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Helping Teachers and Students Understand Learning Styles
by Evelyn C. Davis , Hafsah Nur and Sophia A. A. Ruru


Research shows that students learn a subject at different rates and with strikingly different levels of completeness (Lowman 1990). We as instructors cannot be held responsible for the differences in ability students bring with them into our classrooms, but we are responsible for motivating our students, and for making sure that they become involved in learning (Cole 1982). How can this be accomplished?


Questions often asked by teachers: Can we identify thetypes of learning preferences that students exhibit? How canwe deal with differences that we observe? Which of thesedifferences require different instructional techniques?


Learning is an active process of translating new knowledge, insights, and skills into behavior. Cawley et al. (1976) identify three domains of learning: cognitive , related to facts, theories, concepts, and problem-solving; affective , related to attitudes, feelings, values, and beliefs; and psychomotor , referring to new skills and new ways of making and doing things.


All persons have preferences for ways to learn, adapting these strategies to their environment in all three domains. These preferences are called an individual's learning style . Some researchers believe that when an individual is participating in a learning task, the learning is usually accomplished more rapidly and retained longer if it is presented in ways that the individual prefers (Claxton and Ralston 1978).




Learning-style inventories


A person s learning style can be determined by learning-style inventories (LSIs). Davis (1989) describes three basic types, which help identify the following learning preferences:


Cognitive Inventories. How a person perceives and classifies information; how information is ordered and sequenced; what strategies are used to solve problems; whether concrete or abstract information is handled more efficiently; whether preference is for fluid, spontaneous learning or for carefully planned studies; and whether a person is primarily a visual, auditory, or tactile learner.


Affective Inventories. How a person is motivated for a learning task, and how he or she remains motivated; what values, beliefs, and attitudes are related to learning; what physical conditions are preferred in the learning environment; what kinds of relationships are desired with the teacher and with the other students; and how success and failure are handled.


Psychomotor Inventories. How skills are developed; what type of content (subject matter) a person likes best; how much movement or action is needed in the learning environment; and what modes (ways) of presentation an individual prefers.


The way that a teacher handles a learning task is called that teacher's teaching style or instructional style . Claxton and Murrell (1987) state that if the teacher s instructional style and the student s learning style match, there is usually a productive learning environment. However, Even (1982), McCarthy (1984), and Stevens (1976) show that students can be taught specific learning strategies and study skills for particular learning tasks, even though their preferred mode of learning does not match the teacher s instructional style.


It is important for a teacher to be aware of the learning-style preferences of the students, and of his or her own preferred way of instructing. Adjustments can then be made to accommodate the students needs (Boylan 1984; Whitman et al. 1986), and students can be shown how to become more responsible for their own learning (Gregorc 1979).




Administration of two LSIs


Two senior lecturers at institutions in Ujung Pandang, Indonesia, Dra. Hafsah Nur and Dra. Sophia A. A. Ruru, were doctoral students under Dr. Evelyn Davis in the English Language Studies (ELS) Program at Hasanuddin University. Under her direction, they administered and interpreted two learning-style instruments to students in one of their EFL classes at their respective institutions during fall semester, 1990.


The instruments chosen were the Barsch Learning-Style Inventory and the Brain-Dominance Inventory. (See Appendix A & Appendix B .) The Barsch evaluates to what degree an individual is a visual, auditory, or tactile learner. The Brain-Dominance Inventory scores an individual s performance by percentages of left- or right-brain dominance and relates the scores to a logical or an intuitive learning/ thinking style. Both inventories were translated into Bahasa Indonesia and administered in English classes at the two institutions.


The Institute of Teacher Training and Education (IKIP), with a student body of over 12,000 and 600 academic staff, trains teachers for elementary schools and for both junior and senior secondary schools. The 53 students taken as the sample at IKIP were in semester seven of an eight semester senior-high-school-teacher preparation program in the English Department.


Hasanuddin University (UNHAS), the largest institution in Eastern Indonesia, has 13 faculties (colleges), a student body of nearly 15,000, and 1,500 faculty. English as a subject is taught for seven semesters in the eight-semester program. The 50 students in the UNHAS sample were in the fifth semester of their study.




Summary of results


The Barsch Learning-Style Inventory. The Barsch results classified a majority of the 103 students in the sample (68 individuals, or 66 percent) as learners who were predominantly visual. These either had a clear visual preference, or visual was so closely combined with another preference that the difference was not significant.


