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A Reflection On My Learning Styles Education Essay

INTRODUCTION

This reflective essay aims to draw reflection from experience acquired from the Learning from Practice and Reflection (LFPR) module studied at level 1. My own development during this period will be examined in addition to issues encountered in the progression of the event/activities endeavoured upon.

In an attempt to demonstrate significant comprehension of my learning from experiences encountered during this process, emphasis would be made on the learning style(s) utilised and how these were examined and developed. My preferred and actual pursued roles will also be highlighted to show how I developed and/or changed behaviours. How I have managed to develop new and existing skills will be assessed and the extent to which I understand myself and my learning. Finally, I would evaluate the potential scope of improvements made and in need of being made by looking ahead in order to perceive how things would be done and what I would do differently resulting from lessons learnt from past experience.

The aforementioned analysis will be well structured to cover the different stages (planning, implementation and evaluation) involved in the activity pursued, and will be made against a backdrop of theory and models that would be utilised and act as supporting evidence accumulated from the module.

In doing so, one must also acknowledge the importance and relevance of such a topic due the wide scope it possesses to the extent of being applicable far and beyond this module, university life, but to greater dimensions at the peak of one’s career. Learning styles, preferences and skills learnt and adopted could be further honed and tailored around one’s expertise in order to maximise one’s potential and capacity. This would prove crucial and particularly beneficial in areas where there is much at stake, not to mention the flexibility involved in its transferrable nature (the acquisition of transferrable skills such as organisational, decision making, communication, research, IT appropriate numeracy and group work) where its concept could be implemented in areas/situations of a less magnitude such as nurturing kids to adopt such learning techniques a an early age when starting a family or general everyday experiences.

LITERATURE ON LEARNING STYLES/CYCLES PREFERENCES

Honey and Mumford

The process of learning has been found to be multi-dimensional as various schools of thought have come up with various theoretical models that conjure how people learn. Among the most renowned is Kolb’s (1984 - 1995), who presented learning as a cycle; evolving on a constant basis. Viewing this one can easily reason perhaps why academics such as the likes of Kunzel(no-date) would argue from a psychological standpoint that learning is a journey or a lifelong process. The diagram below illustrates the Kolb’s (1984; 1995) initial development of learning as a cycle:

Subsequently deduced from the original cycle above is Honey and Mumford’s (1992) learning cycle illustrated below:

The second enhanced version seems to suggest that in every learning situation, the learning process involving the learner should move consciously through every stage of the cycle. However, this may be found contrary to practical reality and experience which show significant preferences for one or more of the stages over others and that not all learners are well grounded in all stages of the cycle. Although some learners may positively or negatively dislike one or some of the stages, there is nothing to prove or indicate that such preference systems make learners better or worse than one another.

Relevant and directly aligned to each stage of the learning cycle, Honey and Mumford (1992) identified four different preferential methods in which people prefer to learn, namely; Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist. People tend to operate in just one or in a combination of these modes depending on the degree of preferences, because rather than being fixed characteristics, these are assumed to be acquired characteristics adaptable either through evolved circumstances or at will. Additionally, it is said as mentioned by Honey and Mumford (1992), that one’s managerial approach usually reflects one’s learning style or vice versa. Honey and Mumford (1992) also found:

Activists tend to prefer being proactively involved and dominated by imminent and new experiences with a philosophy of wanting to give a go at anything at least once. This consumes their days with activity and problems are usually tackled through brainstorming. Honey and Mumford (1992) also suggests that activists are busy looking for another activity once the short bursts of excitement from one has sedated.

Apparently according to Honey and Mumford (1992), activists are bored with implementation and longer-term consolidation processes and are least productive in learning from passive situations centred on concept or theory that may include the likes of watching and listening to lectures or reading, but rather tend to thrive on and relish the challenge of new experiences. One may argue however, that this element of interest does in fact involve implementation however short-termist it may be, so perhaps it is long-term implementation that activist dislike, but can tolerate short-term as long as it serves their needs of interest and preferences. Activists also prefer not to review their learning achievements and opportunities and dislike situations requiring detailed preparation, solitary work or repetitive tasks.

