1. What I intend to do
In this assignment I will aim to discuss the factors which can affect learning for a student. Incorporated in this I will discuss theories of ‘learning styles’, comparing and contrasting them and try to identify aspects which can impact upon my practice. I will analyse my own teaching style and that of others to see how the theories can be applied and also assess my own success in meeting the needs of the students.
The information provided in this assignment will allow me a better understanding of the variety of ways a student can learn. This will impact on my future as it will allow me to become a more successful classroom practitioner and allow me to recognise and cater for a variety of styles in my teaching resulting in more enthused, able and satisfied students.
2. Definition of learning
Before one can discuss concepts of learning and learning styles, an understanding of the term is necessary. Learning is defined by the Encarta dictionary as: 1. Acquiring of knowledge: the acquisition of knowledge or skill 2. Acquired knowledge: knowledge or skill gained through education
3. Change in knowledge: a relatively permanent change in, or acquisition of, knowledge, understanding, or behaviour Learning occurs throughout life as more and more information is acquired, definition two focuses on knowledge through education, this is obviously the factor which I will focus on during this assignment, however I felt the inclusion of the other definitions was important, the first links well to the second, and the third is important to understand to allow the implementation of the first two. The third definition highlights that not all learning comes in a school based environment and that learning occurs at all times in all different ways, in effect it highlights that learning can occur in many ‘styles’.
3. Factors affecting learning
Learning is complex; it can be affected by numerous factors which can reduce the effectiveness of learning. Some of these factors can be controlled, others cannot, it is the job of the teacher to have control of as many aspects of the learning as possible to ensure students achieve. Maslow’s original Hierachy of needs incorporates the perceived basic needs of a learner and their motivation, of which most, if not all need to be met to allow learning to be successful
Of the factors mentioned by Maslow, only some can be controlled by the teacher such as safety, stability etc but many are down to the child’s home life. The factors which a teacher can be in control of can be managed by providing a safe, warm teaching environment so that learners are comfortable; the teacher should build positive relationships with the learners to support them and enhance learning and also allow for working in groups within the class. A clear structure and procedure in the lesson will provide stability and rewarding positive acts will give the learner a sense of achievement and help to build a positive reputation, leading to personal growth. The factors which are beyond our control can arguably have a greater effect on the success of learning.
Learning style theories
The idea of learning styles or different approaches to learning ‘emphasizes the fact that individuals perceive and process information in very different ways’. The idea that students learn in different ways implies that how much an individual learns can be affected by teaching method, therefore intelligence needs to be recognised in a different way, instead of is this student intelligent, the question an educator should ask is how is this student intelligent. The concept of learning styles is ‘rooted in the classification of psychological types’ Basically, through research, it has been demonstrated that individuals learn in different ways due to upbringing, heredity and the environment, it has also been demonstrated that ‘different individuals have a tendency to both perceive and process information differently’ The different ways of doing so are generally classified as:
1.Concrete and abstract perceivers–Concrete perceivers absorb information through direct experience, by doing, acting, sensing, and feeling. Abstract perceivers, however, take in information through analysis, observation, and thinking. 2.Active and reflective processors–Active processors make sense of an experience by immediately using the new information. Reflective processors make sense of an experience by reflecting on and thinking about it. Schooling generally focuses on active and reflective processors however concrete and abstract perceivers are becoming more and more catered for. Learning styles theories impact education through the curriculum, instruction and assessment.
The curriculum must place emphasis on intuition, feeling, sensing, and imagination, in addition to the traditional skills of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving. In the instruction, teachers should design their instruction methods to connect with all four learning styles, using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Finally, in assessment teachers should employ a variety of assessment techniques, focusing on the development of “whole brain” capacity and each of the different learning styles (http://www.funderstanding.com/content/learning-styles)
Learning theories have been grouped into five clusters:
4.1 Behaviourism learning theory
Behaviourism is a view that operates on a principle of “stimulus-response.”, in other words all behaviour is in some way caused by an external stimulus and it is the association between the stimulus and response which leads to a change in behaviour. This theory can be explained without reference to consciousness or ones internal mental state. I have seen this theory in action through lesson observations, for example the Head of Science. The teacher has clear routines in the lesson, along with positive reinforcement, rewards system, praise and a firm but fair view on behaviour. The method works very well for the teacher in question as the classes are engaged, enthused and make progress in lesson. (http://www.learning-theories.com)
4.2 Cognitivism learning theory
Cognitivism involves recall or recognition of key facts, it effectively views the mind as an information processor. It places emphasis of the role of prior knowledge and being able to convert information from short term memory to long term memory. This theory counteracts that of behaviourism by saying that the human mind is not pre-programmed to respond only to external stimuli and that it requires ‘active participation in order to learn’ The cognitivism theory views the brains learning as such: Information→Processing→Outcome
I have observed this style in a humanities lesson on the Olympics, key ideas were constantly referred to and displayed on handouts, students were encouraged to link the information they were given to experiences they had had and link into different scenarios to allow the students to recognise and understand the key ideas of the lesson. This is probably the theory I use most, I try to engage students by getting them to use their own experiences and thoughts when discussing topics in science to allow better understanding and application.
