Recognizing Learning Style Differences

This week’s course readings took the reader on a journey, albeit well-traveled by many educators, into the world of learning styles, multiple intelligences and typologies. The concept of an individual having a particular “learning style” is well documented. Felder posits “people have different learning styles that are reflected in different academic strengths, weaknesses, skills, and interests” (as cited in Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 29). Keefe defined learning styles as characteristic cognitive, affective, and psychological behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with or respond to the learning environment. Dunn and Perrin described learning styles as “the way in which each learner begins to concentrate on, process, and retain new and difficult information. That interaction occurs differently for each individual” (as cited in Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 30). In fact, going through an internet search engine for learning styles could turn into a time-consuming endeavor, as one website stated, “Google lists over 600,000 websites on learning styles” (Independent Learning Faculty Resources, n.d., p. 1), many from universities.

Which concepts or strategies related to learning styles and multiple intelligences do you think will have the greatest impact on your instructional design practice?

My personal instructional strategies have always leaned towards a balanced approach, providing material in a variety of different ways, thereby, hopefully, covering all the bases. The reality is “impossible to accommodate everyone’s learning style in a classroom” (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 32). Similar to Dr. Ormrod, my instructional strategies tend to focus on “learning effectively” through the use of cognitive strategies, rather than focusing on any particular orientation of learning (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., p. 1). In fact, Felder and Spurlin state “professors should strive for a balance of instructional methods (as opposed to trying to teach each student exclusively according to his or her preferences.) If the balance is achieved, all students will be taught partly in a manner they prefer, which leads to an increased comfort level and willingness to learn, and partly in a less preferred manner, which provides practice and feedback in ways of thinking and solving problems which they may not initially be comfortable with but which they will have to use to be fully effective professionals” (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 30).

Although the information and research presented during this and previous weeks have not changed my instructional approach, it has significantly altered my perspective regarding learning styles and multiple intelligences. For instance, early in the course I harbored the belief that designing instruction towards a student’s particular learning style would result in higher achievement for that student. I am no longer convinced this is the case. Further, although I believe individual’s do have particular “learning styles” and/or “intelligences” as discussed by Gardner, I am of the opinion that students should be exposed to instructional strategies across learning styles and “intelligences” in an effort to the student develop more facility in these areas. Additionally, although I would recommend to students to study in their preferred method of choice, in reality, ANY studying done outside of the classroom is a step in the right direction.

The Road to Changing Perspective

In the article “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” the authors provide several plausible reasons for the popularity of learning styles and typologies. For instance, one reason given is that “finding out what type of person one is” has some eternal and deep appeal” (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2009, p. 107). Other reasons include people’s need to be seen as “unique” individuals by educators, as well as providing parents’ rationale in attributing possible student learning difficulties on the “educational system” not responding to the student’s individual unique learning style or type, rather than attributing the student’s lack of success to the student and/or parents (Pashler et al., 2009).

The first reason reminds me of when I was 15 and smitten with Astrology. At that time I was desperate to discover “who” I was, and being impatient with waiting for the future, I turned to Astrology, which seemed to have the answers. In retrospect, I am not surprised that my “Leo” typology was so accurate or that each Astrology book left me hunting for more. This particular industry seems to both prey and profit from people’s insecurities and vulnerabilities. Although, a full 26 years later I still struggle with my identity, “who” I am, have matured enough to realize identity fluctuates, apparently, much like learning styles.

For instance, in the research study, “Learning Styles: How do they Fluctuate?” the authors determined “one person can have several learning styles relative to a specific course or subject” (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 33). The researchers configured an experiment wherein the students could self-select their learning method (style) of choice utilizing a “web based instructional system named Arthur” (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 34). This program was used to determine how the learning styles of students fluctuated within the context of a lesson. Arthur is a web-based instructional tool that uses adaptive instruction to accommodate learning styles. Adaptive instruction refers to the fact that Arthur is composed of multiple explanations for the same lesson or concept” (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 34). The researcher’s “findings indicated that the learning styles of students may fluctuate within the context of a course from concept to concept, or lesson to lesson. These findings suggest that students needed repetitive instruction while varying the instructional method before mastering each concept” (Gilbert & Swanier, 2008, p. 37)

Further, the authors of “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” conducted a literature review in an attempt to validate the hypothesis that instructional strategies geared to specific learning styles result in greater academic achievement. Unfortunately, these researchers found little evidentiary support for this hypothesis (Pashler et al., 2009). It should be noted that more scientific research is needed in this particular area. Although the authors from this literature review allege objectivity, the tone of their paper virtually screams subjectivity, as well as word choice and chosen reviewed research. In fact, there appears to be quite contention regarding the validity of the research review. Robert Sternberg points out, “several of the most-cited researchers on learning styles do not appear in the paper’s bibliography” (Glenn, 2009, p. 1). David Kolb concurs, stating that “Mr. Pashler’s review of the literature seems too thin” (Glenn, 2009, p. 1).

