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Teaching and learning styles
are the behaviors or actions that teachers and learners exhibit in the learning
exchange. Teaching behaviors reflect the beliefs and values that teachers hold
about the learner's role in the exchange (Heimlich and Norland 2002). Learners'
behaviors provide insight into the ways learners perceive, interact with, and
respond to the environment in which learning occurs (Ladd and Ruby 1999). Over
the years, questions about the congruence of teaching and learning styles and
the potential for flexibility in their use have surfaced: Do the teaching styles
of teachers match students' learning styles? Can individuals learn effectively
when instructional delivery does not match their preferred learning style? Can
teaching and learning styles be adapted or modified? These and similar questions
are explored in this Myths and Realities.
Teachers Teach the Way They've Been Taught or Learn Best?
"Research supports the concept
that most teachers teach the way they learn" (Stitt-Gohdes 2001, p. 136). Since
a great many teachers have experienced academic success in learning environments
that were instructor centered and relied heavily on lecture, it is understandable
that their preferred style of teaching, at least initially, would be to repeat
"what worked with them." Typically these teachers are field independent, that
is, they are more content oriented and prefer to use more formal teaching methods,
favoring less student involvement and more structured class activities (Hayes
and Allinson 1997; Pithers 2001). This style works especially well for field-dependent
students who want to be told what they should learn and given the resources
to acquire the specified body of knowledge or skills. This may be why most training
is provided through instructor-led classrooms in the corporate environment (Caudron
2000). This strategy can be effective when employees are highly motivated to
learn specific content that is relevant to their careers. However, instructor-centered
training is not as effective when training involves contextthe "physical,
emotional, and intellectual environment that surrounds an experience and gives
it meaning" (ibid., p. 55).
One reason instructors are
led to teach the way they learn is that they are not skilled in adult learning
theory. This is especially true for trainers who have little education about
and understanding of adult learning principles. Classroom teachers who are skilled
in adult learning principles and have experience with theories about student-centered
learning and constructivism are more likely to adopt student-centered instruction
(Stitt-Gohdes, Crews, and McCannon 1999), even if it is not the way they learned
or prefer to learn. These teachers have broad views of how teaching can occur
and strong beliefs about the need to engage learners in the learning process.
They are aware of the changing demographics of classrooms and the influence
of technology on students' ways of learning (Glenn 2000; Stitt-Gohdes 2003).
They are more likely to substitute self-directed learning opportunities and
interactive learning environments for the traditional lecture and make use of
"varied resources to create personally meaningful educational experiences" (Glenn
2000, p. 14).
the Best Learning Outcomes Occur
Teaching Style Matches Learning Style?
Much research supports the
view that when students' learning preferences match their instructor's teaching
styles, student motivation and achievement usually improve (Miller 2001; Stitt-Gohdes
2003). However, many of these studies look at the achievements of high school
students, not adult learners. Other studies show that matching teaching and
learning styles is not an effective determinant of the best arrangement for
adult basic skill learners, primarily because learning style may differ according
to age and situational factors such as the type of class or subject being studied
(Spoon and Shell 1998).
Hayes and Allinson (1997)
found that the matching of teaching/learning styles is more beneficial to vocational
students who are field independent--those who prefer more autonomy and less
personal interaction, and that mismatching is more beneficial for field-dependent
studentsthose who prefer more guidance and structure. "This may be because
field-dependent students benefit from the structure that field-independent teachers
typically provide" (Hayes and Allinson 1997, p. 185). However, because most
vocational classes are composed of students who have different style preferences,
teachers need to adopt a flexible approach to their instructional practice so
that their ultimate approach is integrated (Nuckles 2000; Pithers 2001). David
Kolb, who is credited with initiating the learning style movement, notes that
"it is more effective to design curriculum so that there is some way for learners
of every learning style to engage with the topic, so that every type of learner
has an initial way to connect with the material, and then begin to stretch his
or her learning capability in other learning modes" (Delahoussaye 2002, p. 31).
an Individual's Approach to Learning Be Modified?
