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Friday, November 16, 2007
  Learning with style!
Several things have got me thinking about human difference. One was our recent staff training day (the middle of the marking season is also "naturally" the prime season for extra meetings ;-)

We focused on "Learning Styles" with input from Dr Peter Gossman from AUT University's Centre for Educational and Professional Development. He introduced the concept of learning styles through a question about which medium we'd prefer to use to learn about a rotary engine. He showed us:
  • a series of pictures of a cut away of the motor at work
  • an animated GIF
  • a page of text describing its workings
  • a model which one could turn and watch
Interestingly our preferences for these correlated pretty well with our scores on a test of learning styles. He also had us do a VARK questionnaire. There are dozens of different approaches to measuring learning styles, and they do not agree among themselves, nor do all the tests match their respective theory, so this is a fun playground for empirical educationalists ;-)

However, the VARK approach is conceptually simple. People tend to prefer to learn in four modes:
  • Visual: diagrammes, pictures, colour coding...
  • Aural: the people who download my 5 Minute Bible podcasts presumably, and those who like to talk about what they are learning
  • Read/Write: the bookish ones, who write good notes in words (my notes were kind of mindmaps with few words)
  • Kinesthetic: the ones who fiddle with their pens while others are talking, and who walk about or wave their hands a lot...
Now of course everyone is a mixture, and some are more mixed less biased than others! But, still in our group of a dozen or so all four styles were evident. When he spoke about Kinesthetic learners being hard to cope with in the classroom, Miriam was sitting next to me clicking her pen, while I was rolling mine in my fingers - from what he said, he is lucky we and a few others weren't wandering round the room! (Kinesthetic learners do not like sitting still being talked to, or even with ;-)

This stuff was fascinating to me, I spent a decade in tertiary education (BSc, BA, PhD and a year of missionary training) and almost all of it was either oriented to the read/write learners (books, articles, essays...), the aural learners (lectures, discussions, arguments over a coffee...) with just a little for visual people (the occasional photo or diagramme). None, nada, zero, zilch was formally oriented to my learning style! Though since I passed, either the visual stuff (my second preference) helped a lot, or I managed to roll my pens enough to learn something...

Now it gets really interesting...

My teaching, has largely copied my teachers. It is VAR but little K. Actually I think its the reverse, RAVing nuts (since according to our time estimates we expect students to Read and Write much more than they Talk/Listen, and Visual material is still regarded as a nice extra added on to enrich the words!

Wouldn't it be nice if our classes catered for ALL our students!

Next year's Intro to the Bible at Carey will do a better job than most, my secondary style "visual" has always been "allowed" so the material is pretty visual already, and Karen (who has experience and training teaching children!) has developed some great exercises where the students actually do (as in move, kinesthetic experience, real doing) things...

So, which learning preference(s) are yours? (Do the test at the VARK site to find out it really only takes a few moments.)

Does the teaching/learning that you do/endured match your preferred style?

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