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Adopting learner-centred strategies has major implications for faculty and individual students. This issue of CDTL Brief on Learner-centred Teaching/Learning explores how certain learner-centred approaches may be adapted to improve student learning in various contexts.

April 2006, Vol. 9, No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Teaching Students with Different Learning Styles
 
Maria Socorro C. Bacay
Full-time Faculty Member/ College Registrar
De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde
Manilla, Philippines
 

I scrutinise the students' faces as they enter the classroom one by one: I see a cheerful face eagerly scanning the room for someone familiar, a timid face looking for a seat at the back of the room, and a nonchalant one looking around blankly. These students, with different personalities and learning styles, are expected to learn the prescribed course content. And as their teacher, I am expected to be learner-centred in the delivery of the same.

How will I teach them if I do not know how they learn (Dunn & Griggs, 2000)? McCombs and Whisler (1997) cite two important factors for a learner-centred teacher to consider: (1) characteristics of the learners and (2) teaching practices. Students learn differently and appreciating their differences will help me teach them better. There are three ways in which students differ and these differences affect the way they learn:

  1. Learning styles (i.e. characteristic ways of taking in and understanding information),

  2. Approaches to learning and orientations to studying (i.e. surface, deep or strategic approach), and

  3. Intellectual development (i.e. attitudes about the nature of knowledge and how it should be acquired and evaluated) (Felder & Brent, 2005, p. 58).

As a learner-centred teacher, I must take these differences into consideration and address them by employing various teaching strategies, while providing a learning environment that encourages students to take charge of their own learning (Weimer, 2002) at the same time.

Learner-centred Teaching

A learner-centred teacher is sensitive to the learners' "heredity, experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs" (K.L. Brown, 2003, p. 50). In addition, as the learning context is as important as the course contents and methods of instruction in learner-centred teaching, the teacher should not only concentrate on covering the course content and materials but must "first consider learnerrelated factors such as students' needs, prior knowledge, talents, interests, social orientations, linguistic abilities, and cultures" (D.M. Brown, 2003, p. 100). As a teacher who learnt through the traditional lecture method, I have to make a conscious effort not to teach students the way I was taught previously by keeping abreast of learner-centred teaching methods that address various learning styles.

Learning Styles

The way a student begins "to concentrate on, process, internalize, and remember new and difficult academic information" (Dunn & Griggs, 2000, p. 9) defines his/ her learning style. Learning style theories recognise the individual differences (e.g. cognition, emotion, physiology, sociology) that affect learning. Research also shows that teaching methods that match students' learning styles can improve their academic performance significantly (Giordano & Rochford, 2005). For example, based on her research, Dodds (2004) reports that "informing economic students of learning styles and appropriate study methods appears to increase exam scores and provides confidence in the choice of study methods" (p. 355).

Teaching Style

While research shows that greater learning occurs when teaching and learning styles match, Felder and Brent (2005) say that the teacher is not expected to tailor-fit his/her teaching style according to students' preferences. For example, if a teacher is inclined towards meeting the needs of students with a particular learning style, other students with different learning styles will feel left out. Also, students who are consistently taught through their dominant learning styles will not know how to learn using their less preferred learning styles. Thus, teachers should adopt a balanced teaching style to help more students learn effectively and become more flexible in the way they learn. To this end, a learner-centred teacher must employ different teaching methods to address students' varied learning needs.

In my teaching, I use the following learner-centred strategies to help students with different learning styles learn and encourage them to be responsible for their own learning:

  • Involving students in the planning of a unit of study, including how they should be assessed, and, if there is a paper to be submitted at the end of the unit, students and I agree on the submission deadline. Getting students involved in making such decisions helps them take ownership of the course.

  • Asking students 'What if' and 'What do you think' questions during lectures to capture students' attention and jump-start class discussions.

  • Getting students to share (in groups or individually) poetry and prose that reflect or relate to principles or theories taught in class.

  • Getting students to work in groups of three (each student taking on the roles of the moderator, reporter or recorder within the group) to ensure equal participation from every student.

  • Getting students to role play certain characters or dramatise a situation. When this method is used, students are usually required to write a reflection on the dramatisation.

  • Using visual aids such as pictures, diagrams, flowcharts and films to complement lectures.

  • Pointing out how a topic is connected to other topics in the same course or with topics in other disciplines to help global learners see the 'big picture' and presenting information in a logical progression of small steps to help sequential learners understand a lesson.

Knowing how students learn encourages me to apply a variety of teaching strategies appropriate to different learning styles so that students may learn when I teach.

References

Brown, D.M. (2003). 'Learner-centered Conditions That Ensure Students' Success in Learning'. Education, Vol. 124, No. 1, pp. 99-104, p. 107.

Brown, K.L. (2003). 'From Teacher-centered to Learner-centered Curriculum: Improving Learning in Diverse Classrooms'. Education, Vol. 124, No. 1, pp. 49-54.

Dodds, R.A. (2004). 'Learning Style Appropriate Study Methods: The Benefits of Awareness'. Atlantic Economic Journal, Vol. 32, No. 4, p. 355.

Dunn, R. & Griggs, S.A. (eds.). (2000). Practical Approaches to Using Learning Styles in Higher Education. Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.

Felder, R.M. & Brent, R. (2005). 'Understanding Student Differences'. Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 94, No. 1, pp. 57-72.

Giordano, J. & Rochford, R.A. (2005). 'Understanding Business Majors' Learning Styles'. The Community College Enterprise, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 21-39.

McCombs, B.L. & Whisler, J.S. (1997). 'Learner-centered Classroom and Schools: Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Achievement'. NASSP Bulletin, Vol. 81, pp. 1-14.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 
 
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Inside this issue
‘Divide and Conquer’: Breaking a Big Class into Small Teams for Tutorials
   
Teaching Patient-centred Care in the Community
   
Case-based Tutorials
   
Learner-centred Practices and the Necessary Changes
   
The Philetics of Teaching
   
Teaching Students with Different Learning Styles
   
Student-led Tutorials