4.3 Constructivism learning theory
Constructivism uses the idea that all learners need to construct their knowledge from their previous knowledge and the new information presented to them. The learning also incorporates problem solving as the new information can conflict what they already knew, leading to a ‘solution’ being sought and found. Constructivism is subjective i.e. based on the learners opinion. Constructivism is a key area to focus on in the development of starter activities, if a learner uses previous knowledge then a starter must incorporate what they already know to allow them to build upon this and acquire new knowledge.
In science, misconceptions are often found in a students prior knowledge, evidence provided in lesson, often in the form of experimental results can conflict previous knowledge, necessitating the need for the problem solving aspect of constructivism to allow the knowledge to be acquired. I have observed this theory in practice through the use of self assessment and peer assessment within the Science department. This allows students to give and receive feedback on their opinions allowing them to develop their individual knowledge.
4.4 Social learning theory
This theory suggests that learning is most successful when dealt with in a social setting. The theory works on the principle that people can learn solely from observations. I have observed this in science lessons through the teacher demonstrating a practical to the students before they attempted the practical themselves, I have also seen it in group work where one student models an idea and others observe then copy to advance learning.
5. Stages of learning
Learning is not an immediate process; learners typically will not immediately go from no knowledge to full understanding, usually a learner will advance through a series of learning stages. One theory is that there are four stages:
“I don’t know that I don’t know how to do this.” This is the stage of blissful ignorance before learning begins.
2. Conscious Incompetence
“I know that I don’t know how to do this, yet.” This is the most difficult stage, where learning begins, and where the most judgments against self are formed.
3. Conscious Competence
“I know that I know how to do this.” This stage of learning is easier than the second stage, but it is still uncomfortable and self-conscious.
4. Unconscious Competence
“What, you say I did something well?” The final stage of learning a skill is when it has become a natural part of us; we don’t have to think about it. This is a simple model for learning, however it doesn’t always fit with how a student will learn in a classroom environment as other skills are asked of students such as application of knowledge. Another theory which does incorporate this is the learning hierarchy (Haring, Lovitt, Eaton, & Hansen, 1978) has four stages, these are: acquisition, fluency, generalization, and adaptation: 1.Acquisition: The student has begun to learn how to complete the target skill correctly but is not yet accurate or fluent in the skill. The goal in this phase is to improve accuracy 2.Fluency: The student is able to complete the target skill accurately but works slowly.
The goal of this phase is to increase the student’s speed of responding (fluency). 3.Generalisation: The student is accurate and fluent in using the skill but cannot apply it to other suitable situations, the focus of this stage is to encourage the use of the skill in the widest possible range of settings and situations. 4.Adaptation: The student is accurate and fluent in using the skill and can use it in many situations or settings. The student still cannot adapt the skills to fit novel tasks-demands or situations. The focus of this stage is for the student to identify previously learned skills and adapt them to new situations.
If a teacher can accurately identify which stage the learner is at then that teacher can select ideas that are more likely to be successful in meeting the students learning needs (Differentiation). The stages are also important to consider when introducing a new topic, especially one which is unlikely to be familiar to the learner. The lesson plan needs to be chunked to allow each learning stage to be met, a learner cannot be asked to apply knowledge before they have acquired it in the first place
6. What are learning styles?
The learning styles movement in the UK began in 1982 with the launch of the Honey and Mumford questionnaire (to be discussed later).The basic idea of learning styles is that students learn in different ways. It is said that everyone has a preffered style to learn in and that this style can be tested for to give the teacher information on how best to support a students learning and accommodate them in the learning environment. (http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2153773)
6.1 David Kolb’s learning styles model and experiential learning theory (ELT) In 1984, Kolb published his learning styles model, it focussed on four distinct learning styles, however, Kolb’s model allows a learner to touch on all four categories in a cycle rather than sit in just one, however the learner will have a preferred style of learning..
The four Kolb’s learning styles are as follows:
1.Diverging (feeling and watching – CE/RO) – These learners prefer to watch a scenario rather than be involved in it, gathering information and using imagination to solve problems. They are interested in people, tend to be imaginative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts. This type of learner prefers to work in groups and listen with an open mind; they also enjoy receiving personal feedback. 2.Converging (doing and thinking – AC/AE) – This type of learner is a problem solver; they use their learning to find solutions to practical problems. Convergers are more interested in a task where there is a single answer and respond well in this situation. Convergers like to experiment with new ideas and find practical uses for ideas and theories. Convergers tend to be relatively unemotional and would rather deal with things than people, in this sense they are opposite to Divergers.