Reflectors prefer to stand back, listen, observe and ponder on experiences from various perspectives, and learn best when doing this. This process usually involves collecting information (either first-hand or from others) to be thoroughly thought through from every possible angle before coming to any definite conclusions, comments or actions. As a result, characteristics traits present in reflectors include postponing outcomes as long as possible; always exercising caution, whilst watching other people in action preferring to occupy a back seat in discussions and meetings, always thinking before speaking, adapting a low profile and possessing a slightly tolerant, distant and unruffled aura. Honey and Mumford (1992) suggests reflectors are weaker in learning when rushed into things without time to plan or with inadequate data, when pushed into role play duties like chairing a meeting.

Theorists as learners enjoy analysing and synthesising; by combining and converting distinct facts and observations into comprehensive logical theories. Theorists are said to learn best when presented with a concept theory, system or model irrespective of the potential distance from reality associated with such application. This philosophy relishes logic and rationality. Honey and Mumford (1992) state that theorists enjoy being intellectually challenged; preferring to work with structure, a clear purpose, and being allowed to:

investigate associations and interrelationships

question assumptions and logic

analyse reasons and to generalise from deductions

Theorists are said to usually think things through in a well structured and logical manner with high perfectionist tendencies; restless unless and until things fit well into a rational scheme or sequence.

Characteristic of this learning preference is keen interest on principles, theories, models, assumptions and systems thinking, and detached, analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity in nature.

Anything flippant, subjective in judgement, ambiguous and lateral in thinking, tend to be of discomfort to theorists, who are weaker in learning when:

supposed to do something without clear purpose

activities are unstructured and ambiguous

emotion is emphasised

faced with ‘shallow’ activities

subject supporting data is unavailable

feeling ‘out of tune’ with the rest of the group (Honey and Mumford, 1992).

Pragmatists are more concerned with making things work on a practical reality by possessing a keen interest on implementing theories, ideas and/or techniques learnt (either recently or previously) to test if they work. This is a feat in slight contrast with reflectors and theorists. Pragmatists are said to positively (and perhaps proactively) search out new ideas and relish opportunities to experiment with applications. They enjoy getting on with things, making practical decisions and solving problems, and are confident and decisive when acting on ideas proving attractive. Pragmatists are also practical and down-to-earth in nature; responding as a challenge to problems and opportunities with a ‘can do’, ‘there always a better way’ or an ‘it is good if it works’ attitude. Such attitude can be easily perceived as positivist and optimist in mentality or way of thinking.

Honey and Mumford (1992) suggests that pragmatists are best at learning when there is a clear link between their current job or (team) role and what is being learnt (the subject matter). They are said to enjoy exposure to processes or techniques clearly practical in nature with immediate relevance where there is a high probability for an opportunity to exist for implementation. As identified by Honey and Mumford (1992), points of weakness in learning with such preference are where there are no immediate rewards, benefits and/or relevance existing from learning activity and/or event(s).

After completing Honey and Mumford’s (1992) learning styles questionnaire, my highest and second highest score was against reflectors and theorists respectively. This indicated that strengths and learning preferences centred on those of reflectors and theorists and weaker in comparison to adapting traits of activists’ and pragmatists’ learning styles. Additionally, my personal results of Honey and Mumford’s (1992) learning survey indicated that I preferred watching and thinking than doing and feeling; which effectively placed me in a philosophy category. This complemented the theorist style of learning more than the reflectors’ by suggesting that I preferred:

to dwell on observations and pull thoughts into an integrated whole in a structured manner,

logical reasoning, theories, projects and models,

analogies, systems, case studies and lectures; courtesy of Clarke (2010).

Equipped with this knowledge, placed me in a better convenient position to benefit from choosing the most suitable and adaptable learning techniques, experiences and opportunities at given activities/event(s)/tasks such as the group activity we embarked upon as on a module requirement. Additionally, there are options now available at least consciously where learning styles can be developed in order to expand the range skills available for learning purposes.

