A Series on Teaching Strategies for Librarians: Teaching Styles

This post is part six 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.

It seems like a natural pairing for the topic of learning styles is that of teaching styles. I’ve always thought that the nature of higher education instruction is cyclical; that those who do the best in college and graduate school are most likely to go on and join the professoriate. And then they will want to teach as their best teachers did, leading to a new crop of people who do well in that environment going on to teach in similar ways. And thus the archetype of a large lecture room with a professor speaking for 50 minutes at the front.

Of course, that’s a gross over-generalization. Many people in higher education may or may not prefer that method of teaching, and have succeeded anyway. I’ve known many faculty who are trying to teach in ways that they never experienced, either with joy that these new models are more comfortable to them or with a bit of wistfulness for a good lecture, while challenging their preferences based on what they see in their students.

I bring up all of that just to frame the teaching styles section of this series of posts.

Just as you might not tailor everything to all the various learning styles in a class, knowing your teaching style doesn’t necessarily mean you should change everything you’re doing. It just allows you to be more aware of your bias in preference, and allows you to make slight shifts as you feel it makes sense. You might find yourself lecturing if you enjoyed learning that way, and you might find a class of students who seem to be daydreaming or more focused on Facebook. That is an opportunity to look for other models that might have a few useful tools to shift your approach.

For example, my personal preference is to use a very systematic approach to share information. When studying information literacy instruction in grad school, my professor regularly commented on how logically I presented information. And that’s very useful a lot of the time. However, I found in teaching that it didn’t necessarily engage students, and over time I built more flexibility into my teaching until I got quite comfortable with open group discussions, where I’d make sure to bring up the relevant points, but only in the context of a free flowing conversation. (And I do this regularly–but only when it makes sense based on the audience and the content.)

So what might that mean for library instruction? And what did we talk about in the workshops this blog post series is based on? This was the one session that was designed and run by someone else in the library, Rosalind Tedford. At that point in time, Roz had come back from the ACRL Intentional Teacher Immersion program, and gave an overview of the two books they had read as part of the program:  Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher by Stephen Brookfield and The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer. I’d recommend Brookfield and Palmer to anyone interested in teaching.

She picked out a free test online, and just as we had in learning styles, everyone took it ahead of time. It’s a pretty quick tool to use, and gives easy to understand feedback. Again, everyone mapped their score on a chart as we had done with learning styles. In this case, the five measures of the Teaching Perspectives Inventory are:

  • Transmission: Teaching requires a content expert. You might think of an outstanding lecturer in your past when trying to think of an example of this.
  • Apprenticeship: Teaching is a process of socializing students into new ways of working. I always think of graduate programs when I think of this: how they’re structured to help students become members of a field.
  • Developmental: Teaching is designed and carried out “from the learners point of view.” I think of this, actually, when I think of a lot of current educational research.
  • Nurturing: Teaching assumes that the heart is what enables the (sometimes intense) effort to learn. You might think of a coaching model when you consider this approach to teaching.
  • Social Reform: Teaching is an approach to changing society, and class interactions are an opportunity to create social change. For me, it’s easiest to think of my Women’s Studies classes when I think about this, though I know I’ve practiced it when I’ve talked about publishing models or how the internet is evolving.

Readers of this series will recognize themes. For example, the Kolb model is apparent in apprenticeship, Vygotsky is evident in the developmental approach. There is research to support each of these perspectives, and if you find yourself clearly dominant in one, it’s probably worth investigating what has been said, if only to allow you to maximize your teaching preference. You know, the whole StrengthsFinder approach.

So what does this mean for library instruction? First off, knowing your preference will help you think about the design of your teaching. Are you giving transmission like lectures? Are you giving students lots of time to work in class, with points in time where you can guide them as might be more prominent in apprenticeship? Are you focusing on helping students see The Librarian as a friendly and supportive person as in the nurturing perspective? Are there ways to combine several of these for a given class? Indeed they are, and in some ways more easily so in a one-shot, I believe. You might spend a few minutes in a transmission based lecture, followed by a period of time for apprenticeship based guided work. You might do all of this, building on an existing body of knowledge the students have, while exemplifying the supportive and friendly librarian. And in the course of all of this you might mention any number of information issues that are broader than just how to navigate library resources.

In terms of the larger university, there’s so much to be said for trying to know the faculty you’re working with. That’s not to say that you’d ever request someone take a test and discuss their results. Only that many people make clear their approach when talking about their teaching. For example, if you know someone is very focused on social reform, they might be more interested in having a librarian also talk about the journal crisis or privacy issues with websites as part of their class. If they’re lecturing, their students have an expectation of a lecture-based learning environment for the class, and might be more receptive to that format.

