Part A – Literature review analysing theories and principles of learning.
A student’s individual learning style is their normal reaction to information or experiences. For example, Keefe (1979) defines learning styles as the "composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment.", or more succinctly, Stewart and Felicetti (1992) define learning styles as those "educational conditions under which a student is most likely to learn.", as quoted in Clark (2004).
The concept of learning styles is well publicised, but there is little agreement on how they should be measured. Coffield, et. al. (2004) argue that much more significance should be placed on matching the presentation of the topic with the nature of the subject, such as providing appropriate learning method, strategies and content, even though it is important to recognise that learners do have differing learning styles. A view supported by Marzano (1998), who found that physical and visual demonstration of the topic had noticeable effects on learning outcomes, regardless of any attempt to target students’ learning styles. Merrill (2000) also promoted the idea that teaching strategies be determined in the first instance by the nature of the content or the goals of the course, and only then to focus on the preferences or learning styles of the students, which can then be used to streamline the strategy. Merrill also suggested that the students themselves are not only ignorant of their learning styles, but are also unlikely to adapt to learning in different ways. Coffield (2004) also concluded that students can increase their self-awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses by becoming knowledgeable about their personal learning styles
Despite the criticisms of Coffield and others of modern theories relating to learning styles, they remain popular today and have many followers, but it is perhaps more appropriate to consider learning styles as ‘preferences’, as learners do not necessarily learn best by using only one style of learning, more that they have a preference for one style over another, as ultimately it is the nature of the teaching that will have the most impact. Exploring emerging technologies will provide useful support for diverse styles (Appendix 4.1)
According to Kolb (1984), in his “Experiential Learning Model”, knowledge results from taking experiences and moulding them, and concluded that learning; • is seen as a process, not in terms of outcomes,
• is a continuous process based on experience,
• Involves a learner’s interaction with their surroundings,
Kolb's theory promotes a continual ‘learning cycle’, called the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) ranging from concrete experience (feeling), reflective observation (watching), abstract conceptualisation (thinking) and active experimentation (doing). Limitations to this theory include the assumptions that learners are able to observe and reflect on experiences, whereas they may not be fully capable of devoting either the time or mental capacity to such activities. Further, the model suggests a four stage cycle, which prescribes a different ability on the part of the learner, yet individuals may find it easier to theorise than to explore practical applications of their experiences. The theory does not fully allow for individuals to discover their own strengths and weaknesses, as advocated by Coffield, and they may need support in some or all aspects of the learning cycle. Greenway (2004) also highlighted a number of shortcomings of the model in that experiential learning does not apply to all situations, and only a limited number of factors influence learning, taking little account of psychodynamic, social and institutional aspects of learning.