Metacognition and Understanding Learning Styles

scott's thoughts Apr 20, 2022

The first step in learning how to think is to discover one’s own learning style – that is, the cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that individuals use to perceive and interact with the surrounding world. We are all unique in how we take in information, remember it, incorporate it into new arenas, or convey it to others.

As an educator, you are already well aware of learning styles. Our goal here is not to restate the obvious. Some people like to learn through reading, others prefer to hear material aloud, and others yet need to get their hands on a problem. This is something we understand simply by interacting with others. In pursuing a career in education, we become keenly aware of how our students’ learning styles can impact their classroom success.

Where we may falter is not in our understanding, but in our application. How much consideration do we take into presenting difficult, graduate-level material in a way that maximizes its reception? If we can apply interactive methodology in a classroom, the time spent face-to-face with our students becomes more valuable. We can turn the classroom into a dialog. We communicate our message more effectively to a diverse student body – and our job becomes all the more rewarding as a result.

Let’s briefly review the most common models of learning styles. Each of these models provides useful insight; the “truth” of individual learning styles never fits easily into a single definition, particularly since we are constantly adapting our learning styles to situations, usually unconsciously. We want to bring this unconscious skill into consciousness. Theories of learning styles are broken into these categories:

  1. Field Dependence/Independence. These models examine whether a learner is externally or intrinsically motivated, the learner’s approach to the material/teacher and whether the learner prefers collaboration or competition.
  2. Jungian Models. Carl Jung’s learning model emphasizes our traits across four personality spectrums, which determines preferred learning style:
    • Extraversion v. introversion
    • Concrete v. abstract
    • Thinking v. feeling
    • Judging v. perceiving
  3. Social Interaction Models. These focus on three types of learners focusing on how they relate to their peers, delineating collaborative, competitive, and individualist learners.
  4. Sensory Models. These models understand that people can be visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or other types of sensory learners.

The VARK Sensory Model

We have found the VARK Sensory Model to be the most effective in the Student Success Coaching Model. It is easy to understand and affords useful insights. We have developed numerous supporting techniques for each preferred learning style. Introducing a learner to VARK includes introducing a series of questions to identify an individual’s preferences for how they absorb and return information.

Briefly, VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic, four different learning styles that are not mutually exclusive. VARK surveys reveal that many people consistently employ two or more of these learning styles, depending on the environment and material. Multi-modal learning refers to when individuals show themselves to be skilled in two, three or even all four learning modes. Contextual learners are adept at switching modes to suit the situation. 

An interesting question follows. How much does an instructor’s preferred learning style reflect classroom activities?

If an instructor is predominantly a visual learner, they might rely heavily on charts and graphs to convey complicated ideas and be surprised when students don’t understand the meaning quite as quickly as the instructor believes they should. Instructors can benefit from taking the VARK test to determine their own learning style. With this understanding, they can broaden the variety of ways they present information to a class. Taking the VARK is also a great way to see the value of the exercise for students.

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