The Brain-Dominance Inventory. A summary of the Brain-Dominance scores shows that 49 students, 47.2 percent of the total, had a bilateral score or a score so close in the slight preference category that it was barely different. If the remaining 29 students who also had scores in the category of slight preference left, and the nine additional students who had a score in the slight preference right category are added, the total of students who are either bilateral or in a slight preference category comes to 87, or 84.5 percent.




Implications for the teaching-learning process


Instructional Planning. How can teachers use information regarding student learning-style scores? First, there are implications for instructional planning: many researchers feel that learning is more productive when teachers take learning styles into account (Boylan 1984). Second, students can be taught learning strategies that will improve learning efficiency no matter what style the teacher uses (Davis 1989).


Matching instruction to every learner s needs is very difficult in terms of available teachers and rooms, distribution of students, administrative considerations, etc. Rather, a teacher should try to provide a variety of learning experiences to accommodate the various learning styles that exist in the average classroom. Then all students will have at least some activities that appeal to them based on their learning styles, and they are more likely to be successful in these activities. The feeling of success will be a motivating factor for additional learning.


As students practice a variety of activities, they become aware of various learning strategies that can be used. If the teacher specifically demonstrates how the various strategies can be implemented, the ability to use different strategies is enhanced.


Follow Up with Students. What follow up was done after the administration of these two inventories? The teachers who used the two LSIs first interpreted the students scores to them. This is always important for helping students understand the process, but was particularly useful for these two groups of students. They had never been involved in an experience of this type before. At the time of the interpretation, students were given some basic, general information about learning styles and an explanation of the various preference categories.


Practical Changes. The instructors then began to make instructional changes based on what they had discovered about their students. As they did so, over the course of the semester, they both discussed and modeled (through exercises, activities, roleplay, demonstrations, visual aids, etc.) the different types of learning strategies and suggestions that students could experiment with and begin to implement.




Suggestions for teachers


For each of the inventories used in the study, we will examine what the teacher can do.


The Barsch Learning-Style Inventory: Visual learners are those who learn primarily with their eyes. It is important for the teacher to use resources that must be read or seen: the chalkboard, posters, and bulletin boards; books, magazines, and manuals; programmed learning materials; drawings, pictures, graphs, and diagrams; films, filmstrips, transparencies, and computer monitors if available. Visual learners prefer to have written assignments, and it is wise for the teacher to provide written evaluations. Since 68 of the 103 students in this study were either visual learners, or had a preference for visual in combination with one other channel of learning, the two instructors tried to use as many visual resources as possible.


Auditory learners learn primarily with their ears. The teacher should therefore provide many resources for hearing: lectures, discussions, and small group talk are good, as are records, tapes, and videotapes, using stereo, radio, and television. The teacher should give precise oral directions and explanations. This includes orally setting tasks, giving assignments, discussing resources, reviewing progress, and any other activity requiring aural comprehension and processing.


Tactile learners are those who prefer to learn hands-on. For these students, teachers should have manipulative and three-dimensional materials that are touchable and moveable. They should make use of models and other real objects. Students should be allowed to plan, demonstrate, report, and evaluate by using these types of resources and the teacher should encourage written, graphic, and/or computer records of information.


Dr. Davis developed lists of study suggestions and strategies for use by the three types of learners identified on the Barsch inventory. The two instructors encouraged their students not only to try the tips given in the list that matched their favorite learning channel, but to try tips from the other two lists as well. Students were told that each person is unique, and that each must find the combination of strategies that works best and is most comfortable to use in their culture.


The Brain-Dominance Inventory: Every healthy individual uses some combination of both left- and right-brain behaviors, but most people show a preference for one or the other. There is no intellectual prestige or stigma associated with either preference; however, they are different and have different functions.


The degree of specialization varies according to the task, and each person has a range for each set of functions. Individuals also have culturally-conditioned preferences for certain cognitive strategies, even though we can, and do, change.


The left-brain learner is often called linear (likes to process information line-by-line, or in a sequence), or analytical (likes to look logically at details and facts). The right-brain preference individual is called a global learner because that person sees the big picture (the overall view), and processes information as a whole, or globally.


The left-brain learner is usually more logical, organized, and disciplined. This person wants a plan, likes to look at details, and makes decisions by facts. The right-brain learner likes things to be informal and spontaneous, is usually creative, and tends to make many decisions based on intuition and feelings.


