pictures worked better for his or her memories. In 2015, a Journal of Educational Psychology paper found no relationship between the study subjects’ learning-style preference (visual or auditory) and their performance on reading- or listening-comprehension tests. Instead, the visual learners performed best on all types of tests. Therefore, the authors concluded, teachers should stop trying to gear some lessons toward ‘auditory learners.’ ‘Educators may very well be doing a disservice to auditory learners by continually accommodating their auditory learning style,’ they wrote, ‘rather than that specialize in strengthening their visual word skills.’

As previously stated, several models and measures of learning styles are described in the literature. Kolb proposed a model involving a 4-stage cyclic structure that begins with a concrete experience, which leads to a reflective observation and subsequently an abstract conceptualization that enables for active experimentation. Kolb’s model is related to the educational Style Inventory instrument (LSI). The LSI focuses on learner’s preferences in terms of concrete versus abstract, and action versus reflection. Learners are subsequently described as divergers, convergers, assimilators, or accommodators.

Furthermore, Several authors have proposed correlations between culture and learning styles. this is often predicated on the concept that culture influences environmental perceptions which, in turn, to a point determine the way within which information is processed and arranged. The storage, processing, and assimilation methods for information contribute to how new knowledge is learned. (Romanelli et al., 1990, p. 3) A new concept has come forward and has recently been written about in a journal that culture also plays a task in conditioning and reinforcing learning styles and explains in part why teaching methods used in one country could be ineffective in another country. Therefore, the article states further, that good judgment should be used when trying to teach effectively to different cultures. This is especially true in classrooms with a high ratio of international students

The technological age may be influencing the training kinds of younger students and emerging generations of learners. The Millennial Generation has been described as more technologically advanced than their generation counterparts, with higher expectations for the utilization of computer-aided media within the classroom. Younger students are conversant in enhanced visual images related to various computer- and television-based games and game systems. Additionally, video technology is increasingly becoming ‘transportable’ within the way of mobile computing, MP3 devices, personal digital video players, and other technologies. All of those advances have made visual images more pervasive and customary within industrialized nations.

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