3.Assimilating (watching and thinking – AC/RO) – This type of learner requires a clear explanation rather than an opportunity to practice it themselves. An assimilating learner seeks a concise and logical approach, favouring ideas and concepts over people. An assimilator likes to structure information into a logical format, as such they excel in information and scientific careers. An assimilator likes a formal learning situation, with readings, lectures, an opportunity to explore analytical models, and the time to think things through.
4.Accommodating (doing and feeling – CE/AE) – This type of learner enjoys practical learning which relies on intuition rather than logic. An accommodator tends not to do their own analysis but will rely on information from others. Accommodators are risk takers and work on a trial and error basis, they excel in team work and like to set targets and actively work to achieve them. These models, as stated before, are not necessarily distinct, i.e. it is still possible for an accommodator to work in a converger’s environment, but learning is likely to be less successful. Kolb also said that it is possible to change a learning style but it takes a great effort to do so.
6.2 Honey & Mumford
In 1982, Honey and Mumford developed a model of learning styles using Kolb’s work as a basis. The model is a variation of Kolb’s using the terms Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist to represent each stage rather than Kolb’s terms. Below is a table defining the stages. Learning StyleCorresponding Kolb Learning StylePreferred Mode Of Learning Activist (Do)AccommodatingDoing things, carrying out activities, ‘act first before considering consequences’ Reflector (Review)DivergingCollect and analyse data, ‘stand back and observe’ Theorist (Conclude)AssimilatingThink in logical steps, create theories from information, ‘disciplined, aim to fit things into a rational order’ Pragmatist (Plan)ConvergingApplication of knowledge to a specific problem, ‘Keen to put theories and techniques into practice’ http://www.mftrou.com/honey-mumford.html
Below is a brief description of the learner and a table displaying in which situation that learner will learn well and which situations the learner may not thrive in. 1. Activists- These learners are open minded and enthusiastic about new ideas, they enjoy doing an activity, especially in a new situation. Activists enjoy working in groups but like being in limelight Activists learn best when:Activists learn less when:
Involved in new experiences, problems and opportunitiesListening to lectures or long explanations Working with others e.g. team work, role playReading, writing or thinking on their own Being thrown in the deep end with a difficult taskAbsorbing and understanding data Leading/chairing discussionsFollowing precise instruction to the letter http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/media/ferl_and_aclearn/ferl/pages/news_events/events/2004/november/workshop_presentations/B10.doc 2. Reflectors- Reflectors like to stand back from a situation and view it from different perspectives. A reflector will gather data and analyse it before coming to a conclusion. Reflectors enjoy observing and listening to others.
Reflectors learn best whenReflectors learn less when
Observing individuals or groups at workActing as a leader or role playing in front of others Given opportunity to review what has happened and think about what they have learntDoing things with no time to prepare Produce analysis and reports without tight deadlinesBeing thrown in at the deep end
Being rushed or worried by deadlines
http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/media/ferl_and_aclearn/ferl/pages/news_events/events/2004/november/workshop_presentations/B10.doc 3. Theorists- Integrate observations into theories, problems are worked through on a step by step basis, tend to be detached and analytical rather than emotive and subjective. Theorists learn best whenTheorists learn less when
Given structured situations with clear purposeActivity is unstructured or poorly briefed Put in complex situations where they have to use their skills and knowledgeHave to partake in activities which involve emotion or feelings Given the chance to question or probe ideas behind thingsHave top do things without knowing the principles or concepts involved Offered ideas or concepts not necessarily immediately relevantFeel they are ‘out of tune’ with other participants http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/media/ferl_and_aclearn/ferl/pages/news_events/events/2004/november/workshop_presentations/B10.doc 4. Pragmatists- These are keen to try things out, they enjoy working with concepts which can be applied to situations they encounter. Pragmatists tend to be impatient with long discussion and prefer to be practical.
Pragmatists learn best whenPragmatists learn less when
There is an obvious link between the topic and the jobThere is no obvious or immediate benefit that they can recognise Have the chance to try out techniques with feedback There is no practice or guidelines on how to do it They are shown techniques with obvious advantages e.g. saving timeThere is no apparent ‘payback’ or reward They are shown a model they can copy e.g. a film or a respected bossThe learning is all theory http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/media/ferl_and_aclearn/ferl/pages/news_events/events/2004/november/workshop_presentations/B10.doc 6.3 VAK
VAK is a multi-sensory approach to teaching and learning. It is split into three distinct groups: Learning styleDescription
VisualSeeing and reading
AuditoryListening and speaking
KinaestheticTouching and doing
Visual- This can be incorporated into a lesson using pictures, observation, handouts, demonstration, videos, flip-charts etc. Auditory- This can be incorporated into a lesson by the use of spoken word, sounds, noises etc. Kinaesthetic- This can be incorporated into lessons by the use of practical, hands on activities-touching, feeling, holding, doing, role play etc. According to VAK, most people will have a dominant style of learning; however it is possible for some people to have a relatively balanced mixture of the three styles. A person’s learning style is a reflection of their mix of intelligences. It is also a reflection of their brain type and dominance.