Considering that by preference, with regards to the three main stages involved in any given task/activity/event (planning, implementation and evaluation), reflectors and theorists are more keen and productive in the planning and evaluation sides of things as opposed to activists’ and pragmatists’ implementation, it is of no surprise that I also enjoyed and performed better during these stages (planning and evaluation) of our group activity. Pragmatically speaking this does not suggest however, that Honey and Mumford’s (1992) learning cycle theory was not at all contradicted or called into question at times in reality, as it would be quite naive to deem it flawless especially considering the wide dimension of learning styles preferences theory and literature out there. This criticism of Honey and Mumford’s (1992) learning cycle matches Smith’s (2001) fourth criticism of the cycle which outlines that the ideological sequences do not necessarily equate to reality. Among other criticisms by Smith (2001) worth mentioning is the fact that cultural conditions and experiences are not at all considered and acknowledged, not to mention the subjective perhaps pre-judgemental and weak empirical evidence it relies on for diagnosis. The overriding criticism of this learning cycle is Smith’s (2001) sixth but not least criticism which quite rightly points out that the relationship between knowledge and learning processes is much more complex than Kolb (1984) and Honey and Mumford (1992) suggest. Emphasising this point is the Islamic principle and philosophy described so eloquently by Abdalati (1975) as; ‘the truth and knowledge are not entirely confined to sensory knowledge or perception alone’. This principle is so firmly rooted when pondered upon that it goes further to expose the fact that any view held or derived by an individual(s) without infallibility or divine revelation, is usually based on the rationalisation of one’s own prejudices.

LEARNING LOG

These were noticed and considered upon critical reflection of critical incidents aided by the utilisation of a learning log which kept track of how I was managing my learning. Consciously and deliberately, time was taken out to focus on my performance during the course; as is the emphasis of this essay. The objective of this is to review thoughts that led to specific actions, outcomes, and lessons learnt from experience in order to be well equipped and informed for future practice; weaknesses could be developed and repeated mistakes avoided. From an enhanced version of the earliest known version of the renown proverb initiated by Julius Caesar,: ‘experience is the teacher of all things’, author Pliny the Elder in ‘Naturalis Historia’ (A.D. 77) mentioned experience as the best teacher, which does emphasis the rationale behind such learning methods. When used critically, the technique of critical reflection can assist one to hone skills. The learning log; which in essence is a diary, a progress file or a journal of event/activities with short term reactions to activities, can significantly in the reflecting process.

The learning log used during this module can be summarised into three main sections, these were:

An actual log; this was a detailed/brief account of what happened

Immediate Reactions to situation/activity

A Rear View; looking back at what significant outcomes would I take away from event/activity, what lessons were learnt and if anything could have been done differently looking ahead for the future

One of the most significant of critical incidents logged (courtesy of Gallagher (2010)) during our group activity within the period of this module was recording briefly that I had left my phone behind on the day we were supposed to be selling cupcakes at university and only realising it 15 minutes after leaving the house on my way to pick up the cakes from a group member’s house. My immediate reaction was one in rational non-panic mode; with less emotional attachment to the situation I assessed the fact that it was not at all imperative to have my as opposed to the imperativeness attached to actually having cupcakes for sale, being on time to secure a good spot and to allow enough time to plan ahead on the day to make sure everything was in order running smoothly than rushing into things with less thought; traits usually associated with lateness. So I decided not to go back for it and proceeded to my destination which was to a team-members’ house to pick up the cupcakes. This of course complemented a philosophy style of learning, with the only contradiction being that if philosophers due think things through logically and prefer structure, then surely there should have been provisional scope made in my thoughts to make sure I did not leave my phone behind especially in an important occasion as our big day as far as our group activity was concerned where communication could play crucial roles for organisational and logistical purposes. The counter argument to this would perhaps be acknowledging the fact that no man is perfect not even the best of philosophers not to mention a mere student and besides, surely not all group members would forget their phones; so in such terms this was not a deal breaking error that would seal one’s fate, but was easily absorbable and offset by other more superseding factors. In the looking back section of this log, lessons learnt was to go that extra mile to prepare a little bit more; perhaps by making a shortlist of essentials and ‘to dos’ and tick each one and I go along; this ensures all bases are covered in events leading to a ‘big day/event/activity/occasion/meeting’ and so on. This is something I could do differently in the future in any role applicable. Overall, I rated my performance and confidence in this critical incident as 4.

