Learning styles – then and now

My preferred learning style is to think of some proposition, throw it into the air, and see where it lands. Often this can be a somewhat dogmatic statement, which is discussed, attacked, defended, restructured and held, changed and then, usually, dumped. During the course of this conversation, I learn so much from people, about perspectives, about perceptions, about logic, about things, facts, new knowledge, new ideas, and for me, this is a very valuable learning technique.

Unfortunately, this is also a large turnoff for a lot of people, and I do not understand why really. They often see me as a pugnacious recalcitrant rather than a dedicated learner. While I find this somewhat disappointing, the bottom line is, for me, I can never stop learning. They hear me talking all the time, but they do not hear me listening, and that is a little difficult to accept at times. I do not always get it right, btw, but the bottom line is still that I am open to their instruction. My teachers are the people I am interacting with and these days, I am interacting mostly with 13-18 year olds – and I am learning so much.

To translate this kind of learning style, which can be a contentious model, into classroom practice is incredibly difficult – and not desirable. Most modern students face to face interaction skills seem to be much lower than they were. I am not being unkind here, but my definition of social interaction is face to face, not necessarily over a keyboard, an SMS or mobile phone. This lack of social skill could lead to increased levels of friction, a risky thing with adolescents experimenting with their adulthood and lacking secure ego. It is, however, their learning style that needs be catered to, not mine.

I am certain that with a small amount of instruction, and some additional language support, most modern students would be able to articulate in a blog, for instance, things that they are unable to express face to face. I have seen students who are otherwise not engaged join in wikis, blogs, responding seriously to questions they may otherwise not have even read.

I find, like most teachers, when tasks are interesting, students respond positively, so the issue appears to be what does a student find interesting? First, I might suggest that it needs to be electronic based. The days of pens, paper and books are done, and we are really just kidding ourselves if we think that we can bring them back. I have some wonderful ideas on essays describing the fall of the Roman Empire, or the rise of the Ultra-Nationalists in Japan, or the main sequence of stars, but none of these are of much interest to students.

Susan Greenfield is suggesting that students’ brains are rewiring to suit a different paradigm, one that has a far more visual component than previous generations considered. Yet adults do not seem to be listening to them. The National Curriculum has a strong content component, but does it embrace the needs of a learning style that is far more commonplace than it has ever been? One that is not “traditional” one very different than the one the authors of the curriculum documents are not au fait with?

Increasingly, I am seeing students who are smart kids, quite capable of securing reasonable grades, but are failing. It is easy to dismiss this as laziness, or distraction, or disengaged, but is it really? Are we not really just ignoring what the kids need and trying to get them to achieve in a medium that we understand best, but is increasingly alien to them?

There was an article in the local tabloid about how kids are turning off reading in favour of visual experience. Television, computer games, computers themselves, the Wii, the X-Box and so on, are all preferred mediums, rather than the written word. Amazon is now selling more e-books than paperbacks and hardbacks combined, my local newsagent is returning more unsold magazines then they used to, and my guess is that online subscriptions are actually rising faster than sales.

So is reading in decline? Or is the preferred medium of reading changing? I suspect the latter, because the preferred learning style is more visual. It is also cheaper. If this is the case, then why can we not change and use kindles and kobos, laptops and netbooks as the “book” interface, rather than paper?

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About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to me more than "just" a teacher.
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