Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interpreting Learning Styles Results

The Learning Styles Inventory that I recommend to students gives results on four aspects of learning styles.  The authors of the Questionnaire have published a guide to help you interpret your results, and your position on each index.

The first index is Active versus Reflective learning styles.  The authors emphasize that everyone can be active and reflective at different times, but “a balance of the two is desirable”.  This is particularly true in A&P, where part of the class is taught as lecture and part of the class is taught as participation in lab. 

Sometimes students that score more strongly as a Reflective learning style tell me that they find it hard to work in lab, which requires a more Active learning style, because they need time to think about and process the information.  Those students then find that they either have to attend more Open Lab times to actually do the lab material, or they don’t get to work with the materials as much as they would like.  My suggestion to those students is to make sure that they come to lab prepared.  I recommend that they look at the lab sheet (posted on Bb) ahead of the lab, and review the relevant sections of the lab ahead of time.  This will allow them time to reflect on the lab material and organize their work prior to the lab session.  By completing some pre-lab activities, reading sections of the book, and looking at what items are required for identification on the models, a Reflective learner can process the preliminary information at their own pace, and might feel more prepared for the lab class.

Active learners are usually more successful working in groups, actively discussing the material they are trying to learn.  Lab material lends itself to this type of learning, but some students have a hard time figuring out how to manage lecture information if they are an Active learner.  These students usually find they are more successful when they work with their lab partners on both lab material as well as lecture material.  By discussing concepts in an active way, they can use their learning style to be successful in both areas of the class.

The second index is Sensing versus Intuitive learning styles.  This is another index where students can be Sensing at some times and Intuitive at other times.  The Sensing learning style refers to the “5 senses” – Sensing learners like learning material with a factual basis, that can be measured by the sensed.  Intuitive learners are more successful learning material by determining relationships between concepts.

According to the authors, If you overemphasize Sensing, you may rely too much on memorization and familiar methods and non concentrate enough on understanding…”  While there are elements of the course that require memorization, there are other areas of the course that require comprehension and making connections between concepts presented in different systems.  I always encourage students to try to remain balanced in using the Sensing and Intuitive learning styles.

The third index shows your preference for Visual and Verbal learning styles.  Most people do have a definite preference in this index.  Many people who take science courses are Visual learners, but that is not true of all students.  I have worked over the years to make sure that when I present information in lecture, that both Visual and Verbal learning styles are accommodated in my Powerpoint slides.  While I may have one slide that will be a figure from the textbook that I will explain in class, the next slide will often have words that explain the same process.  Verbal learners may prefer the slide with the written explanation – or the accompanying paragraphs in the textbook – while Visual learners may prefer the figure or diagram to help them learn the process.  That isn’t to say that Verbal learners should never look at a figure or Visual learners should never read the text.  It is to say that you can use your preference, if possible, when learning physiological processes like we are studying.  For example, Verbal learners can use the figure caption and text beside each step to help them determine what the figure is trying to convey.

The last index helps you understand if you are a Sequential or a Global learner.  Sequential learners prefer to have information presented in steps or a logical order.  Global thinkers need to see the “big picture” for new information to make sense.  In class I try to meet the needs of both kinds of learners.  I will often give an overview of a new topic, so that Global learners can see how the information we will discuss fits into an overall framework.  For Sequential thinkers, this overview can be overwhelming, as they are trying to understand all the details at once instead of in a step-wise fashion they prefer.  After the overview, I then present information in a step-wise way, which is where the Sequential learners will begin to feel comfortable.  I then conclude by summarizing or trying to tie together the information covered.  This helps the Sequential learners make sure they have their logical order of steps, and helps the Global learners see again how all the details fit together.

Because critical thinking and mastery of a subject often requires relating different concepts that you have learned, it is always good to practice Global thinking and challenge yourself if you are not a Global learner.  By forcing yourself to summarize or see the “big picture” you can help break out of a purely stepwise learning pattern and see the connections between larger concepts.  In fact, much of the critical thinking we try to develop is designed to move students from Sequential thinking to Global thinking, to see how different systems are working together to maintain physiological processes.

I have been using this Index of Learning Styles for several years now, and every semester I have students report that learning their style for each of these indexes – and how to optimize their studying based on their learning style – has been helpful for their success in A&P.