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLANNING

Subject to necessary changes a personal development plan (PDP) is most relevant to target driven job/role as highlighted by Honey and Mumford (1992) and is usually utilised for unexpected opportunities and/or weaknesses. To monitor ad record progress, a PDP also identifies areas in need of improvement. Set criteria/targets are usually individualistic and unique to individual performance. Overleaf is a copy of one among PDPs made during module, but this drew reference to the group activity:

What I am going to do

Open the sales of cupcakes by picking up cakes, setting up stall and begin selling the cakes and the documented accounting for sales

Why I am going to do this

My personal contribution as s a group member in an attempt to achieve success; a goal that unifies all group members as we are all in this together

How I am going to do this

Plan ahead, through structured and logical manner, logical and rational reasoning over the logistics involved with the delivering of the above target. Make sure estimated time of arrival is early, cakes are ready for pick up on time, use selling, numeric and bilingual skills to the best of my ability to close as many sales as possible

When I am going to do this

On the 21/03/11

When I will review the results /how I will know I was successful

Post 21/03/11

Courtesy of Honey and Mumford (2006)

Quite similar to a learning log to the extent that it extracts from one’s learning log and appraisal documents, but perhaps more challenging, target driven and development orientated. A PDP would usually include dates, event/activity, achievement/results, interpretation of achievement/results against a benchmark, lessons learnt and any possible room for improvement or what could be done differently is under-achieving.

OTHER RELEVANT MODELS:

VAK

Leite et al. (2009) highlights one of the most renowned classifications of the different kinds of learning styles is Fleming’s VAK also known as VARK which is an expanded version of neuro-linguistic programming models. As an abbreviation the VAK stands for:

Visual learners; prefer seeing/thinking things through pictures, handouts, visual aids like PowerPoint slides and so on.

Auditory learners; prefer learning by listening via lectures, tapes, discussions and so on.

Kinesthetic learners; prefer learning by experience; actually doing on a physical dimension; be it experiments, moving, touching, and active exploration to name a few (Walter et al., 2009).

Upon taking the VAK survey, Visual learning was revealed as my preferred learning style and my goal thereon was to focus on visual aids as a main source of learning in order to maximise my educational experience. However, to avoid getting too carried away with this model, it is hard not to recognise the fact that all three styles within VAK are required for effective learning in the pursuit of knowledge and experience as they are inter-related/-dependent and used more often than not interchangeably. Although it supplemented my other identified styles of learning (reflector/theorists/philosophy), my preference for visual aid for instance as a visual learner would still require listening when benefitting from a PowerPoint presentation being presented by a lecturer unless one was deaf or chose to cover their ears and kinaesthetic element involved would be efforts and energy required to access it in the first place be it using a computer/laptop, jotting down notes or taking a walk into the classroom again unless one was immobile or chose to be stationary. Emphasising this fact of objective criticism is the mere fact that losing any one of the imperative senses directly associate specifically with anyone of VAK classifications would equate to having a learning disability irrespective of what type of learner/learning preferences one is/has.

BELBIN TEAM ROLES

Source: XenerGie (no date)

The above illustration outlines the nine different main team roles that people are scored on depending on how strongly they express behavioural characteristics of the nine roles, which are more or less self explanatory. The overall assessment process involved to derive such results is known as the Belbin Team Inventory or Belbin Self-Perception Inventory (SPI), which was instigated by Belbin (1981; 1994) to measure preference for the main roles. My SPI results indicated that my most natural roles (where I scored exceptionally high) were as:

A Plant; described by Belbin (1981; 1994) as someone with bright ideas who prefers to work on his or her own and generates ideas without considering the practicality or considering other’s views and can be bored easily by others’ inputs. Plants are also described as weak at communicating with, learning from, or managing, other people.

