Understanding Learning Styles and the Importance of Using Them

How do you engage students to understand their learning style preferences and advocate for it to drive their learning? 

I find the discussions around learning styles fascinating. It doesn’t take a lot of searching to find conflicting information on whether learning styles exist and the role they play in education and learning. One thing that we can all agree on is that all people have preferences on how they interact with others and how they interact with new learning. This is where we find the value and the need for understanding learning style preferences and its connection to teaching and learning.

My favorite thing to study in this area is how students respond when they are given time to work on a learning activity with no directive to work independently or with partners. Students scatter about the room – some in quiet nooks, some at tables with partners or a group of students discussing, and some standing and moving around. When asked how they chose that learning zone, I am amazed at the understanding of self that emerges in the conversations. I often hear students respond with statements such as “I need a quiet place to think by myself first” or “I need to talk things through first before I start working alone.”  This understanding of self puts students in the driver’s seat to engage and interact in a way that fits their learning style preference and gives them an entry point that feels supported.

It is important to note that everyone has a mix of learning style preferences and prefers different styles in different circumstances, but this understanding of self and personal learning preferences does not occur naturally. There is a lot of scaffolding of learning opportunities that have been provided to these students with time to reflect on how they
felt engaging with learning in each situation. Their teachers have made it a point to actively plan and engage students in a variety of experiences related to each learning style preference, directly explaining how the experience relates to the learning style and giving students an opportunity to reflect on how their learning was impacted during that experience. This scaffolding has occurred throughout learning and has been revisited over and over with these students because their teachers and the students understand that learning style preferences are not fixed; they change over time and become integrated with experience in other areas.

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So how does knowing learning style preferences affect teaching and learning and how do I get started?  Understanding learning style preferences is one of the ways that puts students in a position to advocate for themselves.  When they are faced with a learning challenge that they can not tackle, they can begin by reflecting on what interaction has occurred up to this point with the new learning, how that relates to their preferences and then advocate for a different learning experience that brings their needs and preferences in alignment for optimal engagement.

As a teacher, there is a 4 step process that needs to become part of an on-going focus:

  1. Begin by simply understanding the nuances of the learning styles.
  2. Actively plan learning experiences with a balanced approach to learning styles.
  3. Directly point out the learning style preferences that are being used in the learning.
  4. Engage students in reflection on how they felt in that learning experience and how their learning was impacted.

Understanding and knowing your students’ learning style preferences does not identify THE single approach to teaching and learning;  it identifies an entry point to initiate discussion and reflection on how students interact with, process and comprehend new learning.

Informs Teaching

Informs

Drives Learning

Drives

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