Knowing a person's learning style enables learning to be orientated according to the preferred method. That said, everyone responds to and needs the motivation of all types of learning styles to one extent or another - it's a matter of using importance that fits best with the given situation and a person's learning style preferences.
Kolb's learning theory sets out four different learning styles, which are based on a four stage learning cycle. In this respect Kolb's model is particularly elegant, since it offers both a way to understand individual people's different learning styles, and also an explanation of a cycle of experiential learning that applies to us all.
Diverging (feeling and watching - CE/RO)
Assimilating (watching and thinking - AC/RO)
Converging (doing and thinking - AC/AE)
Accommodating (doing and feeling - CE/AE)
Diverging people are able to look at things from different perspectives. They are sensitive. They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems. They are best at viewing concrete situations several different viewpoints. Kolb called this style 'Diverging' because these people perform better in situations that require ideas-generation, for example, brainstorming. People with a Diverging learning style have broad cultural interests and like to collect information. They are interested in people, be likely to be creative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts. People with the Diverging style prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.
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The Assimilating learning preference is for a summarizing, logical approach. Ideas and concepts are more important than people. These people require good clear explanation rather than practical opportunity. They do extremely well at understanding wide ranging information and organizing it a clear logical format. People with an Assimilating learning style are less focused on people and more interested in ideas and abstract concepts. People with this style are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value. These learning style people are important for effectiveness in information and science careers. In formal learning situations, people with this style prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through.
For an example people who prefer the 'Assimilating' learning style will not be comfortable being thrown in at the deep end without notes and instructions.
Converging people with a Converging learning style can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to useful issues. They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects. People with a Converging learning style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems. People with a Converging learning style are more attracted to technical tasks and problems than social or interpersonal issues. A Converging learning style enables high-quality and technology abilities. People with a Converging style like to test with new ideas, to simulate, and to work with practical applications.
The Accommodating learning style is 'hands-on', and relies on perception rather than logic. These people use other people's analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans. They usually act on 'gut' instinct rather than logical analysis. People with an Accommodating learning style will tend to rely on others for information than carry out their own analysis. This learning style is common and useful in roles requiring action and initiative. People with an Accommodating learning style prefer to work in teams to complete tasks. They set targets and actively work in the field trying different ways to achieve an objective.
People who like prefer to use an 'Accommodating' learning style are likely to become frustrated if they are forced to read lots of instructions and rules, and are unable to get hands on experience as soon as possible.
However most people clearly display clear strong preferences for a given learning style. The ability to use or 'switch between' different styles is not one that we should assume comes easily or naturally to many people.
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Basically, people who have a clear learning style preference, for whatever reason, will tend to learn more effectively if learning is orientated according to their preference.
Honey and Mumford learning styles
Honey and Mumford (1982) have built a typology of Learning Styles around this cycle, identifying individual preferences for each stage (Activist, Reflector, Theorist, and Pragmatist respectively); Kolb also has a test instrument (the Learning Style Inventory) but has carried it further by relating the process also to forms of knowledge. Anonymous, (2010)
There are four characteristics of learning styles,
Activists involve themselves totally and without unfairness in new experiences. They enjoy the here and now, and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not disbelieving, and this tends to make them excited about anything new. Their philosophy is: "I'll try anything once". They tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards. Their days are filled with activity. They tackle problems by brainstorming. As soon as the stimulation from one activity has died down they are busy looking for the next. They tend to increase on the challenge of new experiences but are bored with implementation and longer term consolidation. They are gregarious people constantly involving themselves with others but, in doing so; they seek to centre all activities on themselves. For an example, those people who learn by doing. Activists need to get their hands dirty, to dive in with both feet first. Have an open-minded approach to learning, involving themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. Brainstorming problem solving, group discussion, competitions and role play, these are the activities of Activists.
Theorists adapt and combine observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They learn disparate facts into logical theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won't rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a normal proposal. They like to analyse and combine. They are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories models and systems thinking. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic. "If it's logical it's good." Questions they frequently ask are: "Does it make sense?" "How does this fit with that?" "What are the basic assumptions?" They tend to be detached, analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective or ambiguous. Their approach to problems is consistently logical. This is their 'mental set' and they rigidly reject anything that doesn't fit with it. They prefer to maximize certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgments, lateral thinking and anything flippant. For an example, learners like to understand the theory behind the actions. They need models, concepts and facts in order to engage in the learning process. Prefer to analyse and synthesize, drawing new information into a systematic and logical 'theory'.
Pragmatists are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to research with applications. They are the sort of people who return from courses full with new ideas that they want to try out in practice. They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are essentially practical, down to earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems. They respond to problems and opportunities 'as a challenge'. Their philosophy is "There is always a better way" and "If it works its good". For an example, people need to be able to see how to put the learning into practice in the real world. Abstract concepts and games are of limited use unless they can see a way to put the ideas into action in their lives. Experimenters, trying out new ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work
Reflector like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They collect data, both first hand and from others, and prefer to think about it carefully before coming to a conclusion. The thorough collection and analysis of data about experiences and events is what counts so they tend to reschedule reaching definitive conclusions for as long as possible. Their philosophy is to be careful. They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They enjoy observing other people in action. They listen to others and get the drift of the discussion before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant relaxed air about them. When they act it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others' observations as well as their own. For an example, people learn by observing and thinking about what happened. They may avoid leaping in and prefer to watch from the sidelines. Prefer to stand back and view experiences from a number of different perspectives, collecting data and taking the time to work towards an appropriate conclusion.
