Learning Styles: A Balanced Approach

September 22, 2016

Understanding Learning Styles Assessments

So often people take learning style assessments, and while they might agree with the results, they are not certain how to make use of the results. This applies especially to designers and instructors where it is near impossible to accommodate a room full of learners. As I consider my learning style results, where I am moderate, at best, in reflective and verbal learning and strong when it comes to sensing and sequential learning, I gain a greater understanding of just how difficult it can be to meet the learning needs of individual students. Instead, when it comes to curriculum design and instruction, the best approach to move from learning style theories to its application is to take a balanced approach.

Balancing Active & Reflective Learning Styles

Not surprisingly, the results of the Learning Styles assessment revealed that I am a moderate, reflective learner. Felder and Spurlin (2005) reveal that Lawrence (1994) indicates, “The active learner and reflective learner are respectively related to the extrovert and introvert of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (p. 103). This is meaningful in my results because I am a moderate introvert on the MBTI. As a learner, I understand that I need to give myself adequate time to process new information. Felder and Solomon (n.d.) suggest taking the time to write out notes from lectures as this helps a reflective learner process and retain the information.
When developing curriculum, it is important that I not only consider the reflective learner but that I also consider activities that engage the active learner as well. One suggestion that is a constant when it comes to active learners is group activities (Felder & Soloman, n.d.). While this might be outside my comfort zone, it not only engages active learners but reflective learners tend to benefit as well (Felder & Brent, 2005).

Balancing Sensing & Intuitive Learning Styles

Like my MBTI results, my results in the Learning Styles assessment leaned very heavily towards sensing, to the far end of the scale. I am what Felder and Spurlin (2005) call a “concrete thinker, practical, oriented toward facts and procedures” (p. 103). I only like theories when I can see the application. I am not the person who is likely to invent something unless it is out of practical necessity. Theories for theories sake tend to drive me crazy unless I can see the theory in action. Conceptualizing a statistics problem is completely lost on me until you start plugging in real world data and then it all makes sense.
In designing curriculum, it is important that I not only include the facts but also make sure students understand the theory behind the facts, where applicable. It is also important that I allow room for innovation and abstract thinking (Felder & Soloman, n.d.). While I do not necessarily like rote memory, even as a sensor, I do love converting theory to practice which I think allows for that innovation and abstract thinking that intuitive learners desire.

Balancing Verbal & Visual Learning Styles

I am moderately verbal, which in my particular case, means that while I love the beautiful charts and graphs, I want to see the data that goes with them. When I write out my lecture notes, I remember the information longer, and it is ultimately easier for me to process. While I do not mind precise explanations and instructions, I would honestly prefer just to read this information so I can visualize the process.
Despite the fact that I do moderately lean towards a verbal learner, I feel this is probably the learning area where I feel the most comfortable moving back and forth from one side of the learning spectrum to the other. When developing curriculum, I try to combine a nice blend of lecture, reading, and visual material (Felder and Soloman, n.d.). Designing a curriculum in this manner will engage both visual and verbal learners.

Balancing Sequential & Global Learning Styles

As a strong sequential learner, I thrive on order. I seek logical steps to come to conclusions so that I do not miss any details (Felder & Soloman, n.d.). While grasping the big picture typically is not difficult for me, I need the logical proof to be satisfied with the conclusion. Global learners, on the other hand, need the big picture before they can even begin to grasp the details (Felder & Soloman, n.d.).
When designing curriculum with the sequential and global learners in mind, it is important to include not only an orderly lesson plan but also allow the global learner to see the big picture with either a quick overview at the beginning of the lesson or with pre-class reading. This allows both types of learners to benefit from the curriculum. As a sequential learner, it is of particular importance to consider the needs of the global learner, as I like to jump right into the details. Doing this allows for the possibility of overwhelming the global learner and causes them to become disheartened (Felder & Soloman, n.d.).

Balance in Design

Regardless of the learning style, it is important to remember balance when designing curriculum. Felder and Spurlin (2005) remind those who design and instruct, “The point of identifying learning styles is not to label individual students and modify instruction to fit their labels” (p. 105). In catering to specific students, we risk alienating another learning style whereas taking a balanced approach engages all learners. While there might still be those with strong learning style results, as Felder and Brent (2005) learned from their experimental instruction, “balanced instruction appeared to reduce or eliminate the performance differences previously seen in learning types” (p. 59). It is this example that supports my conclusion that when converting the theory of learning types into its application that it is best to take a balanced approach.

References:

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2005). Understanding student differences. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 57-72.
Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. A. (n.d.). Learning styles and strategies. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm
Felder, R. M., & Spurlin, J. (2005, January). Applications, reliability and validity of the index of learning styles. International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning, 21(1), 103-112.
Lawrence, G. (1994). People, types, and tiger stripes, 3rd ed. Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

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