Persons with the left-brain preference usually find theoretical details important and immediately interesting, while those who prefer the right-brain functions find theory interesting only after the how to do is mastered. Left-brain learners can apply new information quickly, and usually prefer to work alone. Right-brain learners need longer to assimilate material and often prefer to work with others. Individuals with left-brain preference tend to be more time-oriented and competitive, while those with right-brain preference are usually more event-oriented and generally less competitive.


Since an overwhelming majority of the students in the sample were either bilateral or in the slight preference category (87 out of 103, or 84.5 percent), the two instructors realized that most of the students were using a number of the functions of both hemispheres. They realized that they needed to incorporate ways to facilitate learning that would meet both preferences.


Kindell and Hollman (1989) give a number of general tips to teachers for facilitating learning, based on hemisphericity. Some of them are the following:


For those students with a left-brain preference, teachers can emphasize the discovery approach, and students can be encouraged to find ways of solving problems. New concepts and procedures can be taught by logical explanation and analytical exploration. Graphs, charts, and tables aid learning, and can be made in advance on handouts or transparencies. The class atmosphere can be businesslike, and the room can be functional, work-oriented, and uncluttered. The teacher has a more formal relationship with students, and is more of an authority figure. Recognition of achievement emphasizes that the students have excelled at the task.


If students have a right-brain preference, the teacher should clearly state all concepts, principles, and procedures early in the lesson, making them obvious. The role of the teacher is that of guide; problem-solving should be modeled, with verbalization of the steps. Complex graphs and charts hinder, and if simple ones are used, they should be made in class, with an explanation. The class atmosphere should be relaxed and friendly, without tension or pressure; the room should be comfortable and attractive. The teacher should make a consistent effort to strengthen personal relationships with students, and recognition of achievement should include the teacher expressing personal pleasure.


Indonesian students are more accustomed to a formal classroom atmosphere the instructor is a definite authority figure and personal relationships with students are rare. The Indonesian instructors worked at making their rooms more attractive, using pictures and charts. They attempted using discovery and problem-solving, but much modeling and demonstration was needed for students to feel comfortable with those techniques. Since these were language classes, the teachers included dialogues, roleplays, simulations, and other activities requiring both participation and communication. These became popular modes of instruction.




Evaluation by the instructors


Both instructors reported that the learning-style project had been a worthwhile effort. They had made instructional changes based on the data regarding the learning preferences of their students, and the students were able to incorporate the use of appropriate strategies to improve learning efficiency.




REFERENCES


  • Boylan, Hunter. 1984. Developmental instruction: What really makes a difference. Research in Developmental Education, 1, 3, pp. 1 2.
  • Cawley, Richard W. V., Sheila A. Miller, and James Milligan. 1976. Cognitive styles and the adult learner. Adult Education, 26, 2, pp. 101 26.
  • Claxton, Charles H. and Patricia H. Murrell. 1987. Learning styles: Implications for improving educational practices. ASHE-ERIC Report No. 4. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education.
  • Claxton, Charles H. and Yvonne Ralston. 1978. Learning styles: Their impact on teaching and administration. ASHE-ERIC Report No. 2. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education.
  • Cole, Charles C., Jr. 1982. Improving instruction: Issues and alternatives for higher education. ASHE-ERIC Report No. 4. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education.
  • Davis, Evelyn C. 1989. Learning styles and language learning strategies. Ujung Pandang, Indonesia: UNHAS-SIL Cooperative Program.
  • ----------------. 1990. Developing your creative potential. Bits N Pieces, December, Irian Jaya, Indonesia.
  • Even, Mary Jane. 1982. Adapting cognitive style theory in practice. Lifelong Learning: The Adult Years, 5, 5, pp. 14 17.
  • Gregorc, Anthony F. 1979. Learning/teaching styles: Their nature and effects. In Student learning styles: Diagnosing and prescribing programs. NASSP.
  • ------------------. 1984. Style as a symptom: A phenomenological perspective. Matching Teaching and Learning Styles: Theory into Practice, 23, 1, pp. 51 55.
  • Kindell, Gloria and Pam Hollman. 1989. A comparison of the linear and global approaches. SIL handout, Dallas, Texas.
  • Lowman, Joseph. 1990. Mastering the techniques of teaching. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey Bass.
  • McCarthy, Bernice. 1984. The 4mat system. Barrington, Ill.: EXCEL, Inc.
  • Stevens, Barbara J. 1976. The teaching-learning process. Nurse Educator, 12, 3, pp. 9 20.
  • Ulrich, Cindy and Pat Guild. 1986. No sweat! How to use your learning style to be a better student. Seattle, Wash.: The Teaching Advisory.
  • Whitman, Neal A., David C. Spendlove, and Claire H. Clark. 1986. Increasing students learning. ASHE-ERIC Report No. 4. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education.
  • Zettler, Penny. 1987. Not everyone learns alike. Leadership, 5, 3, pp. 28-33. }