Because learning is an ongoing
process, occurring over the span of one's lifetime and delivered by a variety
of instructors with a variety of teaching styles in a variety of situations,
learners need to be able to adjust their cognitive styles. They need to become
better all-around learners by "investing extra effort in underdeveloped or underutilized
styles" (Delahoussaye 2002, p. 31). Pithers (2002) reports on studies by Rush
and Moore that explore the feasibility of promoting learner adaptability through
training. These researchers discovered that students whose cognitive styles
were more field dependent were able to change the strength of their style through
training, which suggests that cognitive style may be a flexible construct and
malleable over the long term. These views were also noted by Hayes and Allinson
(1997), who contend that "exposing learners to learning activities that are
mismatched with their preferred learning style will help them develop the learning
competencies necessary to cope with situations involving a range of different
learning requirements" (p. 3).
a Teacher's Approach to Teaching Be Modified?
"How educators select their
teaching strategies and implement techniques is a function of their beliefs
and values regarding the methods and can be modified to fit within the unique
belief system of the educator. The manner in which any method, whether lecture
or game, discovery-based learning or discussion is used within a learning event
is the choice of the educator and should be a reflection of his or her philosophy"
(Heimlich and Norland 2002, p. 20). Thus, before teachers can attempt to develop
more flexible teaching styles, they must be receptive to the idea of change,
beginning with a change in their beliefs about the students' role in the learning
Being student centered engages
teachers in a humanistic approach to education in which they function as facilitators
of learning (Nuckles 2000). Teachers who desire to be more student centered
must be aware of the kinds of learning experiences that students most value,
as these may differ depending on the learners' particular stages of development,
age, and gender (Spoon and Schell 1998). In studying a group of international
students in a business administration program, Ladd and Ruby (1999) found that
of primary interest to students was establishing warm personal relationships
with their instructors. Their preferred style of learning was to have direct
contact with materials, topics, or situations being studied. Knowing this type
of information can help instructors develop course structures that provide a
better fit between instructional goals and students' learning style preferences
Pratt (2002) presents five
perspectives on teaching and urges teachers to use these perspectives to identify,
articulate, and justify their teaching approaches rather than simply adopting
one practice or another.
Teachers focus on content and determine what students should learn and how
they should learn it. Feedback is directed to students' errors.
Teachers value students' prior knowledge and direct student learning to the
development of increasingly complex ways of reasoning and problem solving.
Teachers provide students with authentic tasks in real work settings.
Teachers focus on the interpersonal elements of student learning-listening,
getting to know students, and responding to students' emotional and intellectual
- Social Reform:
Teachers tend to relate ideas explicitly to the lives of the students.
"Most teachers have
only one or two perspectives as their dominant view of teaching
similar actions, intentions, and even beliefs can be found in more than one
perspective" (Pratt 2002, p. 6). Proficient student-centered teachers are able
to use a variety of styles so that their ultimate style is integrated.
Research has shown the uniqueness
of different teaching and learning styles and identified the characteristics
associated with each style. Although there are benefits to the matching of teaching
style and learning style, it appears that this alone does not guarantee greater
learner achievement. Age, educational level, and motivation influence each student's
learning so that what was once preferred may no longer be the student's current
preferred learning style. Teachers need to examine their belief structure regarding
education and engage in an "ongoing process of diagnosis, with self and with
learners, including observation, questioning, obtaining evaluative feedback,
and critical reflection" (Nuckles 2000, p. 6). "Each teacher is unique and can
use his or her style to be as effective an educator as possible" (Heimlich and
Norland 2002, p. 23).
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Out. What Actual Learners Actually Think of Actual Training. Training
and Development 54, no. 4 (April 2000): 52-57.
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Net Generation." Business Education Forum 54, no.
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Hayes, J., and Allinson,
C. W. "Learning Styles and Training and Development in Work Settings: Lessons
from Educational Research." Educational Psychology
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Ladd, P., and Ruby, R.,
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Miller, P. "Learning Styles:
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Nuckles, C. R. "Student-Centered
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9, no. 2 (November 2001): 47-60.
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One Size Fits All?" New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education
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J. W. "Aligning Student Learning Styles with Instructor Teaching Styles." Journal
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Education Students' Preferred Learning Styles and Their Teachers' Preferred
Instructional Styles: Do They Match?" Delta Pi Epsilon Journal
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Teachers and Their Students: Do Their Instructional and Learning Preferences
Match?" Business Education Forum 57, no. 4 (April
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T. B.; and McCannon, M. "Business Teachers' Learning and Instructional Styles."
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