Different learning Styles?? Is it the truth or just a fallacy??
Looking back on the years we grew up as learners, the traditional classroom had the same set up day in day out. This meant a section of learners got placed at the lowest rung or got left all together and were probably the ones who lost out in the rat race of life. We are all unique in our own way, so how is it possible to learn in the same way?
As education evolved just as did every other industry, it became evident that there existed different parameters which emerged because of this transformation. In an attempt to make education become more meaningful and add value to the holistic development of the diverse nature of learners an acceptance of existence of varied learning styles emerged. Learning styles in effect outline that each individual learner not only learns at his or her own pace but also in his or her own styles. While there is no concrete evidence to support the success of these learning styles, a 2012 study revealed that 93% of teachers agree that students learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.
These learning styles have emerged from Howard Gardner’s 1960s theory of Multiple Intelligences. This theory states that: “we are all able to know the world through language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, and the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals, and an understanding of ourselves.”
Learning styles and preferences take on a variety of forms—and not all people fit neatly into one category. Generally speaking, these are can be summed up as the acronym – VARK (a theory developed by Flemings and Mills in 1992): visual, auditory, reading & writing and kinesthetic. Having said this, however there are no concrete evidences to validate the idea that matching activities to one’s learning style improves learning.
Let’s have a closer look at the VARK model to understand the differing learning styles:
Visual learners are learners who learn best by seeing and observing things and find visual representations of information easier to comprehend and assimilate the information and work best when the information that is disseminated is in the form of flow charts, diagrams and the like.
Auditory learners tend to learn better when the subject matter is reinforced by sound. These students would much rather listen to a lecture than read written notes to reinforce new concepts and ideas. They are great at verbally explaining things. They are successful when the information is shared through watching videos, podcasts and the like.
Reading and Writing learners prefer to learn through written words. These types of learners are drawn to expression through writing, reading articles or books, writing in diaries, looking up words in the dictionary and searching the internet for just about everything. In fact these learners were the majority in the traditional system of learning in the yesteryears.
Last but not the least, we have the kinesthetic learners or the tactile learners who tend to make sense of content through experiencing or doing things. They like to get involved by acting out events or using their hands to touch and handle in order to understand concepts. These types of learners might struggle to sit still.
Having now identified the commonly accepted learning styles, the question arises as to how can these be accommodated in a single classroom by each and every educator?? The adaptive principle which would allow for such a diversity to be catered to, would essentially require the educator to follow the principles of differentiated instruction in the classroom. Differentiated instruction or differentiating in teaching methodology essentially consists of the efforts of educators to respond to variance among learners in the classroom. It needs teachers to know their students well so they can provide each one with experiences and tasks that will improve learning. As Carol Ann Tomlinson has said, differentiation means giving students multiple options for taking in information (1999).
Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student. There are essentially, according to Tomlinson, four ways through which teachers can differentiate instruction:
1) Content, 2) Process, 3) Product, and 4) Learning environment.
While differentiating instruction by the content, the educator plans activities for groups of students that cover various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (a pedagogical tool). The six levels are: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
Students who are unfamiliar with a lesson could be asked to complete tasks on the lower levels: remembering and understanding; while students with some mastery could be asked to apply and analyze the content, and students at the top rung could be asked to complete tasks in the areas of evaluating and creating.
Some examples of such activities can be: matching vocabulary words to definition (lowest level); completing a gap-fill activity (middle level); answering questions based on the text on their own (highest level).
Process oriented differentiation caters to being able to provide material to cater to all types of learners. It also highlights the fact that not all learners require the same support of the educator in his or her ability to complete the assigned tasks as well as the fact that learners could be allowed to work in pairs, small groups, or individually.
Examples of differentiation by process includes: providing textbooks for visual and word learners; allowing auditory learners to listen to audio books; or giving kinesthetic learners the opportunity to complete an interactive assignment online.
Differentiating as per the product model in essence details what the learner creates at the end of the lesson to demonstrate the mastery of the content. This can be in the form of tests, projects, reports, or other activities. It permits learners to present their understanding of concepts in varied forms suiting their learning styles.
Examples of differentiating the end product on the basis of their individual learning styles: visual learners create a graphic organizer of the story; auditory learners give an oral report; read and write learners write a book report and kinesthetic learners build a mini drama illustrating the story.
Yet another way to differentiate instruction is through the creation of varied learning environments within the same classroom by the educators and may be varied from lesson to lesson depending on the expected learning outcomes for the said lesson. A flexible classroom layout is key, incorporating various types of furniture and arrangements to support both individual and group work.
Examples of differentiating the learning environment: dividing some learners into reading groups to discuss the assignment; while allowing others to read individually if preferred; creating quiet spaces where there are no distractions.
In a gist accommodation of varying styles necessitates a detailed analysis of the learners and their styles and proper planning on part of educators to attain a degree of success and ensuring that no learner is left behind.