Evelyn C. Davis is an academic consultant for The Summer Institute of Linguistics International (SIL) in Dallas, Texas. In this role she provides various educational services, such as conducting seminars, and consults with governments on overall institutional planning. She worked at Hasanuddin University (UNHAS) in Ujung Pandang, Indonesia, for three years, 1988 1990.
Hafsah Nur is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Teacher Training and Education in Ujung Pandang. She also teaches part time in the ELS department, Postgraduate Program, at Hasanuddin University. She is pursuing doctoral research in communication strategies of Indonesian interlanguage speakers of English.
Sophia A. A. Ruru taught for nine years at the secondary level, and has been an instructor at UNHAS for the past 15 years.
 

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Appendix A

BARSCH LEARNING-STYLE INVENTORY

Directions: Place a check on the appropriate line after each statement, then refer to the scoring instructions.
4=Almost Always
3=Usually
2=Sometimes
1=Seldom
0=Almost Never

4

3

2

1

0

1. I remember more about a subject through listening than reading.

__

__

__

__

__

2. I follow written directions better than oral directions.

__

__

__

__

__

3. I like to write things down or take notes for visual review.

__

__

__

__

__

4. I bear down extremely hard with pen or pencil when writing.

__

__

__

__

__

5. I prefer to have an oral explanation of diagrams and graphs.

__

__

__

__

__

6. I enjoy working with tools.

__

__

__

__

__

7. I enjoy reading graphs, grids, charts, and diagrams.

__

__

__

__

__

8. I can tell if sounds match when presented with pairs of sounds.

__

__

__

__

__

9. I remember best by writing things down several times.

__

__

__

__

__

10. I can understand and follow directions by reading maps.

__

__

__

__

__

11. I do better at academic subjects by listening to lectures and tapes instead of reading books.

__

__

__

__

__

12. I like to play with coins or keys in my pockets.

__

__

__

__

__

13. I learn to spell better by repeating the letters of the word out loud than by writing the word on paper.

__

__

__

__

__

14. I can better understand a news article by reading about it in the wspaper than by listening to the radio.

__

__

__

__

__

15. I like to chew gum or eat a snack while studying.

__

__

__

__

__

16. I try to remember something by picturing it in my head.

__

__

__

__

__

17. I learn to spell a new word by tracing the word with a finger.

__

__

__

__

__

18. I would rather listen to a good lecture or a speech than read about the same material.

__

__

__

__

__

19. I am good at working and solving jigsaw puzzles and mazes.

__

__

__

__

__

20. I prefer reviewing written material instead of discussing the subject matter.

__

__

__

__

__

21. I prefer listening to the news on the radio than reading about it in a newspaper.

__

__

__

__

__

22. I like to obtain information on interesting subjects by reading relevant material.

__

__

__

__

__

23. I feel very comfortable touching others (handshaking, etc.).

__

__

__

__

__

24. I follow oral directions better than written ones.

__

__

__

__

__


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Appendix B

BRAIN-DOMINANCE INVENTORY
Author unknown
Revisions by Evelyn C. Davis, Ed.D.
(non-copyrighted)

Name _________________________________________
Date__________________________________
This inventory will help determine if you are primarily a left-brain or right-brain learner, or if you are bi-lateral (using both about equally).
Directions: Answer the questions carefully, checking the answer that is correct for you. Select the one that most closely represents your attitude or behavior. When you have finished, refer to the scoring instructions.

1.

I prefer the kind of classes
__a.
__b.
__c.
where I listen to an authority.
in which I move around and do things.
where I listen and also do things.

2.

Concerning hunches:
__a.

__b.
__c.
I would rather not rely on them to help me make important decisions.
I frequently have strong ones and follow them.
I occasionally have strong hunches but usually I do not place much faith in them or consciously follow them.

3.

I usually have a place for things, a way of doing things, and an ability to organize information and materials.
__a.
__b.
__c.
Yes.
No.
In some areas of my life, but not in others.

4.

When I want to remember directions, a name, or a news item, I usually:
__a.
__b.
__c.
write notes.
visualize the information.
associate it with previous information in several different ways.

