Approaches to learning - Theories of learning styles and learning strategies.

Essay by pikenUniversity, Bachelor'sB, December 2005

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Kolb (1984), in introducing the idea of the experiential learning cycle and of learning styles, defines learning as the process whereby "knowledge is created through the transformation of expertise". He suggests that ideas are not fixed but are formed and modified through current and past experiences. His learning cycle consists of four stages; completing each stage is important to improve learning in the next stage :

Active Experimentation (The learner actively uses the theories formed and also tries them in new situations. The latter takes him back to the start of the cycle. )

- Concrete Experience (The learner is encouraged to become involved in new experiences.)

- Reflective Observation (The learner reflect on his experience from different perspective. Enough time and supportive feedback is helpful in this stage.)

- Abstract Conceptualisation (The learner forms ideas and logical theories.)

Of course, not everyone acts in the same way, some prefer considering all possible alternatives whilst others like trying out as much as possible.

Hence, Kolb associated four learning styles with his learning cycle: the Converger, who applies ideas in a practical way, the Accommodator, who carries out plans and tasks involving him in new experiences, the Diverger, who has good imagination and ideas, and finally the Assimilator, who creates theoretical models. Kolb also points out that learning styles are not fixed personality traits but relatively stable patterns of behaviour.

Based on Kolb's model Honey and Mumford (1992) developed a similar model with new terms for Kolb's learning preferences (Honey and Mumford terms in brackets):

Active Experimentation (Activist)

- Concrete Experience (Pragmatist)

- Reflective Observation (Reflector)

- Abstract Conceptualisation (Theorist)

According to Honey and Mumford four learning styles can be distinguished: the Activist, the Pragmatist, the Reflector, and the Theorist:

Activist's strengths:

- Acting quickly; interested in actually doing things

- Putting ideas into action

Activist's weaknesses

- Lack of planning and attention to detail

- Unlikely to consider many alternatives

Pragmatist's strengths

- Integrating theory and practice

- Testing things out to get correct solutions

Pragmatist's weaknesses

- Lack of imagination

- Impatient

- Not interested in concepts and theories

Reflector's strengths:

- Collecting data from variety of sources

- Reflecting on experiences

Reflector's weaknesses:

- Needs a lot of time before he is able to start

- Dislike precise instructions

Theorist's strengths

- Creating theoretical models

- Paying attention to detail and systematic analysis

Theorist's weaknesses

- Overcautious

- Relies on logic and usually does not trust feelings

- Needs a stated purpose

Honey and Mumford developed a Learning Styles Questionnaire to be used as a checklist to identify one's learning preference. Kolb states the combination of all four learning forms produces the highest level of learning by allowing more powerful and adaptive forms of learning to emerge. But still, there is the danger of labelling people as 'theorists' or 'pragmatists' although most people exhibit more than one strong preference. To overcome this problem other theorists, e.g. Schmeck (1988) and Entwistle (1998), use the expression 'learning strategy' which also includes personal traits. According to them people can not be labelled because they usually react flexibly on learning, depending on the expected outcome: A student may read a book about the British history because he is actually interested in or because he needs to read it to pass an exam. Either way involves learning, but in the second case the student is unlikely to take notes about facts he is interested in but those the tutor may ask.


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