THE RELATIONSHIP OF LEARNING STYLES AND LEARNERS

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1.1 Introduction

Information can be obtain and being processed by learners in different ways. Moreover the instructors can distinguish different type of learners based on the way they are learning. One way of understanding the learners' needs is to know their learning styles. Learning style theory has been expanded and used in a variety of curriculum for every levels of education. Through finding and recognizing individual learner's learning style, the most appropriate techniques can be used to enhance learning quality and instruction speed. In addition, research on learning styles helps teachers with different methods of instruction to consider various learners' learning style at their classroom.

Learning English plays a crucial role in today's world as the numbers of English language learners are increasing significantly. In this age of learner-centered learning, English teachers are concerned about learning materials, tasks, and activities which are suitable for individual learning styles and preferences. Moreover, learning English as a foreign language is a very complicated stage for the learner. At this level, a learner needs to find the most suitable learning approach, learning style and strategy that provide his or her individual needs.

In addition, there are many external factors that affect on individuals' learning. Factors such as learning environment, the teachers' attitude and personality, and learning materials and facilities available could help the process. Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) has changed greatly over the past decades mainly by the increasing use of technology in daily life. Language learning software is new technological tool which continue to impact foreign or second language learning.

One of the programs that faced this challenge is the use of Digital Language Lab. It was introduced at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) for the self-access English language learning in 1995 and it is still being used until now with some upgrades and modifications under the name of self-access language learning. One of the most popular software which is designed for learning different languages is "Tell Me More" that is used in UTM digital language lab.

While instructional technology has allowed researchers to re-evaluate teaching methods, one question being considered is the effective design of English language learning software. Taking advantage of fast growing advanced technologies and exploring English language learners' need will enable the instructors to efficiently implement technology to meet the needs of students. The One crucial way of finding students' need is considering their learning style.

There are a lot of researches on learning English by books, hard copies…, but a few researches on learning English by software are available. Therefore, this research investigates the relationship between UTM International students' learning styles and their preferences in "Tell Me More" activities.

1.2 Background of the Study

All international students applying to UTM must have an acceptable level of English Language proficiency. This criterion can be satisfied by presenting one of the most famous English Language testing results including: Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System IELTS. The minimum score for TOEFL-paper-based test (PBT) is 550 and 79 for internet-base test (IBT), and for IELTS the minimum overall score is 6.0 for academic module. Student who can satisfy English Language requirement will be welcomed to enroll in a faculty program and commence their academic course immediately and exempted to participate in the Intensive English Course (IEC). IEC is an English course conducted by School of Professional and Continuing Education (SPACE) is offered by UTM for international students whom have not satisfied English Language requirements. However, a student with lower score depends on his/her English Language proficiency level have to register and pass IEC at least for one semester or may extend to two semesters. All students are required to participate and pass IEC- intermediate level before they are allowed to register for their foundation, undergraduate, or postgraduate program. As the number of international students in UTM is increasing, the importance of IEC program is more noticeable.

IEC is designed for the international students that are non-native English speakers who want to pursue their academic studies in Malaysia. The main aim of IEC is to develop their English language as a preparation to start their undergraduate or postgraduate studies in UTM. Specially, the purpose of IEC is to equip learners with skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking for academic as well as social and professional purposes.

IEC comprises of the following modules: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and self access language learning with a total of twenty two hours a week. The course adopts the skills-based approach where all the four languages skills are emphasized in the classroom. The self access program allows students to use the facilities in the digital language lab for learning English. Self access language learning is done in UTM digital language lab. In that place, the students are offered multiple kinds of learning materials such as software, audio, videos, internet service. However, the language program especially "Tell Me More" language learning software which is used at the digital language lab for self access will be discussed in this study.

The first aim of self access language learning is to meet the students' needs; because it is difficult to fulfill each student's individual needs in the classroom due to the class size and different ability. Also, IEC is implemented to get students more exposure to English language. The last aim is to promote autonomous learning among the learners, so they can learn independently and take more responsibility for their learning.

Students' attendance for the self access program is compulsory and being recorded at the digital language lab. The activities in self access program are grammar activities, pronunciation practice, communication practice, vocabulary enrichment activities. Although attendance is compulsory, there is no exact student progress tracking like carry marks, quizzes, or examination as students only need to attend the session. The digital language lab is offered as a facility for enhancing students' learning experience.

