For the past several decades, researchers have done extensive investigation of why students learn differently and what impact these differences have on their ability to succeed academically. The definition of learning styles basically describes the way people learn. Traditionally, theorists have divided learners into three categories, based on their learning preferences:
- Visual learners are people who learn through what they see. "They see in pictures and learn best from visual displays" (LDPride.net). They are generally note takers.
- Auditory learners learn through what they hear, including the nuances of a speaker's voice. Auditory learners might tape a lecture to review later for reinforcement of learning (LDPride.net).
- Tactile/Kinesthetic learners need to be physically engaged in their learning. They may have difficulty sitting still and will disengage from the lesson if not tactilely active in the learning environment(LDPride.net).
More contemporary theorists consider the impact technology has on students' learning preferences. Chris Dede suggests that reliance on technology by neomillennial students results in "media-based shifts" that will change "the types of communication, activities, experiences, and expressions" valued by students (Dede, 2005). These values reflect students' skills sets and will have an impact on their learning.
Why is this important to the faculty member? As our students change and evolve, the optimal methods for reaching them also changes. As faculty, we need to be aware of HOW we teach and whether our methods are reaching our students. We tend to teach to our own strengths, the way we were taught, and according to the traditions of our discipline. It would be ill-advised to discard everything that works, but periodic review of current technologies and teaching strategies will assure that our lessons will continue to have an impact on students. Urging students to take a learning styles inventory to discover their preferences has the added benefit of providing them with study and learning advice that may help explain their strengths in some courses and challenges in others (Three Rivers Community College).
Below is a brief checklist of things a faculty member might consider when constructing course materials. Many of the items are simply good teaching strategies that will make materials more interesting to students.
- Provide the objectives for the class so students establish some focus.
- Vary the mode of delivery to keep students' attention (as mixing lecture with discussion, group work, short quizzes, electronic response questions, etc.)
- Periodically summarize the lesson content, asking for questions or need for clarification.
- Use visuals to help maintain attention. Many faculties like the use of animations to illustrate points, claiming they are more effective than flat images or models.
- Employ appropriate technology, encouraging students to explore discipline-related media as part of their assignments.
- Allow for feedback, either written or oral, each class period.
- Present challenging concepts in multiple formats: written, oral, visual, multimedia.
- Break the lesson down into small components for easier consumption.
- Provide students with access to the presented materials. Some faculty like to do this before class, others prefer to post materials after class. Students can use the presentation materials for review.
- Know your own learning style. Does this impact the methods you use for teaching? Reach outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself to explore additional methods for content delivery to accompany the materials you traditionally use.
Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles: Shifts in students' learning style will prompt a shift to active construction of knowledge through mediated immersion. Educause Quarterly. Vol. 28 (1). Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/
LDPride.net. Learning Styles. Retrieved from http://www.ldpride.net/learningstyles.MI.htm#What are Three Rivers Community College. Learning Style Resources. Retrieved from http://www.trcc.commnet.edu/div_academics/TASC/TutorTraining/learning_styles.shtml.