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Professors - Learning Styles Your Students May Exhibit

Meggin McIntosh

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Over the past several decades, a number of researchers have theorized that students vary significantly in how they process new and difficult information, and that each has a distinct, definable learning style. While much of that research has focused on children, several models are viewed, by many, as applicable to the learning styles of college students. Controversial to some academicians, learning styles research seems to hold genuine potential for empowering students to manage their own learning and increase the quality of their mental engagement with difficult material. It would follow, therefore, that implementation of learning styles awareness within the critical mass of an institution's students might well contribute to improved long-term mastery of material, improved retention of students in programs, and enhanced graduation rates.

One model of learning styles that focused on adult learners was originally developed by David A. Kolb. Identifying four learning dimensions - concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation - this model yields four types of learning behavior.

  • Type I learners are “hands-on, " rely on intuition rather than logic, and enjoy applying learning to real life situations.
  • Type II learners prefer to look at issues from many points of view, create categories for information, and use imagination and personal sensitivity when learning.
  • Type III learners enjoy solving problems, technical tasks, and finding practical solutions, but shy away from interpersonal issues.
  • Type IV learners are concise and logical, and thrive on abstract ideas and logical explanations.

This model has since been modified by Anthony F. Gregorc into a model that focuses on random (top down look at the whole task) and sequential (bottom-up, one step at a time) processing of information to yield four style types:

  • Concrete Sequential,
  • Abstract Sequential,
  • Abstract Random, and
  • Concrete Random.

Richard Felder's model focuses on five factors:

  1. how students prefer to perceive information, i. e. by sensory or intuitive means;
  2. through which channel individuals perceive information most effectively, i. e. visual or auditory;
  3. how students organize information most comfortably, i. e.inductively or deductively;
  4. how students prefer to process information, i. e. actively or reflectively; and
  5. how students progress toward understanding of concepts, i. e. sequentially or holistically.

Arguably the most comprehensive and most controversial model of learning styles was promulgated initially in 1971 by Rita and Kenneth Dunn, who have since continued to research and refine their ideas. This model postulates that a student's ability to learn and retain difficult information is a function of twenty factors, which are grouped into five categories.

  1. Physiological factors include light, background sound, temperature and the degree of formality in the design of the learning environment.
  2. Emotional factors include motivation to learn, persistence, responsibility, and structure.
  3. Sociological factors include learning by ones-self, in a pair, with peers, as a member of a team, under the direction of an authority figure, or through varied methods.
  4. Physiological factors include perceptual modality (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile), intake of food and drink during learning, time of day, and mobility while learning.
  5. Psychological factors are global versus analytic processors (similar to the random versus sequential Gregorc factors), and impulsive/reflective.

The Dunn and Dunn Model employs an assessment instrument that yields a continuum score on each factor for each learner. For any given learner, only six to twelve of the factors have a significant impact on their learning style, while other factors might be significant for the student sitting in the adjacent chair. The model states that by informing students of their individual strengths, and attaining awareness, sensitivity and support from the professor, the learning environment can be manipulated so that each student's mental engagement and retention are maximized.

With the increasing diversity of students, Multiple Intelligences, and individual learning styles in mind, remember that each student in front of you is in many ways unique. While some traditionalists would leave adaptation totally up to students, most of those promoting accountability believe the maturity and wisdom of professors makes them the most capable flexors in this teaching and learning arrangement.

While it is useful to make yourself aware of the wide variety of issues that have an impact on students today, there is risk in ever assuming you have heard or seen enough. Get to know each one of your students as well as you can, by first greeting each one at the first class meeting, reviewing their completed Student Profile, and holding a “voluntary-mandatory office visit. " Throughout the term, build an on-going dialogue with individual students that will enhance your insights and foster students’ willingness to approach you. You will usually experience markedly improved motivation, attention levels and willingness to listen to your perspective.

And isn't that why you're a professor, so that students will learn and be excited about that learning?

You can learn much more about teaching all the different kinds of students who are in today's college classroom by reading the book *Teaching College in an Age of Accountability* (Allyn & Bacon). The book was written by Richard Lyons & Meggin McIntosh (the author of this article).

To learn more ideas that you can use as a faculty member, be sure to check out and

(c) 2008 by Meggin McIntosh, Ph. D. , “The Ph. D. of Productivity"(tm). Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc. , Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do. Sound interesting? It is!


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