Tags: Classroom Teacher | Teaching & Learning Coordinator | Teaching and Learning

Barbara Prashnig, author of ‘The Power of Diversity’, describes in this new series how important it is to consider the role of learning styles in ICT.

The Relationship between LS and ICT

(Learning Styles and Information Communication Technology)

A recent independent research report in the UK (ImpaCT2) showed that ICT can help raise standards. It looked at the relationship between pupils’ use of ICT and their performance in exams. The finding was that high ICT users per-formed better than low ICT users. The difference in performance was the equivalent of a whole term or a grade at GCSE.

Here comes the part that interests me: Can ICT change or influence the development of learning style (LS) features in students? Researchers also noted that high ICT use leads to a change in learn-ers’ learning style. The research study reports that students were able to study better by themselves and were more independent; not so reliant on a teacher to give them all the answers. One might say ‘yes, that’s ok, but what does it really mean in the context of daily classroom practice, particularly when it comes to discipline problems and low motivation?’ For me there is always a danger in making such statements and drawing conclusions without having a good knowledge base of what LS actually are.

But it gets better. The British Council website states: ‘ICT is changing the learning styles of many UK classrooms. Teachers are doing less of the talking, students are doing more work in pairs or groups and students are finding out more information by themselves, guided by a teacher.’

This is a typical case of mixing up teaching practices and learning strategies. Even if teachers do less talking does this actually mean they are ‘changing’ their students’ learning styles? Doesn’t it rather mean that teachers are actually using more matched instructions and do all students then benefit from such strategies all the time?

Analytic vs. holistic thinking

When it comes to internal information processing, learners will always use either sequential/analytic or impulsive/holistic brain processing and will either need to reflect or think simultaneously about the learning content. Therefore, ICT learning situations and course organisation need to take these style differences into account and digital resources must be used with an understanding of students’ learning style differences. Understanding and application of LS in a digital world can support students’ learning activities and LS should be accommodated, particularly in distance learning.

Sensory Modalities

How we perceive and how we process information constitutes the uniqueness of our learning style; our most comfortable way to learn new and difficult information. Even if we agree that learning is more than an information transmission process, we need to look at how students can optimise their learning capacity in ICT through using their personal LS in learning situations they perceive as difficult.

The LSA Pyramid

The core elements (found in the top two layers of the LSA Pyramid) are:

  • brain dominance (analytic/holistic brain processing or sequential/ impulsive thinking style); and
  • sensory modalities or perception (Visual, Auditory, Tactile, Kinaesthetic).

The remaining levels of the LSA Pyramid define the following style elements:

  • physical needs (mobility, food intake, time of day);
  • environmental conditions (need for sound/quiet, room temperature, low/ bright light, formal/informal study area);
  • social preferences (working alone, with a partner, with peers, in a team, with an authority figure);
  • personal attitudes (motivation, persistence, conformity, responsibility, need for structure, need for variety/routine).

The elements in the four top layers of the LSA Pyramid seem to be biologically determined and remain fairly stable over a lifetime whereas elements in the two bottom layers seem to be conditioned or learned, can be influenced at will and can change frequently in a person.

Here is what we could call the core elements of the LSA Model:

  • The area of perception (Sensory Modalities) and
  • The area of processing (Brain Dominance)

both of which are crucial for the organisation of e-learning itself and the choice of ICT tools.

If we consider the senses in this context (Visual/Auditory/Tactile/Kinaesthetic) as ‘filter’ through which information is taken in, then they must be used in designing computer and web-based learning materials. The only modality that cannot be accommodated yet through a computer is kinaesthetic learning (with and through the whole body). Although one could say virtual reality programmes with holographic displays come close, they are still not REALITY, no matter how ‘real’ they might seem.

Blended learning

This is where ‘blended learning’ comes in and why it is so important for many students. As teachers involved in ICT are well aware, it is learning that combines online and face-to-face approaches, and as I see it, this is the only way to accommodate the learning needs of highly kinaesthetic learners.

Kinaesthetic learners need to get away from the computer, move their body and DO something with the information they have just received via the screen. Learning sessions for these students will only be successful (and hopefully lead to understanding, skills, competencies, and knowledge) when they have physically experienced and/or done something.

Male and female differences

Many teachers might be interested in the question if there are differences between males and females in learning or working with ICT. Microsoft research (2002 & 2003) has revealed the following: there are gender differences in navigating through 3D environments; women are 20% faster in navigating 3D environments on computers when they have large screens and optical flow cues or continuous visual cues for navigation.This is particularly important for graphic design, architectural walk-through, games and various e-learning programmes. The general conclusion is that both males and females can navigate through desktops more efficiently when using large screen displays that offer a wider field of view.

Finally, I want to invite readers to reflect on the following question and e-mail their thoughts and experiences: can a sound knowledge of learning styles change technology-driven teaching (which e-learning often is) into REAL learning?

This article first appeared in – Mar 2005

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