Despite these issues, David Kolb says, “the paper’s bottom line is probably correct: There is no strong evidence that teachers should tailor their instruction to their students’ particular learning styles … his advice to teachers is that they should lead their classes through a full ‘learning cycle,’ without regard to their students’ particular styles” (Glenn, 2009, p. 1).

Similar issues arise in the discussion of Multiple Intelligences

“Intelligence refers to a biopsychological potential of our species to process certain kinds of information in certain kinds of way. As such, it clearly involves processes that are carried out by dedicated neural networks. No doubt each of the intelligences has its characteristic neural processes, with most of them quite similar across human beings. Some of the processes might prove to be more customized to an individual. The intelligence itself is not a content, but it is geared to specific contents” (Gardner, 2004, p. 1).

Gardner has been quoted as saying, “individuals should be encouraged to use their preferred intelligences in learning. Instructional activities should appeal to different forms of intelligence. And assessment of learning should measure multiple forms of intelligence” (“Multiple intelligences: Howard Gardner”, n.d., p. 1).  On  the other hand, according to Armstrong, “although individuals may bewail their deficiencies in a given area and consider their problems innate and intractable, Gardner suggests that virtually everyone has the capacity to develop all eight intelligences to a reasonably high level of performance if given the appropriate encouragement, enrichment, and instruction” (Armstrong, 2009, p. 15).

What are the potential drawbacks of categorizing students by learning style and intelligence strengths/weaknesses?

Categorizing the students by any particular measure requires some type of “labeling.” There is a definite societal tendency to create hierarchical levels or grouping in any categorizing endeavor. Ultimately, one group is better than the other; whether true or not. This is perhaps even more pronounced during school years. In fact, Gardner himself states, “one reason why I have moved away from the creation of such measures is that they may lead to new forms of labeling and stigmatization. As I argue in the latter chapters, the intelligences should be mobilized to help individuals learn important content and not used as a way of categorizing individuals. To use the language of one of my critics, I do not want to inspire the creation of a new set of ‘losers’” (Gardner, 2004, p. 5). These issues were also mentioned to be of concern in the aforementioned literature review (Pashler et al., 2009).

Other potential drawbacks include the potential of hindering a student’s development in any potential area. Self-efficacy, self-esteem and the potential for negative impacts on both are a viable concern. Students need to believe with all confidence that they have the ability to acquire any type of information. Alluding to the contrary gives some students the very excuse they need to fail. Further, it gives the parents a justification not to maintain high expectations for the child in some particular field of study.

Yes, My Perspective has Changed

Indeed, my perspective has changed a great deal. Although I believe I have a facility for visual learning, and the written word, I have challenged myself to learn Chemistry, and Physics and Mathematics. I’m not claiming this was easy or that I am in any way completely fluent in these fields; however, with determination and motivation, I have found resources to aid in my development of skill in these areas. That, is the representation I would make to students. They may have a certain facility in a certain area; however, to maximize their potential, it is necessary to develop their facility in numerous arenas. That is the type of world we live in now. That is the type of person who will be successful in life. In this day and age, it is far more prudent to be a Jack of all Trades, rather than a Jack of one.

References

Armstrong, T. (2009). Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (3rd Edition). Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/waldenu/Doc?id=10326283&ppg=26

Gardner, H. (2004). Frequently asked questions-Multiple intelligences and related educational topics. Retrieved from http://www.howardgardner.com/FAQ/FREQUENTLY%20ASKED%20QUESTIONS%20Updated%20March%2009.pdf

Gilbert, J., & Swanier, C. (2008). Learning styles: How do they fluctuate? Institute for Learning Styles Journal, 1. Retrieved from http://www.auburn.edu/%7Ewitteje/ilsrj/Journal%20Volumes/Fall%202008%20Volume%201%20PDFs/Learning%20Styles%20How%20do%20They%20Fluctuate.pdf

Glenn, D. (2009, December 15). Matching teaching style to learning style may not help students. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Matching-Teaching-Style-to/49497/

Independent Learning Faculty Resources. (n.d.). http://www.colorado.edu/cewww/Fac101/success5.htm

Laureate Education, Inc… (Producer). (n.d.). Learning Styles and Strategies [Video/Transcript]. Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com

Multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://tip.psychology.org/gardner.html

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

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