One of the software which IEC students are using in UTM digital language lab is "Tell Me More". It is part of IEC students self access program that they do some activities once a week. In this software, there are nineteen models of activities with different pedagogical objectives. The activities develop all the English proficiency skills. For instance, some of the activities develop listening and speaking skills, some of them develop reading and writing skills.

Since Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) is one of the higher institutions of learning in Malaysia which has focused on technology, it is important to promote technology in all courses especially in English language learning. IEC is aimed to enhance students' proficiency level of English for different skills include: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Moreover, the technology hopefully can encourage students' performance not only in their courses, but in their future careers.

This study aims to examine the issue of learning styles to investigate and estimate students' preference for activities in digital language laboratory. The research is focused on intermediate students because this course has introduced English language learning software programs "Tell Me More" in which the students are able to carry out different activities provided in the learning laboratory at their own preference.

1.3 Problem Statement

Nowadays, English language is one of the most important language in our life rather than our mother language. Already in ESL and EFL classroom there is a high-level of attention to teaching and learning strategies to have effective learning. ESL/EFL teachers should have knowledge about students' differences in learning, the appropriate teaching methods, and scholars' preferences and at the same time choosing the required teaching materials based on learners' needs in the educational setting. There is also high-level consideration about teaching and learning styles in academic environments. The emergence of the technology is also the alternative that is hoped to be used to attract students' attention.

Some English language learners faced difficulties in acquiring concepts and materials of the course lectured in English after they start their study as a master or PhD student. This seems to be one of the problems that international students face in UTM. In addition, students need to be able to write high quality research and do acceptable presentation in English.

Many learners do not engage in the self access program and the students' attendance at digital language lab is low. Some IEC students who attend at lab do not take the activities seriously, so they do not complete "Tell Me More" activities before the end of semester. The Learners skip some session or have many unfinished activities. The activities may be difficult for some students or easy for some of them.

There is a need to know the suitability of the activities in "Tell Me More" software in developing UTM students' English language skills while the high achievers in digital lab are the students who are doing the activities. The important point is a need to have a clear feedback on the software and activities use in the digital language lab to increase learners' participation. Also, feedback can enhance the students' learning experience.

Thus, this research plans to reveal students' learning styles while they do the activities in the "Tell Me More" software including their amount of interest in the activities. It is hoped that the findings of the study could help to improve the use of "Tell Me More" as software in developing UTM students' English language proficiency.

1.4 Aim of the Study

This study aims to investigate the relationship between EFL learners' learning style and students' preference for English language learning software (Tell Me More) exercises. The purpose of study is to observe the IEC students in digital language lab and consider how IEC program provides the students' needs.

In an effort to understand the interplay between subconscious learning style and observable language learning behaviors, the strategic approaches that students take in learning a language will be analyzed. A potential outcome of the study is the contribution of information that will prove useful in the process of developing teaching methodologies, curricula and software's materials reflective of the learning style of UTM international students.

1.5 Objectives of the Study

The objective of this study is to explore the relation of learning style preferences on UTM international students while using ESL software especially "Tell Me More". This study is based on the belief that appropriate activities that match students' learning styles preferences can improve students' achievement. This study attempt to:

Investigate the different learning styles among intermediate EFL students in UTM.

Investigate intermediate EFL students' preferences for the different types of activities in "Tell Me More" English language software.

To determine the extent of the relationship between EFL students' learning style and EFL student's preferences for activities in Tell Me More.

1.6 Research Questions of the Study

This study aims to answer these questions:

What are the EFL students' learning styles?

What are the EFL students' preferences for the activities in the "Tell Me More" language software exercises?

What is the extent of relationship between students' learning style and their preference for the language activities in "Tell Me More"?

1.7 Scope of the Study

This study focuses on thirty six international students who are taking the intermediate intensive English course in UTM. All of them are required use the English version of "Tell Me More" learning language software, in the digital language laboratory in UTM as part of their self access learning.

The research focused on learning styles used by students when using "Tell Me More" in the digital language laboratory. As Kolb learning style inventory version 3.1 is one of the reliable learning style instruments (Kolb, 2005, Kayes, 2005), it will be adapted for this research.

1.8 Significance of the Study

An awareness of individual differences in learning has made ESL/EFL instructors and program designers more responsible for their roles in teaching and learning and has let them match teaching tools and students learning styles to develop students' potentials in second or foreign language learning. As new technological tools continue to emerge and impact second language (SL) learning, language teachers should be familiar with them such as using ESL software.

