Learning Style Preferences
– Khem Raj Joshi
Learners learn a second language in many ways. Each learner prefers different learning styles and techniques. S/he has a mix of learning styles but may find that s/he has a dominant style of learning. It means that learners receive information through their senses and prefer some senses to others in specific situations. Usually, they learn more effectively when they learn through their own initiatives. When their learning styles are matched with appropriate teaching styles, their motivation and achievement increase and are enhanced. Thus, researchers and educators try to discover their learners’ style preferences so that they can help them learn in accordance with their own preferred learning styles.
A good teacher is supposed to keep the following teaching credo in mind:
- What I hear, I forget.
- What I hear and see, I remember a little
- What I hear, see and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand
- What I hear, see, discuss and do, I acquire knowledge and skill from.
- What I teach to
From the above framework we can infer that a teacher’s job is not only to present information that learners need, but also to help them understand what they are good at. Although it is very difficult to address everyone’s needs, it is important to meet as many needs as possible. To accomplish this, the teacher should assess learners’ styles and preferences.
Defining Learning Styles
Learning styles have been defined variously. Cornett (1983, p.9) defines learning styles as “the overall patterns that give general direction to learning behavior”. In the same way, Dunn and Griggs (1988) define learning style as “the biologically and developmentally imposed set of characteristics that make the same teaching method wonderful for some and terrible for others” (p.3). From these definitions what is inferred is that learning styles are the general approaches that learners use in acquiring a new language or in learning any other subject. Learning styles are those educational conditions under which a student is most likely to learn. It implies that learning styles are not really concerned with what learners learn, but rather how they prefer to learn. Reid (1995) defines learning styles as “internally based characteristics of individuals for the intake or understanding of new information”. Reid clarifies that learning styles are the learner’s cognitive, affective and physiological factors that indicate how a learner perceives, interacts with and responds to the learning environment. On the basis of all the above definitions, we can say that a learning style is a learner’s consistent way of responding to and using stimuli in the context of learning. The learner may prefer one or more styles over others.
Types of Learning Styles
Scholars have divided learning styles into different types. In this article, I am dealing with the most common types of learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic, introverted and extroverted.
Visual learners are those who “like to read and obtain a great deal from visual stimulation” (Oxford, 2003). For them, lectures, conversations and oral directions without any visual backup can be very confusing. They learn things best through seeing them and like to keep an eye on the teacher by sitting in the front of the class and watching the lecture closely. Some characteristics of visual learners are that they:
– use words and phrases that evoke visual images;
– learn by seeing and visualizing;
– are good at spelling but forget names;
– understand/like charts;
– are good at sign language,
– take numerous detailed notes;
– find something to watch if they are bored:
– benefit from illustrations and presentations that use colour;
– are attracted to written or spoken language rich in imagery;
– find passive surroundings ideal.
Auditory learners are those who “enjoy and profit from unembellished lectures, conversations and oral directions” (Oxford, 2003). They are excited by classroom interactions in role-plays and similar activities. They learn best through hearing. Some characteristics of auditory learners are that they:
– speak slowly and tend to be natural listeners;
– prefer things explained to them verbally rather than to read written information;
– learn by listening and verbalizing;
– notice sound effects in movies and enjoy music;
– can’t keep quiet for long periods and are good in study groups;
– talk to themselves or others when bored,
Kinesthetic learners are those who like movement and enjoy working with tangible objects. They prefer frequent move around the room. They learn through experiencing or doing things. Some characteristics of kinesthetic learners are that they:
– learn by doing and solving real life problems;
– like hands-on approaches and learn through trial and error;
– are good at sports;
– can’t sit still for long;
– like lab work, adventure books, movies;
– take breaks when studying;
– build models;
– are involved in material arts, dance;
– speak with their hands and gestures;
– enjoy field trips and tasks that involve manipulating materials.
Introvert vs Extrovert Learners
Introvert learners are those who can do more work when they work alone. They learn best when they study alone. They think that it is fun to learn with classmates, but is hard to study with them. Some characteristics of introverts are that they:
– are energized by the inner world (what they are thinking);
– prefer individual or one-on-one games and activities.
