Learning styles are simply different approaches or ways of learning based on the fact that people absorb and process information in different ways. Learning style is an individual’s preference for understanding experiences and changing them into knowledge. It denotes the typical strategy a learner adopts in a learning situation. For example, information may be learned in a variety of ways: by seeing or hearing, by reflecting or acting, analyzing or visualizing, or it may be learned piecemeal or steadily. Just as people learn differently, they also have different teaching methods. Some instructors rely on lectures, others demonstrate, and others may prefer computer simulation training. Everyone has a mixture of strengths and preferences, not a single style or preference to the complete exclusion of any other. Please bear this in mind when using these ideas.
As mentioned in Human Behavior and the discussion of personality types and learning, underpinning the idea of learning style is the theory that everyone has an individual style of learning. According to this approach to learning, if the student and instructor work with that style, rather than against it, both benefit. Currently, 71 different theories of learning styles have been identified. These theories run from simple to complex, usually reflecting scientific research about how the brain processes information. While the scientific community may be surprised at how the research has been used, many educators and school systems have become advocates of applying learning style to teaching methods.
Another model for learning, the Approaches to Learning model, bases its theory on the student’s learning intentions. For example, is the student interested in short-term memorization of the material or long-term knowledge? Does the student want a passing grade on a pop quiz or the ability to use the material learned to repair an engine? One feature of the Approaches to Learning is that the learner’s approach to learning depends on his or her reasons for learning. This theory reflects the previous category’s discussion of adult learners who come to aviation training with definite reasons for learning.
While controversy exists over the scientific value of learning styles as well as approaches to learning, many educational psychologists advocate their use in the learning process. Knowledge of learning styles and approaches can help an instructor make adjustments in how material is presented if his or her learning/teaching style differs from the way a student learns. Since a student’s information processing technique, personality, social interaction tendencies, and the instructional methods used are all significant factors, training programs should be sensitive to different learning styles.
Right Brain/Left Brain
According to research on the human brain, people have a preferred side of the brain to use for understanding and storing information. While both sides of the brain are involved in nearly every human activity, it has been shown that those with right-brain dominance are characterized as being spatially oriented, creative, intuitive, and emotional. Those with left-brain dominance are more verbal, analytical, and objective. Generally, the brain functions as a whole. For example, the right hemisphere may recognize a face, while the left associates a name to go with the face.
While most people seem to have a dominant side, it is a preference, not an absolute. On the other hand, when learning is new, difficult, or stressful, the brain seems to go on autopilot to the preferred side. Recognizing a student’s dominant brain hemisphere gives the instructor a guide for ways to teach and reinforce learning. There are also some people who use both sides of the brain equally well for understanding and storing information. [Figure 2-14]
As seen in Figure 2-14, right and left brain learners have preferences for how they process information. Based on information processing theory, left brain learners or serialist learners have an analytic approach to learning. Because they gain understanding in linear steps, with each step logically following the previous one, these learners need well-defined, sequential steps where the overall picture is developed slowly, thoroughly, and logically. This is a bottom-up strategy.
Right brain or holistic learners favor the holist strategy and prefer a big picture or global perspective. This is a top-down strategy and learners tend to learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, until suddenly “it” clicks and they get it. Global learners solve complex problems rapidly once they have grasped the big picture, but they often have difficulty explaining how they did it. This type of learner seeks overall comprehension; analogies help this learner.
Index of Learning Styles (ILS)
In 1988, Richard Felder and Linda Silverman designed a learning style model with parallel learning styles that classified students as having learning preferences in sensing or intuitive, visual or verbal, active or reflective, sequential or global (discussed under holistic/serialist learning style. Dr. Felder maintains a website at www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/RMF.html that offers learners the opportunity to assess learning preferences at no cost for noncommercial purposes. [Figure 2-15]
Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic Learners (VAK)
One of the most popular learning styles is based on the three main sensory receptors: vision, hearing, and touch. These are called visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles (VAK). [Figure 2-16] Research in this area dates back to the early 20th century and the concepts were developed over many years by psychologists and teaching specialists. Others have augmented the VAK model with the addition of R for “reading” (VARK), or the addition of T for “tactile” (VAKT), or even a combination of the terms for VARKT.
Learners generally use all three styles to receive information, but one of these three ways of receiving information is dominant. Once again, the dominant style of receiving information is the best way for a person to learn new information, but this style may not be the same for every task. The learner may use one style of learning or a combination of styles depending on the learning task.
Visual learners rely on seeing to learn. They learn best if a major component of the lesson is something they can see, and work best with printed and graphic materials, and visual displays including diagrams, illustrated text books, overhead transparencies, videos, flip charts, and hand-outs. They store information in their brains as pictures or images. They like to take extensive notes. Statistically, most people are visual learners.
Auditory learners transfer knowledge through listening and speaking. These learners need an oral component to the lesson such as verbal instructions. These learners have excellent listening skills and remember what was discussed over what was seen. They are better at verbally explaining than at writing. Since auditory learners prefer to listen to material, they are not good note takers.
Kinesthetic learners process and store information through physical experience such as touching, manipulating, using, or doing. They like to move around while trying to solve a problem and learn best when the material being taught involves hands-on practical experiences. Their concentration tends to wander when there is no external stimulation. They also learn from demonstration by watching carefully, then imagining or mirroring the demonstrator’s movements.
Learners may prefer one of these three learning styles over another, but most learners employ all three depending on the material being learned. For example, when Beverly makes her first landing with Bill guiding her attempt, she employs visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. As the aircraft enters downwind, Beverly uses visual cues to recognize the airport and landing strip as she lines the aircraft up to land. As Bill talks her through the procedures, Beverly is using her auditory learning skills to learn how to land the aircraft. Finally, she needs to use kinesthetic skills to perform the actual landing.
Remember, good learners are capable of processing information in a variety of ways. The key to meeting individual student needs is to ensure a variety of learning styles are addressed in every lesson.
In a theory proposed by Ricki Linksman, the learning style ideas discussed in the preceding paragraphs have been melded into a concept based on the VAKT learning styles plus brain hemisphere preference. This “superlink,” as she calls it, is the easiest way for a learner to process information in order to understand, remember, and retain it. Matching visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile with right- and left-brain research, Linksman created eight superlinks: visual left-brain, visual right-brain, auditory left-brain, auditory right-brain, tactile left-brain, tactile right-brain, kinesthetic left-brain, and kinesthetic right-brain. These superlinks accelerate learning by targeting the best way a person learns.
As mentioned earlier, there are many models of how people learn. Some models identify styles or approaches that are easily recognized such as collaborative, sharing students who enjoy working with others, versus competitive students who are grade conscious and feel they must do better than their peers. Participant students normally have a desire to learn and enjoy attending class, and avoidant students do not take part in class activities and have little interest in learning. The learning environment also influences learning style. In real life, most students find it necessary to adapt to a traditional style-learning environment provided by a school, university, or other educational/training establishment. Sometimes, the student’s way of learning may or may not be compatible with his or her environment.
Instructors who recognize either the learning style or learning approach of students and problems associated with them are more effective teachers than those who do not. Also, these instructors are prepared to develop appropriate lesson plans and provide guidance, counseling, or other advisory services, as required.