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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Supporting Different Learning Styles Through Virtual Schooling

Once again my inspiration (or at least tracking) comes from Darren at Teaching and Developing Online. This time he posted an article on Supporting Different Learning Styles. The article that caught his attention was written by Steven R. Terrell of Nova Southeastern University with the full title, Supporting Different Learning Styles in an Online Learning Environment: Does it Really Matter in the Long Run?".

In this article, (using David Kolb's theory of experiential learning) Terrell found that "the majority of students (167 or 77.3%) fell into either the Converger or the Assimilator category; of these, 37.1% (i.e., 62) graduated. Of the 49 students falling into the Diverger or Accommodator categories, 20 (i.e., 40.8%) graduated." Th participants in Terrell's study were doctoral student.

This is actually quite interesting... In my own work with secondary school students in a virtual high school environment, a colleague and I have found that in two social science class that student who held the Coverger or the Assimilator or a fairly even score for all four styles tended to do better in the course (in terms of their final course score) than students who were Divergers or Accommodators.

In case you were wondering, here is a quick description of each of the four types:

The Accommodative Learning Style - you have the ability to learn primarily from hands-on experience. You probably enjoy carrying out plans and involving yourself in new and challenging experiences. Your tendency may be to act on intuition and "gut feel" rather than careful analysis. When a thoughtful approach does not seem to be working out, you will be quick to discard it and improvise.

The Divergent Learning Style - you probably have the ability to view specific situations from many perspectives. For example, you may enjoy brainstorming and small group discussions. You also like to gather information and probably have broad interests. Your tendency may be to watch events rather than participate in them.

The Convergent Learning Style - you have the ability to find practical applications for ideas, concepts and theories. In particular you enjoy situations where there is a single or best answer to a question or problem. You may usually assume there is one best answer and use technical analysis to reveal it. You also may usually prefer to deal with technical issues rather than people issues.

The Assimilative Learning Style - you have the ability to create theoretical models (ideas that predict outcomes and descriptions of how different factor interact). You most likely enjoy inductive reasoning and distil disparate observations into logical explanations. (Kolb and Baker, 1979-80, pp. 11-17)

I'm often torn on this kind of research, as learning styles deals largely with self-report and can change from day to day, even hour to hour. Having said that, I wonder how these kinds of findings affect how we design online learning experiences for our students engaged in virtual school environments?

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