A Monitor Evaluator; Excellent in reasoning for solutions, views from a wider perspective when all options are considered, but similar to plants weaker at motivating, acknowledging, or facilitating others as rationality is favoured over emotions.

A Completer Finisher; Possesses depth to efficiently assist a team to see task(s) through but with major emphasis on accuracy and perfection which can frustrate other practically minded members. Members feel safe by him although there still remains a tendency to annoy due to perfectionism characteristics.

My results in totality with key for decipher and interpretation purposes are illustrated below:

Courtesy of Belbin (1981; 1994)

IM Implementer

CO

Co-ordinator

SH

Shaper

PL

Plant

RI

Resource Instigator

ME

Monitor Evaluator

TW

Team Worker

CF

Completer Finisher

Very Low

0-5

0-3

0-3

0-1

0-2

0-2

0-3

0-1

Low

6-8

4-5

4-6

2-3

3

3-4

4-5

2-3

Mid-Range

9-12

6-9

7-14

4-7

4-7

5-9

6-10

4-8

High

13-15

10-13

15-18

8-9

8-10

10-11

11-13

9-10

Very High

16+

14+

19+

10+

11+

12+

14+

11+

Courtesy of Belbin (1981; 1994)

BELBIN – SELF PERCEPTION INVENTORY – EXERCISE DT360

From the results shown above, it is clear that absolute coordinating and team worker roles are best avoided as I had very low scores on them, although on average I am capable of assuming shaper and resource instigator roles with relative ease.

Some may argue that a more objective and rational method of executing this model would have been to rank each statement in order of preference with the highest rank being made on a statement that best described one’s behaviour/personality rather than being confined to 10 points where it is inevitable that some statements would be unaccounted for even though one may have a degree of response for them. Surely it would be fairer in distribution and unbiased if all statements were accounted for to some degree, although keeping the key hidden among the statements and not revealed until one’s completed the survey does account to an extent for objectivity. The model can also seem quite daunting and complicated for participants with poor numeric skills; (as a total of 10 points has to be maintained for each number), to the extent that they may be easily confused, put off or end up providing a false reflection due to inaccuracies or poor calculations. Additionally, the fact that Belbin (1981; 1994) defines an ideal team as consisting of 4 members and anything over this constitutes of a group. This implies that the model is best applicable to teams than groups, but in practicality teams in the workplace and in most cases than not are usually exceeding 4 members. The contradiction of this is that the total number of team roles being tested are 9 (far excessive than 4), although one may argue that depending on the overall goal/objective/activity/event at hand, it may not be an imperative to have all 9 roles present in your team, but perhaps the best/most suitable 4 selections from the 9 that would best serve the overall task at hand.

JOHARI WINDOW

Initiated by Luft and Ingham (1955), a Johari Window is usually used as a heuristic activity in an attempt to assist people to comprehend interpersonal relationships and communication much better and is seen as a cognitive psychological tool. In terms of input and facilitation, in comparison to the other models aforementioned, this model tends to be less individualist and more interactive (imperatively requiring others’ input).

As revealed by Luft (1969), in practice, a list of 56 adjectives is provided (to both the subject and peers) and utilised by both in the same way but independently input (picking 5 or 6 adjectives), to describe the subject’s personality, which are then sieved and mapped onto a grid similar to the one found below (relevant to myself and completed for this module):

2. BLIND SELF

Warm

Sympathetic

Warm

Proud

Self-conscious

OPEN SELF

Happy

Kind

Nervous

Adaptable

Friendly

Known to self Not known to self

Known to others

3. UNKNOWN SELF

Reflective

Observant

Logical

Adaptable

Organised

4. HIDDEN SELF

Complex

Independent

Loving

Modest

Dignified

Not known to others

Handy (2000) describes this concept as a house with 4 rooms; moving in a clockwise direction:

Room 1; represents traits of my personality that I share in common with peers in terms of awareness. These adjectives were selected by both me and peers.

