Sunday, November 21, 2010

My take on learning styles

I have never met Derek Bruff but I follow him on Twitter religiously- his tweets from conferences are informative, his insights are sharp, and he posts links and other resources- not to mention that he actually replies to messages. So when last Saturday he provided a link to a keynote address of  Lilly Conference about Learning Styles I was happy to explore it. 
I started reading about Learning Styles some years ago, when I got into more serious teaching and wanted to learn about how to teach better. Mind you, I come from a a place and era when nobody cared about making it easy to learn- it was up to the student to make it or not. However, I did have experiences related to my learning style- more than one teacher got annoyed with my inability to listen to their lectures without doodling. And more than one person in my life got annoyed with my refusal to read instruction manuals or watch tutorials, but instead starting to push buttons and learn by trial and error. 
When I learned about Learning Styles for the first time, I tried to figure out myself first. According to the simplest tests ("if you buy a towel, do you care more about its color or about how fluffy it is?) I am supposed to be a kinesthetic learner. However I know that I am a visual learner- when studying I will remember the image of the textbook page where a certain information is located. 
So I went to this keynote link and tried several of the respected learning styles quizzes. Result? Total confusion. Each learning style finished at around 20-30%  of the total. I tried hard to be unbiased answering, but some questions were just silly. For instance, either I preferred study in a group or not. No choice of BOTH- which is my preference. I like to study individually and then come together with a good study group to clarify issues and practice. My liking of music and ability to remember melodies put me in a relatively high auditory learning bracket, which is untrue. Information that I hear passes through my brain quickly and never stays. I still remember a purely auditory English class I completed many years ago- it stressed me to no end, as I could not figure out anything until I wrote them down and could actually see the words. 
I played with those tests for a while and decided not to pursue them further. I do not come from an education background, so I don't really have the knowledge to pass judgment on the issue in general. But I have the feeling that each individual has a way to learn: very often a mixture of those many styles- and each student has to figure out what is their best way of learning. Narrowing options based on those quizzes maybe useful or harmful- it is a bit like grading rubrics: they make assignments easier to complete but also limit creativity. But this is a subject of another post...

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