INTRODUCTION: My role as counselor and Strategic Learning instructor has afforded me numerous opportunities to listen to students’ concerns and complaints about their academic experiences. Frequently students attribute their failures to poor teaching, claiming that the teachers do not teach in ways that they can learn. It is important to me to help students realize that “one-size-fits-all” does not apply to learning. Their own individual learning preferences play a large part in their learning experiences, and a greater awareness of how they learn helps them optimize their learning, especially when they view a teacher’s teaching style as less than ideal.
I have discovered a strategy that assists me especially well in empowering my students with personal responsibility and accountability for their own learning outcomes. The strategy involves the identification of individual learning preferences through an online assessment—the DVC Learning Style Survey–that was written by Catherine Jester, Learning Disability Specialist for Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and adapted for the web by Suzanne Miller, Math and Multimedia Instructor. Although copyrighted, this online instrument is provided free of charge (URL below in Support Materials).
I have implemented this lesson as a 50-minute activity with Strategic Learning students. It can easily be adapted by any instructor to help students become more self-aware of their learning preferences, and in turn help them optimize their learning outcomes.
- To provide students with a tool to identify and explore their individual preference for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning
- To provide an opportunity for students to discover and share strategies that are compatible with their individual learning preferences and that will enhance their learning outcomes
- Handouts (sample copy appended in Support Materials below), one for each student, that provide the online DVC Learning Styles Inventory website link and a brief introduction to this assessment tool
- Access to computers and printers for each student to use during class, although the assessment could be assigned as homework to save class time
1. Introduce the concepts of “learning styles” and “teaching styles” to your students. Begin by posing this scenario to students: “Imagine that you are attending a party with a group of friends, and you are invited to play a board game with which you are not familiar. How do you go about learning to play?” Entertain responses as a large group and compare suggestions. Then pose the following scenario: “You are facing a major exam in Chemistry. You need to memorize a long list of formulas and steps in order to solve a number of chemical equations. How will you go about studying for this exam?” Again, entertain and compare responses as a large group. (5 min.)
2. Next, ask students to think of their favorite learning experience, either in high school or college. Have them share the impact the teacher had on that experience. What was his/her teaching style? Discuss the benefits of having a teacher who teaches in the manner in which you prefer to learn. Pose the question, “How do you go about learning when you don’t feel comfortable with a teacher’s particular teaching style?” Entertain discussion. Then ask, “Which is the best way to learn?” Encourage students to defend their answers. Pose the thought that perhaps there is no best way to learn, but simply a best way for each individual to optimize learning. (5 min.)
3. Discuss the idea that understanding one’s learning preference is a valuable insight when seeking success in college. Announce that you will share a valuable tool for the students in the form of a web link to an assessment called the DVC Learning Style Survey. Distribute the handouts with the website, and mention the basic premise behind taking the assessment. Direct the students to access the survey online and answer all 32 questions, going with their first, quick responses to the questions, rather than laboring over the choices. When they finish, instruct them to hit “submit” on their computers. A summary of their learning preference scores will appear on the screen, along with a list of suggested learning strategies that support learning according to these preferences. Instruct them to print their “results” page. (15 min.)
4. As individual students finish and print their results, ask them to share their outcomes with you. Begin to assign and seat students in five groups according to their learning preferences. Although individual numeric scores will vary, the possible categories for groups are 1) Visual/Verbal, 2) Visual/Nonverbal, 3) Tactile/Kinesthetic, 4) Auditory/Verbal, or 5) a combination of learning preferences. Encourage the students to begin comparing their results as soon as they have joined a group. When everyone has joined a group, direct them to begin discussing the learning strategies that are prescribed for them on their printouts. Have them identify which strategies they have tried before, and which ones they would like to try in the future. Ask them to share any strategies NOT on their results sheets that have worked well for them in the past. (15 min.)
5. Reconvene as a class to process the lessons learned. Ask for volunteers to identify their preferred learning style and share past success stories using one or more of the strategies recommended on their results sheet. Likewise, ask for volunteers to discuss new strategies that they intend to try and describe the context in which they will apply them. Conclude by inviting students to recognize and appreciate the variety of learning preferences in the room, and remind them that learning is a unique and individual experience—there is no “one-size-fits-all.”
Students are generally eager to share their ideas about the best way to go about learning a new game. Some express the need to read all the directions first. Others share how they usually depend on others who are familiar with a game to tell them how to play and guide them through. Still others confess to simply “diving right in to play,” and they learn by trial and error as the game progresses.
The “chemistry exam scenario” proves to be a little more challenging. Students typically generate popular techniques for studying, such as recitation and flash cards, but their responses are somewhat limited in scope.
The discussion livens up again when the students are invited to relay personal stories about positive learning experiences. It quickly becomes evident that their positive experiences are often associated with teachers who teach in ways in which they prefer to learn. It piques their interest when I suggest that it is possible to maximize their learning outcomes, even when teachers do not necessarily teach in the way they prefer to learn.
Taking the survey online is simple and relatively quick. The students like the straightforward manner in which the questions are posed, they appreciate the immediate feedback given on the prescriptive results sheet, and they also enjoy discovering which classmates share results that are similar to theirs.
Following the administration of the DVC survey and the subsequent group sharing, my students often report a heightened sense of awareness of their own learning preferences. Periodically throughout the semester, I ask if anyone has implemented any successful learning strategies that they would like to share.
One of my favorite outcomes happened to a student who discovered she is a Tactile/Kinesthetic learner. After our class on learning preferences, she began to take a more active approach with her studying tactics. For example, she reported walking about the house from room to room as she memorized literary terms. She put notes on the refrigerator as well as the bathroom mirror, and she felt that by doing so, she made the information “jump out of her notebook,” thus becoming more accessible to her.
Two other students discovered strong similarities in their learning preferences during this lesson. They formed an alliance as study-buddies, and they continued to work together even in subsequent semesters.
Another positive outcome of this lesson was the awareness it created of the diversity of learners in any given environment. A number of my students have shared that this lesson helped them develop a greater respect for the different, but equally effective, learning preferences and strategies of others.
Importantly, a number of students have agreed that participating in this lesson instilled a newfound confidence that they could “survive” with teachers whom they didn’t especially enjoy at first. They discovered that they did, in fact, have control over their own learning experiences, and they were eager to expand their repertoire of resources using the printout of recommended strategies that the DVC Learning Style Survey provided them.
Every time I facilitate this lesson, I am reminded about the reinforcement and validation that students can gain through sharing in small groups. Students are generally eager to talk about their learning experience outcomes and personal learning strategies using their results sheets as a springboard.
Also, this activity reminds me of the importance of designing active and engaging lessons that will appeal to all the “learner-types” in my classes.
1. Handout for Students to Access the DVC Survey
Access the DVC Learning Style Survey HERE.
This assessment is designed to help you become a more successful student. The Learning Style Survey will help you identify your preferred learning style. You will also have access to a variety of learning strategies that will help you study in a productive manner—a manner that matches your unique learning style.
–Gail Janecka, Counselor & Instructor, Strategic Learning, The Victoria College, TX