Room 2; represents traits of my personality that I am unaware of, but revealed by peers. These descriptions were selected by my peers only without my input.

Room 3; represents traits of my personality that were oblivious to both me and my peers. These were in effect selected by the other aforementioned models’ revelations and indications; these adjectives that best described my found learning preferences/styles. Handy (2000) describes this room as the most mysterious where the unconscious or subconscious part of us noticed by neither ourselves nor others.

Room 4; described as confidential; the part of us known only to us and not others. These adjectives were selected by only me.

The limitation with this window is that the number of adjectives does not always tally with what is required; and an uneven distribution of selections would have to be made more often than not; which may invalidate findings to an extent in terms of bias. However, this only tends to be an issue if a requirement is made to ensure an even distribution of adjectives across all 4 rooms is achieved. There is nothing to suggest in the theory that an uneven distribution across the rooms is unacceptable or invalid, rather the main emphasis is actually only made on an even independent selection of adjectives between subjects and peers. The problem with this is, if I did not select any adjective that matched my peers’ selection, would mean room 1 would remain empty. There is also some ambiguity on the frequency of selection required for each participant; is it confined to once or are multiple frequencies of selection allowed to offset such limitation?

CONCLUSION

PLANNING

This was part of the group activity that I enjoyed the most and quite rightly so as indicated by the learning cycle/preferences models. I was proactively involved in this part of the session and my confidence in doing so was mostly thanks to completing most of the learning style/preferences models in precedence to the actual activity. I made the most of knowing where my learning preferences, strengths and skills lay by maximising my potential input/contribution to the group activity. Demonstrating traits of a reflector, theorist, plant, monitor evaluator, completer finisher, in a visually orientated dimension meant this role and stage of activity was performed naturally. One of my most productive and influential contributions at this stage of the activity was the highly imaginative idea to suggest that we considered raising money for charity as this seemed feasible under the circumstances considering our limited resources in terms of lack of funding (a concession from which the idea to submit a funding request stemmed from; although this attempt ultimately proved futile), and limited capacity to produce a lucrative venture under such confinements such as limited timeframes and manpower. Deciding on actually which charity (in this case red nose) to support/represent came from another team member. I must admit that I did not pay much interest or attention on the ins and outs involved in seeing through, although I was quite passionate about the idea. Moving forward perhaps I should develop my pragmatism on this aspect a bit further in order to be more specialised on hands-on experience.

IMPLEMENTATION

It is obvious that this was not my strongest point and as opposed to the brainstorming phase of the activity, I was not too much involved in this part of the procedure. My main input in this stage of the process was merely driving to picking up the cakes from a group member’s house (who happened to be more involved with liaising with the producer and negotiating on a price) setting up the stalls and a passive participation in selling on the day of sale. During this time I was better at observing spanners at work, how they work and generating ideas from gone wells and not gone wells. I was more committed to tracking our progress on sales projecting sales based on current sales ad how long we may be expected go on for. It was my idea that we always made sure we had spare change available, which required for each of us to bring coins along on the day. This highlighted preferred passion for the evaluation sides of things as similarly expressed for the planning stages. There is a lot that I have learnt from the implementation process and there is also a lot more to learn provided I am more involved in this stage, the realisation that theories do not always work in reality for instance would more easily verifiable and assessable.

EVALUATION

I did enjoy the evaluation stage other than the aspects of implementation involved in this process. My evaluation skills contributed toward the drive that was derived from projected findings on sales that led to us completing sales three hours ahead of schedule whilst generating a healthy profit of 64.5% and a total contribution of £75.19 to Comic Relief amid doubts and concerns over pragmatism and prospect levels of success, especially considering that disadvantages of this event outweighed its merits in the initial brainstorm, but optimism which happened not to have been mention in the learning styles theory, had a significant role to play in this; as there is great power in positive thinking. It is important that I utilise and capitalise on my strengths in planning and evaluation processes, but attention must still be paid on improving in need of development implementation skills. Such improvement is crucially important, because arguable no matter what stage one is in, elements of implementation would still be required (however minute), to see it through by getting things done.

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