What are learning styles?
For decades, education professionals around the globe have been taught the concept of learning styles to assist in structuring more learner-centred teaching activities.
In more recent times, the validity of the practice of assessing a student’s learning style has been questioned and formally rebuked through extensive research as being a pseudo-scientific approach. Yet the concept persists. This is probably due to the convenience and wide spread acceptance that people learn differently from one another – therefore… learning styles?
Later research from the fields of neuroscience and educational psychology have shone a clearer light on what is actually happening inside our brains. We have so many different ways of processing information that we are susceptible to different ways of inputting that information depending on all sorts of variables like:
- time of the day
- how much sleep we’ve had
- what it is that we’re trying to learn
- our motivation to learn (known as retention intention)
- external motivators (is something or someone pushing us to learn something)
- level of distractions
- pre-existing experiences
- physical limitations (do you have a physical condition that acts as a barrier to learning?)
- cognitive pre-disposition (mental health certainly has a large role to play)
- the learning environment
- the content we are trying to learn
- our experience – positive or negative – with similar learning content or contexts (e.g. learning on a computer when you’ve had issues dealing with technology in the past)
So as you can see – boiling this down to a list of four possible learning styles is not only difficult (impossible) – but potentially harmful to the learning outcomes of your students if we focus on any one method of teaching.
Giving this, the TAE program requires you to have an understanding of learning styles. As such, the most common variant used mostly in primary, secondary and some vocational education, is the VARK model. VARK stands for Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinaesthetic. In any given circumstance, your learners will show a preference for one of more of these styles. A well trained teacher will create content and activities that expose their students to a variety of these methods – known as multi-sensory teaching. Given what we do know about learning, a multi-sensory approach provides for better ‘encoding’ of the new information. And at the very least, makes the training session more interesting and enjoyable.
Finding out the learning preferences and needs of your students
If you access information gathered by the enrolment process, you should get an indication of some basic learning needs. Enrolment form questions usually ask for indications of learning difficulties such as pre-existing conditions, cognitive barriers and so on. There are also more subtle ways of picking up your learners preferences such as their existing level of education, age, handwriting (if applicable), and any results from a literacy and language questionnaire.
But we don’t always have enrolment forms on hand at the start of training. So a common way is to ask questions before and during your session to help guide the delivery of your activities and information.
Lastly, you may have access to employer input and/or a cohort description outlined in the training and assessment strategy – each of which can help you provide more appropriate learning activities for your students.