ERIC Identifier: ED301143
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Claxton, Charles S. - Murrell, Patricia H.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.
Learning Styles. ERIC Digest.
Teaching and learning practices in higher education urgently need
improvement--witness the recommendations of several national commissions on
higher education and the difficulties faculty face with the diverse preparation
of today's students. Learning style is a concept that can be important in this
movement, not only in informing teaching practices but also in bringing to the
surface issues that help faculty and administrators think more deeply about
their roles and the organizational culture in which they carry out their
Learning style has been the focus of considerable study, and a number of
colleges and universities have made it an important part of their work. The many
approaches to learning style can be examined at four levels: (1) personality,
(2) information processing, (3) social interaction, and (4) instructional
methods. One researcher, however, speculates that several models in fact
describe correlates of two fundamental orientations in learning: "splitters,"
who tend to analyze information logically and break it down into smaller parts,
and "lumpers," who tend to watch for patterns and relationships between the
parts (Kirby 1979).
LEARNING STYLE USEFUL IN IMPROVING STUDENTS'
Information about style can help faculty become more sensitive to
the differences students bring to the classroom. It can also serve as a guide in
designing learning experiences that match or mismatch students' styles,
depending on the teacher's purpose. Matching is particularly appropriate in
working with poorly prepared students and with new college students, as the most
attrition occurs in those situations. Some studies show that identifying a
student's style and then providing instruction consistent with that style
contribute to more effective learning.
In other instances, some mismatching may be appropriate so that students'
experiences help them to learn in new ways and to bring into play ways of
thinking and aspects of the self not previously developed. Any mismatching,
however, should be done with sensitivity and consideration for students, because
the experience of discontinuity can be very threatening, particularly when
students are weak in these areas. Knowledge of learning style can thus help
faculty design experiences appropriate for students in terms of matching or
mismatching and enable them to do so thoughtfully and systematically.
OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
Information about learning style is
extremely helpful in student affairs. In counseling, for example, style may
suggest which approaches to counseling to use for particular students. Further,
when students have problems in courses, it can guide counselors' efforts at
intervention. In orientation, it can help students understand their own
preferences and strengths in learning and be a stimulus for developing new ways
Learning style is useful in the work setting as well. It enables
administrative leaders to be more insightful about using staff members in ways
that call on their greatest strengths--a particularly important feature in the
future as colleges and universities focus more on individuals' ability to
perform tasks than on where they are in the organizational hierarchy. At the
same time, the use of information about learning styles reminds us that an
institution that is seriously interested in the development of students as a
purpose needs to embrace such a concept for faculty and administrators as well.
ADDITIONAL RESEARCH NEEDED
The most pressing need is to
learn more about the learning styles of minority students--a particularly
important subject in the face of participation and graduation rates that
indicate higher education is not serving black students well. Changing
demographics portend an even more diverse student body in the future, with
increasing numbers of Hispanics and other ethnic groups. Instruments that take
cultural differences into account need to be developed.
Second, research is needed to clarify how much difference it makes if
teaching methods are incongruent with a student's style. Studies that speak to
the role and potency of style, seen in conjunction with other important
variables, would help teachers significantly. The development of better
instrumentation to identify styles should be a key part of such research.
Third, research is needed to illuminate the connections and interaction
between style, developmental stage, disciplinary perspectives, and epistemology.
A better understanding of the link between them would provide a helpful
framework for examining teaching methodologies, the role of learning in
individual development, and the use of the disciplines to promote more complex
and integrative thinking
STEPS TO PROMOTE MORE EFFECTIVE LEARNING
professional development activities on the use of learning style in improving
teaching and student development functions.
Professional development should go beyond traditional practices like
sabbaticals and travel to professional meetings, as important as they are.
Workshops, the use of minigrants for instructional improvement projects,
seminars, and other functions can be very useful in helping the participants
understand the importance of style.
2. Promote the concept of classroom research and make data about learning
style an integral part of it.
Classroom research is an important strategy in achieving a greater balance in
the way many institutions prize research and undervalue teaching, and the
definition of research should be broadened to include not only research in the
specialized disciplines but also in teaching-learning processes related to
teaching in the disciplines (Cross 1987). Information about style, when linked
with other data about students, holds great promise for helping faculty members
to improve their teaching. The collection and use of such data, done formally or
informally, can also contribute to a continuing dialogue among faculty and
administrators as they learn from each other about teaching and learning.
3. Establish curricular experiences that focus on helping students learn how
Orientation activities or a credit course called "An Introduction to College"
can be geared toward helping students gain a greater understanding of how
learning occurs and their responsibility in the process. Inventories of learning
style and other processes can be used to help make students aware of their own
preferences and strengths. Attention should also be given to helping them
develop strategies for succeeding in courses taught in ways that are incongruent
with their primary learning abilities.
4. In hiring new faculty members, take into account candidates' understanding
of teaching-learning practices that recognize individual differences, including
In the next 10 to 20 years, colleges and universities will hire thousands of
new faculty members. In the past, the Ph.D., with its emphasis on specialized
study in the discipline and its predominant orientation to research, was taken
as the necessary credential for teaching, but today, with an increasingly
diverse student body and research that clearly identifies the elements of
effective college teaching (Cross 1987), administrators are coming to a greater
realization that faculty preparation should include other areas of knowledge as
well. Research in student development, learning theory, and ways to use the
creative tension between content and process are all important prerequisites for
effective teaching. Administrators have the opportunity to make a major
contribution to improved learning by hiring faculty who have such preparation.
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Belenky, M.F.; Clinchy, B.M.; Goldberger, N.R.; and Tarule, J.M. 1968.
Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. New York:
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Katz, Joseph, and Henry, Mildred. Forthcoming. Turning Professors into
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National Center for Research in Vocational Education. ED 186 685. 123 pp.
Kolb, David A. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of
Learning and Development. New York: Prentice-Hall.
Murrell, Patricia H., and Claxton, Charles S. 1987. "Experiential Learning
Theory as a Guide for Effective Teaching." Journal of the Association for
Counselor Education and Supervision 27: 4-14.
Palmer, Parker J. September/October 1987. "Community, Conflict, and Ways of
Knowing." Change: 20-25.
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Witkin, Herman A. 1976. "Cognitive Style in Academic Performance and in
Teacher-Student Relations." In Individuality in Learning, edited by Samual
Messick & associates. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. NOTE: This ERIC Digest is
a summary of Learning Styles: Implications for Improving Educational Practices
by the same authors (ERIC ED 293 478).