I think the most interesting thing about teaching styles, for me at least, is when thinking about it in the context of your own teaching or how it fits with others it forces a more reflective approach to teaching. It calls to question what someone is really trying to do with their class, and forces the design of instruction to start there. And that is a large part of instructional design to begin with.

A Series on Teaching Strategies for Librarians: Learning Styles

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.

Learning Styles

(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.


A Series on Teaching Strategies for Librarians: Educational Psychology

This post is part four 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.

Way back, before ALA,  we discussed teaching taxonomies, or frameworks that are useful when thinking about the student experience.  This post explores some basic principles in educational psychology that can further inform our understanding of the student experience. It’s worth noting that people get entire PhDs in these areas, so this is not meant to be a definitive explanation, but rather a window into some frameworks that might be worth further exploration if they seem useful to you.

PowerPoint Design

In this workshop, I made a wordier PowerPoint than I typically would use, as an opportunity to have a discussion after we covered content about the strengths and weaknesses of different PowerPoint designs. Most everyone agreed: this PowerPoint was easier to take notes from but was less engaging than some of the more image driven ones we’d used in the past. Further, this style PowerPoint made it easy to ignore the instructor and focus on the words on the screen. Here’s the list of points I made sure to cover in the discussion of the design:

  • Benefits of a text based presentation
    • Students don’t need to worry as much about taking notes
    • You can clearly state the points you want students to learn
    • Students can catch up if they weren’t there (don’t need the instructor)
    • Helps linear learners
  • Benefits of image based presentation
    • Helps meet multiple learning styles (visual)
    • Makes use of Dual-Coding Theory (both visual and verbal to introduce a point at the same time)
    • Creates a puzzle (why this image?) that requires more attention than just the content
    • Can create a more powerful recall situation the next time they see the image
  • Drawbacks of a text based presentation
    • Allows students to miss class or tune out
    • Encourages speaker to focus on what’s on the slide, rather than what the class is most interested in (or what it needs the most)
    • Appeals mostly to language based learners (to the exclusion of the others)
  • Drawbacks of an image based presentation
    • Frustrating for non-visual learners
    • Lack of information that requires instructor to make sense of slides
    • Difficult to follow for linear learners

With that overwhelming endorsement, here’s the PowerPoint:

Session Content

My main plan for the session was to discuss the arc of the field of educational psychology. This field studies how people learn in educational settings. It tends to focus on the classroom. Research in the field may often focus on specific groups such as gifted students or those with disabilities. For those who find analogies useful:
Educational Psychology : Psychology ::
Medicine : Biology ::
Engineering : Physics
Since we had limited time, the scope of the class session was narrow. We didn’t address individual differences; social, moral, or cognitive development; or research methodology. We did address five important ideas:


Behaviorism begins with Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning (late 1890s) and continued with BF Skinner’s radical behaviorism (1930-1950s). It focuses on how to create behavior outcomes in students and relies on systematic rewards and operant conditioning. (Remember Pavlov’s dogs?) Whenever I talk about Behaviorism I talk about how it was definitely something that was used in the past, and we all can remember remnants of it from our own education like multiplication table drills or spelling bees, but now most educators don’t talk about it. Then I follow with this story: I was at an excellent education conference that I’ve really enjoyed going to for several years. They bring in top-notch keynote speakers and have informative sessions on teaching in higher education. One of the keynotes was scheduled to be on behaviorism, and with my recent graduate classes in education I was ready to just ignore that speaker as a fluke case of someone less than up to par. And then. She came in with her dogs. And she had them doing tricks for treats as she described behaviorism in the classroom. At that point I was still thinking it was just a gimmick. As she continued on I realized she was speaking the truth. She used Behaviorism in her classes not to teach content but rather to teach classroom behavior: to come to class on time, to raise your hand, to ask questions before the deadline for a paper. And in that context, Behaviorism begins to make a lot of sense, even in today’s educational philosophies.


Cognitivism is the idea that traits, beliefs, memories, motivations, and emotions can determine how information in perceived, processed, stored, retrieved, and forgotten. Dual coding theory, cognitive load, spaced learning effect, mnemonics, and problem solving as fundamental to learning are all aspects of this branch of educational psychology. In general, Cognitivism involves long term memory, mapping between problem and pre-existing schema. Some of this is useful in course design (such as spaced learning effect) while other aspects are strategies or tasks students can employ to remember the content more effectively (mnemonics).

