I am currently delivering a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice at Nazarbayev University, part of which will involve a discussion of learning styles. As I was preparing resources for the workshop I reflected on my own learning preferences, and recalled the following, quite literal learning journey.
Ulster University has four campuses across the province, Belfast, Coleraine Londonderry and Jordanstown. As a lecturer based at the Coleraine campus, I rarely visited the other campuses, perhaps once per semester. However, every time I visited the Jordanstown campus, I got lost. This may be hard to understand, but I used to come up to junctions and see roads that looked familiar, and only after taking that turn would I realise that the reason it looked familiar was because I had been lost there before. Whilst I found this frustrating at the time, there was no real impetus to change my habit, I got to my destination eventually, albeit consuming more fuel and time that was absolutely necessary.
The shortest route is about 50 miles and goes cross country between these suggested routes
I was in a position that many learners find themselves in at some point, I was apathetic and quite literally directionless. I was wasting time and energy and not learning anything. I never took time to reflect on a better way of doing the journey, and was therefore destined to repeat the same mistakes. I then changed role with the University, which meant much more travel between campuses. There was an impetus for change. I asked my husband to give me directions, which he diligently wrote out for me. My long-suffering husband has an innate sense of direction, and does not really understand why or how I can get lost so frequently. So, all was good, following the instructions I completed several journeys without mishaps.
Then disaster struck, I lost the piece of paper with my directions. I was like Dumbo without his magic feather. As I tentatively approached one of the roundabouts that I always used to get wrong, I could visualise, not the correct road or the junction layout, but dear old hubbies handwritten directions. After this liminal learning moment, I no longer needed instructions or maps to get between campuses, definitely a measurable learning gain.
According to the learning style theories, I guess that example would indicate that I have a preference for processing written information rather than visual. However this is not true in other parts of my learning, where I love to create mind maps or flow charts rather than write lots of text. I think I am in agreement with Schmeck (1988), who considered that ‘learning style’ was “any pattern we see in a person’s way of accomplishing a particular type of task” .
All learners have a range of learning styles, and learning preferences. Successful learners can adopt the right style for the task, so to be successful learners need to be supported and encouraged to develop all of their learning styles.
I find myself thinking that, approaches to learning, should take precedence over learning style. The Approaches to Studying Inventory (ASI) (Entwistle and Ramsden, 1983) resonates with me, and I can identify these behaviours in my students.
I moved from an apathetic to a surface approach. I subsequently have been on a navigation course in the Mourne Mountains, where the wonderful course leaders took pride in developing a deep understanding to map reading.
So how can I help learners develop and adopt a deeper approach to learning? The motivation to change learning approach is borne out of reflection, without which the learner can remain unfocussed or directionless – literally going around in circles.