Learning Styles
Today's students are diverse and require a variety of teaching approaches to maximize learning. They tend to learn most effectively in different ways. Learning style refers to the individual's preferred approach to learning, based on his or her unique background and ability. There are a number of theories of learning styles. Claxton and Murrell (1987) described four levels of learning style models. Differences in personality form the core of learning styles in one model. A second model examines how personality affects the style of information processing used by the student. The social interaction model focuses on how the student behaves in the classroom, whereas the instructional preference the student has determines whether the teaching style is appropriate for effective learning. The field dependent--field independent dimension is one theory of learning style (Witkin, 1976). Those students who are field dependent (influenced strongly by the environment) prefer interpersonal interactions that might be found in areas such as social science and humanities. Field independent (not influenced strongly by the environment) students prefer areas that involve analytic skills, such as mathematics and science. These different types of students would learn best in environments in which their learning styles were matched with appropriate instructional formats. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one test that has been used to identify different learning styles (Myers & Myers, 1980). Psychological Type information, including MBTI Anthony Grasha and Sheryl Riechmann proposed six student learning styles. Competitive students are motivated to do better than other students and want to win at learning. Collaborative students prefer working with others as they learn and view the classroom as a social environment. Avoidant students are not interested in learning and would prefer to be elsewhere. Participant students enjoy class and take responsibility for learning what is required. Dependent students view the teacher as an authority and learn only what is required. Independent students prefer to think for themselves and are confident of their ability to learn. Hruska and Grasha (1982) reported that students become more independent and participate more as they get older. Women tend to be more collaborative in school than do men, but otherwise sex differences in learning styles are not usually significant. One learning style approach that might help explain diversity differences is analytical versus relational learners (Anderson & Adams, 1992). Individuals with an analytical learning style tend to focus on sequential details rather than the overall structure. People with a relational learning style tend to relate all of the information to the overall structure and focus on the interactions involved. Although there is more diversity within any particular group, there is some evidence that white females have a more relational learning style and white males have a more analytical learning style. Anderson and Adams (1992) also suggest that African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans tend to have a more relational style. Gregorc's (1986) model of learning style illustrates how style of teaching and learning can be matched, even in today's educational system. Gregorc proposed that students tend to vary on two dimensions, concrete-abstract and sequential-random. Students with a concrete-sequential style of learning tend to be organized, task-oriented individuals who focus on factual details. They need an instructional program that is structured and provides practical, hands-on experiences. Students with a concrete-random learning style tend to be independent risk-takers who focus on experiential components of learning. They need an instructional program that provides open-ended activities for them to explore and experiment with different options. Students who have an abstract-sequential learning style tend to be analytical and focus on theoretical aspects of learning. They prefer an instructional program that provides information and allows them to develop concepts and theories. Students with an abstract-random style of learning tend to be imaginative, flexible, and global. They need a program of instruction that involves interpretation of concepts and examples of applications. Instructors can learn to help students with different styles of learning by presenting information in a variety of ways. For example, college instructors might provide an outline of the material for concrete-sequential students, give concrete-random students problems to solve, give abstract-sequential students theoretical background information, and use audio-visual materials for abstract- random students. Most students can improve if they understand their style of learning and attend to those activities that help them learn the course material.