Learning and teaching style

Friday, September 01, 2006

Definitions, theories and measurement of learning and teaching styles

Point 1:Definitions -

Learning styles refer to the preferred way an individual processes information. Students have different learning styles--characteristic strengths and preferences in the ways they take in and process information. Some students tend to focus on facts, data, and algorithms; others are more comfortable with theories and mathematical models. Some respond strongly to visual forms of information, like pictures, diagrams, and schematics; others get more from verbal forms; written and spoken explanations. Some prefer to learn actively and interactively; others function more introspectively and individually (Felder, 1996).

Theories -

Point 2: Kolb

This model classifies students as having a preference for 1) concrete experience or abstract conceptualization (how they take information in), and 2) active experimentation or reflective observation (how they internalize information). The four types of learners in this classification scheme are -

  • Type 1 (concrete, reflective). A characteristic question of this learning type is "Why?" Type 1 learners respond well to explanations of how course material relates to their experience, their interests, and their future careers. To be effective with Type 1 students, the instructor should function as a motivator.
  • Type 2 (abstract, reflective). A characteristic question of this learning type is "What?" Type 2 learners respond to information presented in an organized, logical fashion and benefit if they have time for reflection. To be effective, the instructor should function as an expert.
  • Type 3 (abstract, active). A characteristic question of this learning type is "How?" Type 3 learners respond to having opportunities to work actively on well-defined tasks and to learn by trial-and-error in an environment that allows them to fail safely. To be effective, the instructor should function as a coach, providing guided practice and feedback.
  • Type 4 (concrete, active). A characteristic question of this learning type is "What if?" Type 4 learners like applying course material in new situations to solve real problems. To be effective, the instructor should stay out of the way, maximizing opportunities for the students to discover things for themselves.

A significant impetus in the development of the Kolb/McCarthy learning cycle model was Kolb's observation of the distress encountered by many students whose learning styles seemed mismatched to their disciplinary majors (Kolb, 1981). An underlying assumption of the model is that all learning entails a cycle of four learning modes, but each individual is likely to feel most comfortable in one of the four modes of the cycle.

The four learning styles in the Kolb model are also distinguished by the type of question that concerns each category: "Why?" "What?" "How?" and "What if?" Likewise, each academic field can be mapped against this same set of dichotomous dimensions according to what type of learning mode predominates in that discipline. Thus, according to this model, the concrete/reflective quadrant encompasses social science and humanities; the abstract/reflective quadrant reflects the physical sciences; the abstract/active incorporates science-based professions such as engineering; and finally, the concrete/active domain reflects the more social professions such as education. Figure 1 illustrates the learning styles and learning cycle based on Kolb's model.

Implications for Teaching. The fact that students who enjoy a given discipline are more likely to have particular learning style characteristics common to teachers/practitioners in that field may seem entirely consistent with common sense notions of expert competence. On the other hand, Kolb has pointed out that selection and socialization processes may lead to such a homogenous disciplinary culture that it becomes impermeable to other influences. Equally disturbing, one aspect of Kolb's research demonstrated that over time science students become more analytical and less creative, while arts students become more creative and less analytical. In other words, the educational process has the potential to accentuate the gap in capabilities between these groups of students.

Point 3: Surface and Deep Approaches to Learning (Marton & Saljo).

The seminal work conducted by Marton & Saljo (1976) identified two levels of processing: deep and surface. The work developed by these educational researchers has moved away from an assumption of stable personality characteristics and has placed greater emphasis on the choices an individual makes in selecting an approach to a learning task.

A deep approach entails looking for meaning in the matter being studied and relating it to other experiences and ideas with a critical approach. In ‘deep approach’, students seek to understand the meaning of materials to be learned, relates and distinguishes new ideas and previous knowledge, organizes the content of the materials and take responsibility for their own learning (Boud, 1995, Laurillad, 1993).

On the other hand, ‘surface approach’ students are primarily concerned with the satisfaction of assessment criteria and reproduction so they tend to memorize information without reflecting on its meaning and purpose. A surface approach can be thought of as a reliance on rote-learning and memorisation in isolation to other ideas.

A deep approach is likely to result from relevance to students' interests (Fransson, 1977), the interest, support and enthusiasm shown by the teacher (Ramsden, 1979) and where students have an opportunity to manage their own learning (Ramsden & Entwistle, 1981). Conversely, a surface approach results from assessment methods which reward reproducing information (Dart and Clarke, 1991); anxiety (Fransson, 1977) or a heavy workload (Ramsden & Entwistle, 1981).

Finally a strategic approach involves both deep and surface approaches wherein students pursue the appropriate approach based on the nature of the task on hand in order to obtain the best assessment (Entwistle and Ramsden, 1983 as reported by Alistair, 1995).