Although research on learning styles and course design is not robust enough to provide course developers with standard guidelines, Currie (1995) advocates that instructors should utilize a variety of techniques and training aids and encourage an awareness of learning style. Providing learning materials that challenge and support students to develop deep levels of thinking and application, and integrating assessment practices in everyday teaching and learning, helps to create and maintain a learning environment both supportive and productive.

Computers carry out a set of activities and handle planned functions at remarkable speed. Modern situation is different; software can check activities that students have completed and move students step by step from easier to more difficult activities based on students' levels and potentials. When students cannot reply questions accurately or complete activities, the software can simulate, drill, or clarify the phenomenon in a way that makes it easier for the learner to recognize (Hoffman, 1996).

1.9 Terminology

1.9.1 Learning Style

Learning styles are different approaches or ways of learning. They engage in educating methods, particular to a person, that are supposed to allow that individual to learn best. Everyone has his own way of absorbing and processing information. As stated Learning styles have been defined as characteristic tendencies for the understanding and processing of information and experiences, which are, unique for individuals and which develop during various phases of life. They consist of complex interactions of physiological, psychological, environment and situational variables.

1.9.2 Kolb Learning Style

David A. Kolb's (1984) style model is based on the experiential learning theory (ELT), as he described in his book Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. The ELT model sketches two related toward gaining experience: Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualization, and two related approaches toward transforming experience: Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation. As individuals try to apply all four approaches, they tend to develop strengths in one experience-grasping approach and one experience transforming approach. The resulting learning styles are mixtures of the individual's preferred approaches. Kolb learning styles are:

Converger: These persons do best when there is a certain correct answer/solution for a under discussion question/problem. They can just concentrate on a certain issue or situation. Convergers are usually not acting emotionally and prefer to deal with real things rather than people around themselves. They like to be specialist at following areas includes: computer science, engineering, and finally physical sciences because of their natures.

Diverger: People with this kind of learning style have great talent to look at a real situation issue from different points of views and produce some ideas by doing brainstorming. They are usually imaginative and sensitive person. They like to do artistic and civilian works and tend to be human resource manager, organization development specialist or even consultant.

Assimilator: This kind of people is likely to reasoning by induction and generates different ideas followed by observation as an integrated solution. They are not interested in social interaction and have more consideration on abstract concepts rather than practical application of theories. They usually try to realize theories logically if they could not match theories with facts they will try to re-evaluate the facts. They can be expert in mathematics, basic science rather than applied science. They tend to choose job that needs researching and planning.

Accommodator: They like to take risk and have adventurous characteristic. They have brilliant ability in handling tasks needs immediate decisions and adjustment. When they found themselves in a situation that there is no correspondent fact with under discussion facts, they will try to neglect it and try other theories. They usually solve problems through try and error method and like use other people information. Accommodators prefer to study in practical fields such as business and education and tend to be a nurse, teacher, seller or even marketer.

1.9.3 Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)

Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is a method of language teaching and learning in that computer technology is applied as an aid to the reinforcement, presentation, and assessment of material to be learned, usually consisting of significant interactive factor. Typical CALL programs present a stimulus to which the learner must respond. The stimulus may existed in any combination of text, still pictures, sound, and motion video. The learner answers by typing on the keyboard, pointing and clicking with the mouse, or speaking into a microphone. The computer offers feedback, representing whether the learner's answer is right or wrong. Levy (1997) defines CALL more succinctly and more broadly as "the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning".

1.9.4 Tell Me More

Tell Me More education software by Auralog Company offers various types of activities that match with particular pedagogical objectives. It is available in 11 types of language such as American English, British Language, French, Spanish, Japan, etc... It consists of different language skills such as reading, writing, vocabulary and speaking. Auralog is the producer of the award winning TELL ME MORE language learning program. Auralog has more than seven million students in the world. It is a global publisher of software for language learning based in Paris, and established in 1987.

1.10 Summary

To summarize, the study has attempted to define more clearly the learning style preferences of UTM students, studying English in IEC and the relationship of these preferences to the process of second language learning and instruction. The second chapter of this study presents a review of the literature that exists on CALL as well as on the learning style employed by the students. The third chapter describes the methodology to be used in conducting the study. It is hoped that the findings will be of practical use to teachers, curriculum developers and software designers in the field of ESL/EFL and will contribute to an understanding of the roles that learning styles play in second language learning.

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