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The Behaviorist Approach
Some of our learning comes about as a response to a stimulus. We are learning from our sensors. We react to something outside ourselves. If the result is good for us, we learn to react in similar fashion in a similar situation, while if the result is bad, we learn not to do that again. This is the basic idea of the Behaviorist Approach which can be traced back to the work of Pavlov (1927) who taught dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell.
Behaviorist concentrates on modifying behavior by reinforcement. Behavior that is seen as positive or good is reinforced by rewards. For an example car insurance is reduced if you do not make a claim.
Most people have experienced both positive and negative reinforcement. We can see that behaviorist learning theories have their strengths. However, this approach to learning has been critized as mechanistic and tending to focus only on certain behavior. There is evidence to suggest that reinforcement may need constant topping-up to remain effective. Anonymous, (2010)
The Cognitive Approach
If some of our learning is reactive, some learning can also be described as positive. That is we seek out information and try to make sense of it in order to understand better our world and our place in it. This is the basis of cognitive theories of learning, which make use of the work of researchers such as Kohler (1925) and Piaget (1950). Kohler worked with apes and Piaget concentrated on child development, but their results have been applied more widely.
For the cognitive, the key feature of human beings for learning is that we are intelligent seekers. According to cognitive approaches, we constantly find that our experience of the world does not quite fit the way we see the world, and we try to do something about the misfit. We seek new information, we adjust our view of the world, and we may create a new way of seeing the world. There are clear connections here with some of the elements we noted earlier in the different stages of the learning process.
The Social Learning Approach
The social learning theory proposed by Albert Bandura has become perhaps the most important theory of learning and development. While ingrained in many of the basic concepts of traditional learning theory, Bandura believed that direct reinforcement could not account for all types of learning.
His theory added a social element, arguing that people can learn new information and behaviors by watching other people. Known as observational learning (or modeling), this type of learning can be used to explain a wide variety of behaviors. Psychology, (2010)
Basic Social Learning Concepts
1. People can learn through observation.
In his famous "Bobo doll" studies, Bandura established that children learn and reproduce behaviors they have observed in other people. The children in Bandura's studies observed an adult acting aggressively toward a Bobo doll. When the children were later allowed to play in a room with the Bobo doll, they began to reproduce the aggressive actions they had previously observed.
Bandura identified three basic models of observational learning:
A live model, which involves an actual individual representative or acting out a behavior.
A verbal instructional model, which involves descriptions and explanations of a behavior.
A symbolic model, which involves real or fictional characters displaying behaviors in books, films, television programs, or online media.
2. Mental states are important to learning.
Bandura noted that external, environmental reinforcement was not the only factor to influence learning and behavior. He described essential reinforcement as a form of internal reward, such as pride, satisfaction, and a sense of accomplishment. This emphasis on internal thoughts and cognitions helps connect learning theories to cognitive developmental theories. While many textbooks place social learning theory with behavioral theories, Bandura himself describes his approach as a 'social cognitive theory.'
3. Learning does not necessarily lead to a change in behavior.
While behaviorists believed that learning led to a permanent change in behavior, observational learning demonstrates that people can learn new information without demonstrating new behaviors.
The Modeling Process
Not all observed behaviors are effectively learned. Factors involving both the model and the learner can play a role in whether social learning is successful. Certain requirements and steps must also be followed. The following steps are involved in the observational learning and modeling process:
In order to learn, you need to be paying attention. Anything that detracts your attention is going to have a negative effect on observational learning. If the model interesting or there is a novel aspect to the situation, you are far more likely to dedicate your full attention to learning.
The ability to store information is also an important part of the learning process. Retention can be affected by a number of factors, but the ability to pull up information later and act on it is vital to observational learning.
Once you have paid attention to the model and retained the information, it is time to actually perform the behavior you observed. Further practice of the learned behavior leads to improvement and skill advancement.
Finally, in order for observational learning to be successful, you have to be motivated to imitate the behavior that has been modeled. Reinforcement and punishment play an important role in motivation. While experiencing these motivators can be highly effective, so can observing other experience some type of reinforcement or punishment. For example, if you see another student rewarded with extra credit for being to class on time, you might start to show up a few minutes early each day. Psychology, (2010)
A learning curve is a graphical representation of the changing rate of learning (in the average person) for a given activity or tool. Usually, the increase in retention of information is sharpest after the primary attempts, and then regularly evens out, meaning that less and less new information is retained after each duplication.
The learning curve can also represent at a glance the initial difficulty of learning something and, to an extent, how much there is to learn after early knowledge. For example, the Windows program Notepad is extremely simple to learn, but offers little after this. On the other extreme is the UNIX terminal editor VI, which is difficult to learn, but offers a wide array of features to master after the user has figured out how to work it. It is possible for something to be easy to learn, but difficult to master or hard to learn with little beyond this. Wikipedia, (2010)