This post is part five of a fourteen part series, Teaching Strategies, that is based on a series of education workshops. I’m documenting the content for myself, but hopefully it will also be useful to (1) librarians looking for more theoretical background for their own teaching and (2) for librarians looking to better understand education models as they look for new ways to support and participate in the educational missions of their institutions.
After an understanding of the psychology of education, it seemed to make sense to explore a bit on personality. So the next session we discussed in the Teaching Strategies workshop was learning styles and intelligences. Prior to the class we asked participants to take a learning styles inventory so that we could discuss it.
I’ve grown more fond of Learning Styles over time. The major controversy amongst folks in higher ed is “should you adapt your teaching to learning styles?” Some research suggests it doesn’t make a big difference. Some suggests it really does. Some faculty will point out that once working in a job, your boss isn’t going to adapt their training for your style, others point out that college students have to cram a lot more into their head in a shorter period of time than an employee would. I think it’s a good thing to be aware of in teaching, and if you can do something to support different types of learners, it’s a good thing to do.
As people came into class, we discussed what we thought of the test, and generally if we thought our results made sense. Once everyone was there, we launched into a discussion of learning styles and multiple intelligences. I gave an overview, and then we talked about where they might overlap and what trends we saw between the two. We also brainstormed about how to incorporate activities for people with strong learning preferences in each category.
At that point, we stopped the discussion and put up a spectrum for each learning style on the board. People then marked where they fell on the spectrum.
(I’m the extreme LP that is way far away from most of my colleagues.) Notice how there are clusters towards Reflective, Sensing, mid Visual/Verbal, and Sequential. It’s interesting that at least at MPOW there were groupings that were pretty common.
We then had a group-wide discussion of the different styles, methods we used within our own style to learn better, and talked about how that knowledge could impact our design of a class session or course. Here’s the down and dirty:
- Active learners learn best when they’re doing something with the information. Active students should seek out study groups and explain information to each other.
- Reflective learners learn best when they think quietly about it first. They shouldn’t attempt to just memorize anything. They should think of questions/applications and write their own summary.
- Sensing learners like facts and following established methods. They are more practical and prefer real-world connections. They should ask professors for these specific connections to the world and brainstorm connections with friends.
- Intuitive learners like possibilities, relationships, innovation, and abstractions. They should ask for theories that link the facts covered in class.
- Visual learners like pictures, diagrams, flowcharts, timelines, film, and demos. They should make concept maps of class and color code their notes.
- Verbal learners like written and spoken words. They should write summaries of class in words and talk with friends.
- Sequential learners are linear and like logical patterns. They should ask for steps that are skipped to fill in the blanks and make sure their notes take a logical order.
- Global learners need to make large jumps and have “aha” moments. These students need to skim a chapter before class takes place. Rather than studying a little bit each day, they need to take several hours at once to take a “deep dive” into the material.
(I used color to pair the spectrum, see what I did there, Visual learners?)
There are a lot of different thinkers out there reflecting on learning styles, and we only had time to focus in on this one interpretation. But you can see immediately how you can pull in techniques for each learner. For example, when discussing the catalog you can tie it into a larger discussion of databases and search theory as well as demo how you can use this to find a specific book your faculty member has told you to find. That alone would hit on sensing, intuitive, visual, verbal, and sequential.
Obviously, you can see how this can be useful in the classroom. And it’s pretty clear how it can be useful in informal instruction at the reference desk, in how we present information on our websites, and even how we tell people about what it is that the library does today.
I also like to keep in mind that it’s not just students. Understanding the learning styles of my colleagues, for example, helped me understand how to craft workshops that would be more effective for them. Picking up on clues from faculty about their styles helps me pitch what we are doing to them.
And, really, understanding my own learning style helps me identify the learning opportunities that will be most effective for me (lots of reading and podcasts) and illuminates potential bias in my own teaching. Just because I’m a reflective, intuitive, verbal, global learner doesn’t mean my students are, and emphasizes how important it is that I focus on also teaching across the spectrum…which is a good segue for the next post. The next post in this series will address teaching styles. This is a particularly nice pairing with learning styles.