Capitalizing on Your Education: Know Your Style

Kinesthetic. Visual. Audio. Those three words, these learning styles, categorized us in grade school. They shaped the way we learned, and the ways our teachers taught. The idea of learning styles has been around for decades. “For more than 30 years,” says the Association for Psychological Science, “the notion that teaching methods should match a student’s particular learning style has exerted a powerful influence on education.” As its influence has grown, so has the study of it. Ryan R. Jensen of our Geography department has researched the learning styles of student swithin different majors and learning environments. He identified three new learning styles that describe students working on group projects. And in a 2012 study published in the Asia Pacific Media Educator, he identified four types of communications learners:

jensen-ryan
Ryan Jensen, All Rights Reserved

Four types of Communications Learners

Global Conceptualizers care about the big picture, the “why” behind lists of facts and details. Concepts are easier to understand than memorized facts, and being sensible is better than being imaginative. These students remember what they see better than what they hear. They are globally, realistically, and sequentially (when it comes to writing) oriented. Global conceptualizers prefer classes dedicated to theory and concepts.

Verbal Learners gravitate to text rather than graphs and charts. They do not like theory-oriented courses. Surprisingly, they do not like reading for fun. Verbal learners do not like proofreading their own work because they are not detail-oriented. They remember things better when they experience them, rather than when they think about them. These students express their opinions boldly in group settings.

Realistic Visualizers see themselves as highly realistic and detail-oriented. These students prefer graphs and charts to obtain information. They understand the overall structures of subjects at the same level that they do their details. When these students remember or recall something, they can picture it in their minds. They learn better by talking things out with other students. Group work is their favorite when they can make a plan for the project. These student rarely get to know their classmates.

Ambiguous Conceptualizers feel most comfortable learning concepts and theory. Remembering what the teacher said is easier for them than recalling visual aids. Reading is their past-time. They love to share their thoughts in group collaboration and dive into projects without planning. These students can remember things that they have thought about easier than things they have done. These students like to master one concept before learning more.

How does this apply to you?

“In recommending a deeper understanding of learning styles,” says Jensen, “we do [not] propose a hyper-individualized approach in which each student is given a unique curriculum to match his or her specific style. But friction may be destructive when existing…thinking and learning learning skills are not called upon and developed. One example of destructive friction is the tendency instructors frequently have to take over as many learning and thinking activities as possible. Knowledge remains inert; that is to say students may learn many facts, formulas and theories but are unable to apply them to new problems.” Jensen suggests that teachers use their knowledge of learning styles to help students “gain satisfaction form learning and thus develop lifelong skills by better understanding their own learning processes and preferences.” It thus behooves students of all majors as well to gain that understanding to further capitalize on their education.

Do your instructors teach to your learning style?

Students: What Kind of Learner Are You?

What runs through your mind when you’re assigned a group project? For some, it’s excitement at the opportunity to cooperate, collaborate and learn with peers. For others, it’s viewed as a chance to slack off and get a good grade while their fellows shoulder the load. And still some don’t even register the difference–group project or individual, they’re going to do all the work anyway. How we respond to group projects is one indicator of what kind of learner we are. As sociologists have noted for decades, different students learn in different ways, and because these different learners are lumped into the same classes, not all teaching is optimal for all students. Researchers have worked at solving this age-old educational quandary for some time, and one of the latest to make headway is Ryan Jensen, chair of BYU’s Department of Geography.

Using what he’s termed “the Q-method,” Jensen (along with two other researchers) distinguishes between three different kinds of learners:

The Lone Pragmatist: Lone pragmatists don’t like group projects; in fact, they “prefer not to be involved in cooperative or group learning” of any kind, according to Jensen’s findings. They’re neither outgoing nor social with other students in their class, and they’re proactive and realistic in their approach to classwork. The lone pragmatist thrives when information is provided in a clear rather than abstract manner, and do well in an “I teach, you listen” classroom atmosphere.

The Explorer: Group projects are a bit more tolerable to the explorers, who, according to Jensen, “learn better when talking about new material with other students.” However, they’re still somewhat ambivalent about immersive group study. Explorers are visual learners, and appreciate learning in terms of concepts and theories (as long as the theories aren’t too abstract). They value sensibility over imagination, and exploring multiple ways to learn new things.

The Synergist: If you’re a synergist, you prefer to have things written down, not in maps in pictures, but in words. Synergists tend toward verbal learning over visual, and see themselves as detail-oriented. They’re also the most likely to be enthusiastic about a group project, perhaps because they “enjoy brainstorming as part of the group learning process.” Synergists try to make connections between their learning and the bigger picture; in this way, they better understand the details of why they learn what they learn.

Of course, no student falls completely into one of the above categories–each learner is individual, and grouping students into three pre-labeled factions instead of one would do little to personalize education. But in a 2013 study, Jensen provided some suggestions for how teachers could optimize their education to assist as many different learning styles as possible.

Ryan Jensen, Copyright BYU PHOTO 2007 All Rights Reserved (801) 422-7322 photo@byu.edu
Ryan Jensen, Copyright BYU PHOTO 2007
All Rights Reserved

“We propose adopting a balanced approach in which teachers create course plans to address the variety of learning styles present in their class,” Jensen says. One potential suggestion would be “moving from teacher regulation to student regulation in what [researchers] refer to as process learning,” or in other words, giving the students more leeway in deciding what projects would help them learn best. This and other optimizations allow greater chances for individualized learning; according to Jensen, this means that “instructors can think of using learning styles as a way of helping students gain satisfaction from learning and thus develop life-long skills by better understanding their own learning processes and preferences.”