– are exhausted after working in a large group;
– tend to keep silent and listen in a group;
– want to understand something well before they try it.
On the other hand, extrovert learners enjoy joining in on class discussions. They prefer group work to working in isolation. If they have to decide something, they ask other people for their opinions. If they understand a problem, they like to help other learners understand it too.
Some characteristics of extroverts are that they:
– learn better when they work or study with others than by themselves;
– meet new people easily by jumping into conversations;
– learn better in the classroom than with a private tutor.
What Type of Learner Are You?
You can determine your learning style by looking over the characteristics of different types of learners. If one or more of the traits and characteristics of any type of learner sound familiar, you may have identified your learning style. Several instruments have been devised to obtain learning style information from the learners. The first instrument widely known in second language acquisition was Reid’s Perceptual Learning Style Preference Questionnaire (PLSPQ), which was developed in 1984. Following this, another learning style, Instrument Style Analysis Survey (SAS) was developed by Oxford (1993). Later, Cohen, Oxford and Chi (2001) developed an improved version of SAS, i.e. Learning Style Survey (LSS). There are altogether eleven parts in the survey. The eleven parts are presented in a comprehensive way to help learners identify their own learning style. The framework is briefly presented below:
Part 1: Visual, auditory and kinesthetic
Part 2: Extroverted vs. introverted
Part 3: Random-intuitive vs. concrete sequential
Part 4: Closure-oriented vs. open
Part 5: Global vs. particular
Part 6: Synthesizing vs. analytic
Part 7: Sharpener vs. leveler
Part 8: Deductive vs. inductive
Part 9: Field independent vs. field dependent
Part 10: Impulsive vs. reflective
Part 11: Metaphoric vs. literal
So, we can recognize our own learning styles using the Learning Style Survey which was designed to assess our general approach to learning.
Second language teachers can benefit by assessing the learning styles of their learners because such assessment leads to greater understanding of styles. “The more teachers know about their learners’ style preferences, the more effectively they can orient their L2 instruction” (Oxford, 2003). Some learners might need instruction presented more visually while others might require more auditory, kinesthetic types of instruction. It is false to state that a single L2 methodology fits an entire class of learners having different stylistic preferences. If the teachers have adequate knowledge about their individual learners’ style preferences, they can employ a broad instructional approach instead of choosing a specific instructional methodology. They could incorporate the things to be taught in accordance with their learners’ style preferences. If the learners have the knowledge of their own learning styles, it can be used to increase self- awareness about their strengths and weaknesses as learners. Their preferred styles guide the way they learn. Understanding their learning style is crucial to their personal growth and success. Thus, the major implication is that an awareness of individual differences in learning makes the ESL/ EFL teachers more sensitive to their roles in matching teaching and learning styles to develop the learners’ potentials in second language learning.
There are different types of learners in a single classroom. If teachers know what their learners’ predominant learning styles are, they can incorporate multiple teaching methods. Identifying learners’ style preferences certainly facilitates teaching learning process but it does not mean that we should divide the learners into a set of categories (i.e. visual, auditory, etc). The main aim is just to allocate a person on some point on a continuum. In other words, we cannot pigeonhole learners as they are capable of learning under any style, no matter what their individual preferences are.
Cohen, A, Oxford, R. and Chi, J.C. (2001). Learning style survey. Retrieved October 13, 2011, from http://www.carla.umn.edul/.
Cornett, C. (1983). What you should know about teaching and learning styles. Bloomington: IN.
Dunn, R. and Griggs, S. (1988). Learning styles: Quiet revolution in American schools. VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Oxford, R.L. (2003). Language learning styles and strategies: An overview. Retrieved April 13, 2010. From http://www.oomroom.ca/
Reid, J. (1995). Learning styles in the ESL/EFL classroom. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.
Stewart, K.L. and Felicetti, L.A. (1992). Learning styles of marketing majors. Educational Research Quarterly. 15 (2), 15-23.