Published: 11th December 2019
What is your learning style: An exploration of how we absorb information
Rahul R Lexman is an Assistant Professor from XIME, Kochi. He co-authored the article with first-year PGDM students Shameem Cina Thomas, Pradyumna P and Harshil Doshi
Would you like to read a book or listen to someone speak about the book? Answers to such questions are primarily based out of the fact that each of us are unique and we all have our own tricks and hacks to understand things the way we want to. These individual unique preferences are what led to the evolution of the concept of ‘Learning Styles’. An individual’s learning style refers to the preferential way in which he/she absorbs processes, comprehends and retains information.
The notion of individualised learning styles has gained widespread recognition in education theory. The concept of learning styles in not a new idea. The concept could be traced back to 334 BC, where Aristotle once said that “each child possessed specific talents and skills”, where he noticed individual differences in young children. Learning style can be described as a set of factors, behaviours, and attitudes that facilitate learning for an individual in a given situation. We all experience the world in unique ways and with that comes variations in the ways we learn to listen, absorb, assimilate and disseminate information.
But do we all learn things the same way? That doesn’t seem to be the case. Scholars and researchers have done intensive work on the area of learning style preferences of human beings and have come up with models that classify them into varied categories of learning styles. Most popular among these styles are the VAK, Kolb, 4MAT, Felder-Silverman, Gregorc, and HBDI.
The Visual Auditory Kinesthetic (VAK) learning style model provides simple ways to explain and understand the learning style of a learner. The VAK learning style uses the three main sensory receivers (vision, auditory and kinesthetic) to determine a person's dominant or preferred learning style. No one has exclusively one single style or preference. Learners use all three methods to receive information. However, one or more of these receiving styles is normally dominant. This preferred style defines the best way for a person to learn new information by determining what is to be learned. This style does not remain same for all tasks.
According to the VAK model, most people possess a dominant or preferred learning style. However, some people have a mixed and evenly balanced blend of the three styles. Additionally, a learner may prefer one style of learning for one task and a combination of others for another task. While the VAK learning style categories focus only on the external aspects of learning, the Kolb's learning style includes aspects of Perception and Processing into the analysis. According to the model, a Kolb learner perceives and processes information in the continuum from concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.
Kolb's learning theory sets out four distinct learning styles which are based on a four-stage learning cycle. Learning styles can be viewed on a continuum across 2 dimensions based on how people perceive information (Concrete v/s Abstract) and process information (Active v/s Reflective).
Kolb believes that as we learn something we go through a learning cycle. That cycle begins with a concrete situation that we experience. He believes we then reflect on this experience and what it means. After we reflect on the experience, we then begin to understand what is to be learned from the experience. He also suggests that we then attempt to apply what we learned by creating an experiment.
According to the 4MAT system, there are four major learning styles, each of which display different strengths during the learning process. While all people must engage in all models of learning, most people seem to favor one particular type. The 4MAT model is constructed along 2 continuums: ‘Perceiving’ and ‘Processing’.
Another learning style model popular for understanding the learning styles of engineering students is the Felder-Silverman Model. Felder-Silverman developed their learning style model for 2 reasons – ‘to capture the learning style difference among engineering students, second to provide a good foundation for engineering instructors to design a teaching approach that would address the learning needs of all students’.
Gregorc Model is yet another learning style model, wherein Gregorc focused his research on measuring how learners perceive and order new information. His model describes four cognitive styles for perceiving, processing and ordering information. Gregorc designed a style as a set of displayed behavior that identifies an individual's underlying mental strengths and abilities. By knowing your style, you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. The Gregorc mind styles model depicts two continuums for ‘how individuals prefer to perceive’ and ‘how they order new information’.
The HBDI model (Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument) divides the brain into four different systems with four preferred styles. This model emphasizes the fact that there are four parts of the brain where ‘dominance’ exists.