Social Cognitivism (Social Learning Theory)

Social Cognitivism (Social Learning Theory) blends Behavioral, Cognitive, and Social Thinking. It focuses on the student as an aware learner. In this branch of educational psychology, the student watches others and changes their own behavior as a result of that observation. In the last few decades we’ve seen it be referred to as self-regulated learning and metacognition These both hypothesize effective learners are active agents who construct knowledge by setting goals, analyzing tasks, planning strategies, and monitoring understanding. Students who are better at goal setting and self-monitoring have a greater intrinsic task interest and self-efficacy. Circling back to this, over three years later, I think I’m going to have to dive back into this one. Metacognition is a big topic on my campus this year, though it’s not always called that.
Constructivism comes from Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural learning focuses on internalization based on interaction with adults, more capable peers, and cognitive tools. Constructivism places an emphasis on agency and prior knowledge of the learner and often on social/cultural determinants of the learning process. Learners are socialized through social interactions within community of practice. When you hear about “scaffolding” in education, you’re hearing about Constructivism. It’s also related to Piaget’s individual/psychological constructivism from social constructivism. This is pretty much the method talked about in graduate education classes, at least when I was taking them about five or six years ago. It’s slogan is “guide on the side rather than sage on the stage” and focuses on helping students teach themselves rather than focusing on lectures. It’s easy to disregard the importance of teachers in this environment, but the teacher is responsible for making sure that students have the correct prior knowledge, cognitive tools, and materials to work with. This type of teaching can actually be more involved, though it might look like the teacher is “doing less” than a traditional teacher.
Connectivism is radical and not widely adopted, but I like to include newer ideas that challenge the status quo when presenting on teaching so that people know the spectrum of ideas out there. Connectivism is a idea that comes from George Siemens very recently, in the 2000s! It’s built around learning in a digital age, though it has its foundations in the schools of thought listed above. The idea here is that learning takes place in a community of learning. When you hear about a Personal Learning Network (PLN), you are hearing about a Connectivist learning community. In these environments the restrictions of authority (teacher/student), time (semesters/summers), and core reading (book and article lists) are removed and people learn instead from conversations within their network. When I tell people I have learned as much from blogs and twitter as I did in graduate school, it’s not that I learned formal theory or the same content, it’s that I learned as much (different) information through through different types of channel and with a lot of personal initiative to continue exploring links people posted online.
This isn’t a way of thinking of learning as the four listed above are. This is more what activates, guides, and sustains learning behavior. I included it in this session because we had time for it and because a lot of psychology research focuses on motivation. This includes will, interest, intrinsic motivation, personal goals, and belief about the causes of their success or failure.

Pair Work

To give people in the session After each of these topics we made use of pair work, though over the session it evolved into groups of four or five. Pair-Share is when you pair up two people to talk about an idea, then have each group share their discussion or some aspect of it. It’s a good way to create an environment where students feel comfortable talking. It lets shy people participate without speaking to the group, or to feel good about what they’re going to say before announcing it, it gets students comfortable talking, and it lets them share varying opinions (as opposed to a large group, where people tend to find one perspective and focus on it).

In this session we used Pair-Share in order to break up the lecture. After 10 minutes of lecture, we had a short break to share ideas. This helped with attention span, where research indicates people can focus for about 20 minutes without a break. The prompts were “How do you use this?” or “When might it be useful?”

So What For Libraries?

Obviously, this information can be useful for anyone who might find themselves teaching and wanting to make sure the information they share sticks. However, there are benefits beyond just our own teaching. Behaviorism could be useful when thinking about how to get students to follow rules or norms in the library building. Libraries could play critical roles in courses built using Cognitivism. In a class that has made intentional use of spaced learning, the library could act as a bridge between the times the content is used in class. If a course is built around problem solving, the library can provide resources and tools to enable student groups to solve the problems they’re presented with. If a campus is focusing on Social Cognitivism, the library could use that as an opportunity to offer workshops to help students identify how they learn and how the library can fit into their individual processes. And a Constructivist environment, the library can provide the resources necessary to a class that is built around students building their own understandings. And, most obviously, a library is a key component in any Connectivist PLNs. When people are self-motivated and interested in learning, they’ll seek out material to help them in their quest, and the library is here to provide that walled-garden information they can’t find on the open web.

Beyond that, if libraries have classroom space, we can use these ways of learning to inform our classrooms. We can use it when planning group and collaborative spaces. And we can use it when thinking about how the library fits into their online world. If they are participating in PLNs we can think about how to make our content easily linkable. If they’re scaffolding a knowledge base over a period of time we can help point them to Zotero or other tools, as well as guide them on how to use them most effectively. If they need to know how to use the catalog, we can work to train certain behaviors (hopefully, while also trying to make the catalog easier to use in the long run).

Educational psychology: it has more potential than you might first think!