Acknowledge the preferred learning style of your student

We have explored the general principles that apply to how adults learn. Bearing these principles in mind, we can also appreciate that as individuals, we all have different preferences on how we approach new learning.  For instance, some people are active learners. They like to be constantly challenged, can think on their feet and enjoy the challenge of being thrown in the deep end, learning best ‘on the job’ through practical exposure, trial and error and direct experience.

Other people are more reflective learners, they need time to plan, prepare, research and to have time to reflect on their learning before being confronted with a new challenge. They may like to be thoroughly briefed before proceeding. Some people are theoretical learners, and are stimulated by abstract ideas and concepts. They like to consider numerous viewpoints and theories and to analyse situations before selecting options and approaches to a task. They learn through observation, discussion, analysis, and enjoy logical and sophisticated reasoning.

Whilst others are pragmatic learners, they enjoy learning from qualified demonstration, and need to see the practical advantage of all that they are doing. They need to know that what they are doing works and is realistic (Sample, 1999).

Learning styles can be influenced by past experiences, education, work and the learning situation. It is important to recognise that they are not fixed but may be adapted according to context and what is being learned. Nevertheless most people still favour one style of learning.

There are various classifi cations of learning styles that you may like to become more familiar with. / Here are some useful resources and references.

The Manual of Learning Styles, by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford (1992). Provides an introduction to learning styles with advice on how to administer and interpret the The Learning Styles Questionnaire.

Kolb Learning Style Inventory (LSI): Self-scoring and interpretation booklet. A statistically reliable and valid, 12-item questionnaire and workbook, developed by David A. Kolb (1976).

VARK (Visual, Aural, Read/write, Kinaesthetic). A guide to learning styles by Nick Fleming (1992) Website.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (1993).

These resources provide useful exercises in helping you and the student to identify preferred learning styles, as well as your preferred approach to teaching. You can then discuss and negotiate with the student learning strategies that will compliment their learning style and your teaching style, as well as the expectations of the placement and the setting.

 Flexibility and adaptability is the key to learning. There may be times when you need to adjust your teaching style to accommodate student needs, as in turn the student will need to accommodate your teaching style and the expectations of the context and situation in which they are learning.

Here is a possible example of two different student learning approaches to delivering a staff in-service and suggestions on how teaching approaches could be modified to accommodate differences in learning style:

Active Learner

May write brief notes to self as prompts and then elaborate more spontaneously through active thinking on spot during in-service.

May use immediate verbal and non-verbal feedback to adapt and modify performance behaviour during course of in-service – learning on the spot. May reflect on learning and performance through direct discussion immediately following in-service (with or without note-taking).

Possible teaching approach  Ask student to talk through their plan and rationale prior to action. Direct student to relevant and important resources, information or protocols to ensure attention is given to essential level of preparation. Allow plenty of active hands-on learning and regularly ask student to explain reasoning, background knowledge as it is happening. Encourage immediate reflection and feedback.
Reflective Learner: May make efforts to feel thoroughly prepared, in order to boost confidence and to accept goal as achievable.  May prepare for in-service by collecting and reading large amounts of relevant (or sometimes broadly relevant) information relating to topic to gain a comprehensive understanding of the theme; and will prepare for delivery of in-service through memorising, rehearsing information delivery and preparing extensive or detailed notes (may be word for word) for reference during in-service delivery (may or may not be used “in-action”). May have prepared plan B for aspects of in-service discussions, and considered responses to possible questions. Will appreciate time to reflect on performance and outcomes afterwards, and may prefer to take some notes prior to discussing with supervisor.
Possible teaching approach Allow student time to plan, consult and research information relevant to task – within reason. Monitor student’s interpretation of information gathered to ensure that relevance and prioritisation of important information is effectively distinguished from less relevant – assists student to avoid overwhelming themselves with too much information. Encourage time for quiet reflection prior to providing feedback or joint reflection session.

(Sample, 1999)

Key points

Adults have preferred learning styles

  • Know your own style
  • Be aware of other learning styles
  • Acknowledge the preferred learning style of your student
  • This will assist to
  • Identify areas in need of improvement
  • Design strategies for enhanced learning

(Fitzgerald, 2007, March)