Point 4: Grasha's Five Teaching Styles

Anthony Grasha identified the following five teaching styles:

Expert: Possesses knowledge and expertise that students need. Strives to maintain status as an expert among students by displaying detailed knowledge and by challenging students to enhance their competence. Concerned with transmitting information and insuring that students are well prepared.

Advantage: The information, knowledge, and skills such individuals possess.

Disadvantage: If overused, the display of knowledge can be intimidating to less experienced students. May not always show the underlying though processes that produced answers.

Formal Authority: Possesses status among students because of knowledge and role as a faculty member. Concerned with providing positive and negative feedback, establishing learning goals, expectations, and rules of conduct for students. Concerned with the correct, acceptable, and standard ways to do things and with providing students with the structure they need to learn.

Advantage: The focus on clear expectations and acceptable ways of doing things.

Disadvantages: A strong investment in this style can lead to rigid, standardized, and less flexible ways of managing students and their concerns.

Personal Model: Believes in "teaching by personal example" and establishes a prototype for how to think and behave. Oversees, guides, and directs by showing how to do things, and encouraging students to observe and then to emulate the instructor's approach.

Advantage: An emphasis on direct observation and following a role model.

Disadvantage: Some teachers may believe their approach is the best way leading some students to feel inadequate if they cannot live up to such expectations and standards.

Facilitator: Emphasizes the personal nature of teacher-student interactions. Guides and directs students by asking questions, exploring options, suggesting alternatives, and encouraging them to develop criteria to make informed choices. Overall goal is to develop in students the capacity for independent action, initiative, and responsibility. Works with students on projects in a consultative fashion and tries to provide as much support and encouragement as possible.

Advantage: The personal flexibility, the focus on students' needs and goals, and the willingness to explore options and alternative courses of action.

Disadvantage: Style is often time consuming and is sometimes employed in a positive and affirming manner.

Delegator: Concerned with developing students' capacity to function in an autonomous fashion. Students work independently on projects or as part of autonomous teams. The teacher is available at the request of students as a resource person.

Advantage: Helps students to perceive themselves as independent learners.

Disadvantage: May misread student's readiness for independent work. Some students may become anxious when given autonomy.

Measurement -

Point 5: The Approaches to Studying Inventory (ASI)

Since its development in the UK, the ASI (Entwistle et al., 1979) has been one of the most widely used questionnaires on student learning in further and higher education. In its most commonly used version, the ASI contains 64 items in 16 scales (Entwistle & Ramsden, 1983). Each item requires respondents to indicate the extent of their agreement or disagreement with a particular statement on a five-part Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, unsure, disagree, strongly disagree), with the 16 scales grouped into four defining dimensions.

Some of the scales originate from earlier research examining determinants of student academic achievement. Entwistle & Entwistle (1970) had devised a Student Attitude Questionnaire (SAQ) consisting of 91 items in four scales relating to motivation, study methods, extroversion, and neuroticism. Motivation was originally defined in terms of motivation to perform, but later work (Entwistle & Wilson, 1977) differentiated between intrinsic motivation, i.e. interest in the subject, for its own sake and extrinsic motivation, i.e. the motivation to gain the qualification being studied for, and motivation that depended on the motivation to retain self-esteem and respect, and fear of failure. A subsequent version of the SAQ replaced the extroversion and neuroticism scales with scales intended to measure syllabus-boundness and syllabus freedom to describe the extent to which different students prefer direction as opposed to autonomy in their learning.

The study methods scale of the SAQ was intended to measure whether students were organised or disorganised in their studying and towards their attitude to studying. Research carried out by Marton (1976) indicated these dimensions alone were inadequate as a means of characterising individual differences among university students. Therefore additional scales labelled 'Deep Approach' and 'Surface Approach' were included along with another, 'Strategic Approach'. Two further scales considered to be related to a deep-level outcome of learning were added: measuring the students' ability to relate ideas to other parts of the course 'inter-relating ideas' and their ability to relate evidence to conclusions 'relating evidence to conclusions'.

The distinction between deep, surface, and strategic approaches to learning existed within a framework of three orientations to learning within HE: meaning, reproducing, and achieving. These three orientations were supplemented by styles and pathologies of learning identified by Pask & Scott (1972), who identified two general categories of learning strategy: the serialist and the holist approach.

The Revised Approaches to Studying Inventory (RASI)

The ASI has recently undergone extensive revision, with a 60-item, 15 scale version developed in 1992 measuring five dimensions: Deep Approach, Surface Approach, Strategic Approach, Apathetic Approach, and Academic Aptitude. A reduced version of this inventory appeared in 1994 with 38 items in 15 scales, this time measuring five dimensions labelled Deep Approach, Surface Approach, Strategic Approach, Lack of Direction, and Academic Self-Confidence. A later version, produced in 1995 used 44 items and 15 scales, identifying a sixth dimension: Metacognitive Awareness of Studying.

Sourced from Duff (2000).


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