Impact of theories and learning on teaching practice

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The process of thinking and learning has proved to be fascinating and interesting for many philosophers, academics and scientists for centuries. Due to psychological and neurological research, evidence has been gathered about use of intelligence and brain's functioning. Learning, formal and informal, occurs every day and there are many definitions describing its process. These definitions vary according to theorist's own views and approaches towards learning (Pritchard, 2009). Kolb's (1984, p. 38) 'working definition' of learning is one of many interpretations 'Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience'.

When learning, individuals often choose to use or adapt a preferred learning style. There are many defined learning styles and one way of finding out, which style is the one that an individual prefers, is by answering and assessing a learning style questionnaire. Depending on results, learners are being described in various terms, such as visual, reflector, pragmatist and many more. Not all theories provide questionnaires or tests to identify learning preferences. These theories, for example Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, are, nevertheless, useful tools helping recognise areas of strengths and weaknesses.

In this assignment I discuss various learning theories and how they are relevant to professional and personal practice. I present a range of learning styles/theories and outline their main points, for example Myres-Briggs Type Indicator, visual, audio, kineasthetic learning style (VAK), Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, Goleman's Emotional Intelligence and Kolb's Experimental Learning. I contrast various learning styles and look how they are implemented in national curriculum. I assess how realistic it is to apply the learning styles in practice and I also reflect on my own experiences. 270

Learning styles and theories of learning

A learning theory, perhaps more associated with adult learning (androdogy), that identifies and classifies various personal types, is Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The theory originates from ideas of Carl Jung and it identifies four preference scales, they are: Extroversion (E)/ Introversion (I), Sensation (S)/iNtuition (N), Thinking (T)/Feeling (F) and Judgement (J)/Perception (P). By combining the four letters of each preference the personality type is established. In total, there are sixteen whole types that describe individual preferences (Myers, I. Briggs, 1995).

Some critics of MBTI are quick to point out that the descriptions of different personal types are too vague, general and some overlap (Bayne, 1997). There are various factors that can influence individuals when answering questions, such as: Have they got previous experiences of specific situations when describing their behaviour and actions? How many experiences can they compare? How do they feel that particular day? Is there a possibility of a reward when falling into a certain category? (For example promotion). Who is going to be reviewing questionnaires, employer or an outside agency? Are results going to influence any changes in current job position? Are individuals going to be stereotyped? Are they going to be encouraged to work with their strengths and not given opportunity to improve their weaknesses?

Despite the flaws the MBTI enables people to gain a better understanding of themselves and how other people think and interact with each other. It is also important to remember that each particular personal type is as important and useful as the rest of them. (255)

Another theory, strongly promoted by Department for Education and Skills (Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and learning in secondary schools, 2004), is the Visual, Audio, Kinaesthetic (VAK) learning style. One way of finding out which style is the one that an individual prefers is by answering and assessing a learning style questionnaire. These preferences can be visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, or sometimes a blend of two or three styles.

The VAK learning style is supported by many educators, who are provided with valuable understanding of what learning style is preferred by an individual, which learning environment enables the students to expand their learning and, which teaching strategies provide a balance of opportunities for the students.

However, there are also many professionals who argue that formal VAK tests are misleading for teachers. Instead of drawing attention to how children learn and how various aspects can influence their learning, the theory have led to pupils being labelled as particular types of learners. The authors of the 'VAK or VAK-uous?' demonstrate, based on their survey, that:

Scratching beneath the surface of it all, we find a rather intriguing world of accelerated and brain-based learning, a world of pseudoscience, psychobabble and neurononsense. (Bowker et al, 2008, p. 311)

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Some of the theories take into account other intelligences, apart from linguistic and mathematical skills. Howard Gardner (1993) recognises nine intelligences, originally there were seven, which are: linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, spatial/visual, kineasthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential.

Department for Skills and Education (DfES) also recommends Gardner's framework of multiple intelligences to be applied to plan lessons and activities ensuring that they are inclusive for all children (Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and learning in secondary schools, 2004).

However, Gardner's theory lacks research and evidence to support it.

Following Gardner's theory is Daniel Goleman. He also focuses on intelligence separate from IQ and that is Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI has become ubiquitous and is widely used in various areas, which proves that many adults as well as children can benefit from using Goleman's principles in practice every day. Goleman identifies five key principles: self and other awareness, mood management, self-motivation, empathy and management of relationships. The term 'emotional intelligence' is worldwide known and closely associated with working environment. Goleman (2004) argues that EI is more important than IQ. For example when considering employing a nursery practitioner emotional and social skills are more important than academic skills as the practitioner needs to be able to relate to parents, children, colleagues and other professionals involved in a child's care. Additional training, to ensure that the practitioner has appropriate qualification, can be provided by employer or sought by an employee.

One of the key points of Goleman's criticisms is that he is not presenting a new theory but a subject that has been studied for years under personality research. The theory was originally set forward by Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey, whom Goleman rarely mentions in his work. He uses the term emotional intelligence too broadly as he includes aspects of personality and behaviour. Even so, many schools in United States of America have successfully incorporated programmes on emotional intelligence in their curriculum and have been running them for a decade.

Both, Goleman and Gardner, suggest that not just academic skills, such as writing and reading, but also other intelligences are part of learning process, equally important, and need to be considered when forming inclusive learning environment for children and adults.

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