Q&A: Learning Styles

Learning Styles TreeIn a recent academic discussion about learning styles, I was inundated with questions related to my standpoint about Learning Styles. I though I should summarize my philosophy in this post.

1. Do you feel the models are really that important?

Yes. At this stage of the educational game, learning models are important stepping stones essential to push education. Before Kolb introduced his model, educators believed that there is only one type of learning and that learners who do not conform to this type are lazy, incompetent, under-achievers, at risk and all the negative labels attached to such failure. Kolb introduction of his model in 1986 forced education to adjustment the curriculum and teaching to accommodate for different styles, consequently giving an equal chance for students to learn. This was a powerful shift of the blame from the student to the teacher. As Hogan mentioned in 2002, This led to a new educational paradigm where the teacher became the ‘facilitator of learning’ instead of the teacher.

2. What is the impact of the large number of learning styles

I foresee that the explosion in the number of learning styles will definitely force education to make more paradigm shifts with more focus on learners’ success. No one can tell how it will look like as much as Graham Bell was able to tell that his invention of the phone will lead to the iPad. But we can sense the change in many new educational ideas like the one promoted by Aviram and Amir in 2008. For example, some emerging teaching programs permit, if not encourages, that each student learn differently although they are taking the same material and supposed to pass the same assessment. This is not permitted in traditional education because every student is expected to demonstrate learning along the same norms. Without the ideas of differing learning styles, there would have never made the shift to this teaching approach.

3. Do we have to teach to a particular student’s learning style

Depends on the scenario. You asked about “teaching” so I will limit my reply to the “teaching” scenario. When I teach for certification (like Project Management or Safety), I use one style because the certification expects one type of learners consequently diversification is counterproductive. Obviously, I disagree with this approach, but I use it. On the other hand, when I teach transformational courses, I do consider the different learners’ learning needs ahead of the course to ensure effective learning.

I cannot help myself to point out that the ideal approach is to stop teaching so students can learn. This is new educational paradigm that I hope the multiplicity of learning types will bring to the educational table.

4. Do you feel that the set of Learning Types will ever be complete?

My “feeling” is I do not care. Having complete command over all learning style is a waste of my time and my resources. Few of them are enough for me. However, if you ask me if I want “them” to complete the picture? I’d say yes. The future of education is in technology. Computers will be able to customize the learning of each individual far better than any human teacher. For computers to do a good job, the whole framework should be complete. I think they are doing a great job individualizing the online shopping experience, I hope that approach extends to individualizing learning.

4. Is it better to follow a given model or to instead be aware of the many varied ways students might learn and focus instead on strategies for both educator and student.

If we are “teaching”, then following a given model, or combination of models, is really helpful. For example, I find Kurucz learning orientation model an effective approach to use with multicultural students. I find some underlying concepts in VARK and NLP to be effective “communication” (and not learning) tools. For example, I make sure my teaching material includes the 4 VARK mediums, while I use the NLP concepts to read deeper into my student personality through observing their usage of words and bodily gestures when they are conveying a message. Above all, I find Clifton’s model to be an effective reference when I need to help those who fail my courses to succeed in their life. My courses receive high merit evaluation from the learners, yet, always, there is that one learner who considers it to be the worst course ever! So this approach still needs refinement.

On the other hand, if I am “not-teaching” to make my students learn, I do not need to use any of these models for the students will follow their own natural learning abilities. I do not think I should interfere to ruin their learning ;-).