Sunday, July 23, 2006

More Cool Stuff from Mind Performance Hacks (Learning Styles and Why School Fits Me)

Remember learning styles? Those things we learned about back four years ago in Speech and Study Skills. Yeah, I haven't given much thought to them since then (or even then, for that matter), but reading through one of the free preview chapters of Mind Performance Hacks (MPH) got me thinking. What style fits me best, really?

First, some background. The makers of VARK (the learning style model I present here) propose four types of learners (well, really five, but the fifth mixes the other four to make a super type): visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic. In a nutshell, visuals learn by seeing charts, diagrams and pictures; aurals learn by hearing and saying; read/writes learn by reading notes, books, etc. and then writing their own ideas out; and kinesthetic learn by doing. Pretty self explanatory, but I thought I should just make sure we all share the same definitions.

After taking this questionnaire from the VARK website, I learned that I most match with the read/write learning type. Now, this should not come as a suprise to anyone, especially to myself. However, I always described myself as a "visual" learner, not really considering what that means. The distinction between visual and read/write learners lies mainly in the organization of the information: both systems operate through seeing something, however the visual through seeing holistic systems and diagrams, whereas the read/write operates through big clumps of data (think books).

I hadn't realized it, but I definitely do more closely resemble the read/write than the visual. That comes in handy when I consider how I study (I tend to just read the textbook and notes) and realize that, for me, this really offers the best way for me to assimilate the information.

And with that realization, I also realized something else: modern public schooling contains an incredible bias when it comes to learning styles. I happened to naturally have the tempermant of learning that schools look for: reading and writing (you know, readin', writin', and arithmetic). I can pick up a textbook and absorb the information with little difficulty just by reading it. I can easily regurgitate information in essay form, and even occasionally come up with my own original ideas. However, this presents a major problem for all of the other students out there that do not share this learning type. Admittedly, aural learners, with a little bit of effort, can at least survive (and often thrive) by listening to oral presentations of the curriculum (though even then some teachers do not always lecture and just present worksheet after worksheet). Visual learners probably have an even easier time, since they can easily convert written text and written notes into a more visual, flow-chart-esque format. That leaves the kinesthetics, those who society labels as having "ADHD." Bull. Unfortunately, their active method of learning all but prevents them from reaching their full potential in the classroom.

The even greater travesty rests in society's attempts to pick one learning style and force it upon everyone. The latest fad attempts to make up for the neglect towards visual learners by proposing that all students use flow charts and diagrams to learn. At the other end of the spectrum, some educators propose teaching science type activities by demonstration and "real world" (read watered down) situations. In both of these situations, I much prefer my method of reading information straight from a book, though I realize that others must also be taken into account.

I suppose then the challenge rests with future educators and administrators to find a way to first realize and then implement the idea of different learning styles. Add to that the concept of multiple intelligences, and educational models quickly gains many levels of complexity. However, as with most concepts, the more complex the model, the simpler the solution.

I hope some found this vignette interesting and thought provoking. If you did, you most likely utilize mostly the read/write learning style. :)

On the more personal side, now I realize why I much prefer reading and writing to just about anything else. It takes all kinds. And I feel relieved knowing what "kind" I take.

PS - Wow, writing without "to be" makes me sound all academic like. I don't know if I really like that too much... Or maybe the academic voice just kind of surfaced on this topic. Who knows.

And on another note, I need to remember that "the map is not the territory." These styles are great tools for thinking about how we think, but they are not in fact how we think. :)

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