The term "learning styles" refers to the way people take in and process information. Learning styles Inventories are not personality tests. Their purpose is to show people how they see the world. And we all see the world differently.
According to Anthony Gregorc, creator of the Gregorc Learning Styles Inventory, there are four "mind qualities". People fall, on a continuum, between being concrete (using their senses, being hands-on, enjoying the physical world) or being abstract (prefer doing things in their heads). He identifies a second continuum as well. Sequential people like doing activities step-by-step. They believe there's a place for everything, and everything should be in its place. On the other extreme, random people like change. They like to move things around. They have a high tolerance for ambiguity.
In his Inventory, Gregorc combines these two continuums to create four possible learning styles:
Each of the four types has natural abilities, characteristics that define them as learners and characteristics that define them as teachers.
Knowing their learning styles can help students better understand each other. If students are not communicating well with each other, it could be that they have very different learning styles.
Once students have identified their learning styles and recognize that people process information differently, they may become more tolerant of these differences. For example, when they're in a group situation and they're struggling with someone who has a different learning style — especially one that's quite different than theirs — they're going to need to "bend and stretch" in order for the outcome to be successful. If this "bending and stretching" doesn't occur, they could end up being upset with the interaction.
For some specific suggestions on how to incorporate learning styles into your classes, click on the "Words of Wisdom" link.
- Dunn, R. & Dunn, K. (1978). Teaching Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles. Reston, VA: Reston Publishing Company, Inc.
- Gregorc, A. (1985). Inside Styles: Beyond the Basics. Columbia, CT: Gregorc Associates.
- Honey, P. & Mumbord, A. (1982). Manual of Learning Styles. London: P. Honey
- Peng, Lim Lum. Learning Styles. Oct (2002). Vol. 5 No. 7. Applying Learning Styles in Instructional Strategies.
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Words of Wisdom
As instructors, it's helpful to know that your students have different learning styles. For instance, when you're teaching:
- Some students will always raise their hands. Others will need more time to reflect before they answer.
- In order to get abstract random students to answer questions, it helps if you ask them "feeling" questions. (e.g., "How do you feel about this?")
- Some students will work well in groups, others will hate working in groups.
- Some students will follow you around and drive you crazy wanting to know "is this right?" They need external validation. Other students never check with you, and they should!
- Some students like authoritarian personalities — others bristle.
- Some students don't mind showing their work to others, others are much more private.
Using a variety of teaching methods, activities, and assessment methods will help to accommodate the different learning styles of your students.