Review by Jamie McDaniel
On Saturday, September 21, 2013, ELTABB was very pleased to host Marjorie Rosenberg, Coordinator of the IATEFL Business Special Interest Group and author of Spotlight on Learning Styles: Teacher strategies for learner success. As participants in the 3-hour workshop, we not only received an in-depth overview of three distinct models for categorizing differences in the way students learn, but also had the opportunity to apply these models to our own learning, and to try out a variety of teaching activities geared towards one or more learning styles. The hands-on approach did a great job of closely linking theory and practice—and likely appealed to the various learning styles represented by the people in the room as well!
Marjorie defined learning styles in terms of perceptual filters, cognitive processing, mind organization, strategies, and behavior patterns. The models explored during the workshop included:
1. VAK: describes the learner’s preferred modality; visual, auditory or kinesthetic.
While this model is fairly widely known, a surprise for me was the division of Kinesthetic into Kinesthetic Emotional and Kinesthetic Motoric. These represent very different profiles: KE learners need to engage on an affective level with the people and things in their learning environment, while KM learners need frequent physical activity to stay focused and motivated. Marjorie spoke of harmonizing with students’ preferred styles initially, then moving to challenge students to experiment. She also emphasized that all types can deal with all input when not stressed.
2. Global—Analytic: describes the learner’s style of cognitive processing on a continuum between global and analytic.
Global learners are field-dependent, oriented towards context, sensitive to emotions and relationship dynamics, while analytic learners are field-independent, oriented towards details, focused on the task rather than the people involved. Marjorie emphasized that no learner exclusively belongs to one category or another, but rather tends towards preferring one style—and even this can change with time or in different contexts.
3. Mind Organization: describes the learner’s dominant perception and organization styles.
Perceptional channels may be abstract (intuitive, conceptual) or concrete (sensory, factual), while organizational styles may be systematic or non-systematic. Rating learner preferences along these two continuum produces four possible styles, with implications for learners’ behavior within the learning environment. Learners’ styles affect their desire for autonomy, structure, and flexibility in the classroom, for example, leading some to challenge and criticize, others to seek praise and help.
After covering the basics of each model, we did a self-evaluation and shared our results with the group, before discussing practical implications and needs of learners of the various types. The discussions were very open and productive, with time allotted for questions and sharing of ideas. What emerged from our discussion, for me, was a sense of the complexity and uniqueness of any given person’s learning style. In our group, some people exhibited strong dominant traits in one domain or another, but many of us had characteristics that placed us as nearly balanced between different categories. Furthermore, when Marjorie asked us to identify our styles at the end of each self-test, it was notable that often different participants ended up grouped together according to each model. There was no reason to expect that a Kinesthetic Motoric learner would also be Analytic, for example, or that any other correlation would hold in the majority of cases.
During the final portion of the workshop, Marjorie demonstrated several dynamic classroom activities designed to appeal to one or more of the learning styles. We created a group statue (Kinesthetic), re-ordered a comic strip through discussion (Auditory), and played several question games (addressing Global, Analytic and Visual styles), all taken from Marjorie’s Spotlight on Learning Styles. Many, or all, of the activities address multiple styles simultaneously, and a varied diet should reach the majority of the learners.
The only challenge, from a participant’s point of view, might have been that there was simply so much material to be covered that a morning was insufficient to both integrate the information about the three models, and fully explore ways of applying them in the classroom. It would have been useful to have more time to discuss how we might recognize our students’ preferences, practical strategies for encouraging effective autonomous learning on the part of our students and, of course, for participants to share more of their own experiences and strategies for engaging different learner types in the classroom, especially in the Business English classroom. However, the workshop effectively covered a lot of ground and conveyed substantial valuable information that is clearly relevant to classroom practice. This was a great morning offering lots of food for thought—a very positive experience!