5.

In notetaking, I print:
__a.
__b.
__c.
never.
frequently.
sometimes.

6.

I prefer the kind of classes
__a.

__b.
__c.
where there is one assignment at a time, and I can complete it before beginning the next one.
where I work on many things at once.
I like both kinds about equally.

7.

When remembering things or thinking about things, I do so best with:
__a.
__b.
__c.
words.
pictures and images.
both equally well.

8.

In reviewing instructions, I prefer:
__a.
__b.
__c.
to be told how to do something.
to be shown how.
no real preference for demonstration over oral instruction.

9.

I prefer:
__a.
__b.
__c.
dogs.
cats.
no preference for dogs over cats or vice versa.

10.

I am:
__a.
__b.
__c.
almost never absentminded.
frequently absentminded.
occasionally absentminded.

11.

Do you instinctively feel an issue is right or correct, or do you decide on the basis of information?
__a.
__b.
__c.
decide on the basis of information.
instinctively feel it is right or correct.
I tend to use a combination of both.

12.

I have
__a.
__b.
__c.
no or almost no mood changes.
frequent mood changes.
occasional mood changes.

13.

I am:
__a.

__b.

__c.
easily lost in finding directions, especially if I have never been to that place before.
good at finding my way, even when I have never been in that area.
not bad in finding directions, but not really good either.

14.

I get motion sickness in cars and boats:
__a.
__b.
__c.
hardly ever.
a lot.
sometimes.

15.

I generally:
__a.
__b.

__c.
use time to organize work and personal activities.
have difficulty in pacing personal activities to time limits.
usually am able to pace personal activities to time limits with ease.

16.

I prefer to learn:
__a.
__b.

__c.
details and specific facts.
from a general overview of things, and to lookat the whole picture.
both ways about equally.

17.

I learn best from teachers who:
__a.
__b.

__c.
are good at explaining things with words.
are good at explaining things with demonstration, movement, and/or action.
do both.

18.

I am good at:
__a.
__b.
__c.
explaining things mainly with words.
explaining things with hand movements and action.
doing both equally well.

19.

I prefer to solve problems with:
__a.
__b.
__c.
logic.
my gut feelings.
both logic and gut feelings.

20.

I prefer:
__a.
__b.
__c.
simple problems and solving one thing at a time.
more complicated problems, more than one thing.
both kinds of problems.

21.

Daydreaming is:
__a.
__b.
__c.
a waste of time.
a usable tool for planning my future.
amusing and relaxing.

22.

I prefer classes in which I am expected:
__a.
__b.
__c.
to learn things I can use in the future.
to learn things I can use right away.
I like both kinds of classes equally.

23.

I am:
__a.

__b.
__c.
not very conscious of body language. I prefer to listen to what people say.
good at interpreting body language.
good at understanding what people say and also in interpreting body language.

24.

In school, I preferred:
__a.
__b.
__c.
algebra.
geometry.
I had no real preference of one over the other.

25.

In preparing myself for a new or difficult task, such as assembling a bicycle, I would most likely:
__a.

__b.

__c.
lay out all the parts, count them, gather the necessary tools, and follow the directions.
glance at the diagram and begin with whatever tools were there, sensing how the parts fit.
recall past experiences in similar situations.

26.

In communicating with others, I am more comfortable being the:
__a.
__b.
__c.
talker.
listener.
I m usually equally comfortable with both.

27.

I can tell fairly accurately how much time has passed without looking at a clock.
__a.
__b.
__c.
Yes.
No.
Sometimes.

28.

I like my classes or work to be:
__a.
__b.
__c.
planned so that I know exactly what to do.
open with opportunities for change as I go along.
both planned and open to change.

29.

I prefer:
__a.
__b.
__c.
multiple-choice tests.
essay tests.
I like both kinds of tests equally.

30.

In reading, I prefer:
__a.

__b.

__c.
taking ideas apart and thinking about them separately.
putting a lot of ideas together before applying them to my life.
both equally.

31.

When I read, I prefer to look for:
__a.
__b.
__c.
specific details and facts.
main ideas.
both about equally.

32.

I enjoy:
__a.
__b.
__c.
talking and writing.
drawing and handling things.
doing both equally.

33.

It is more exciting to:
__a.
__b.
__c.
improve something.
invent something.
both are exciting to me.

34.

I am skilled in:
__a.
__b.
__c.
putting ideas in a logical order.
showing relationships among ideas.
both equally.

35.

I am good at:
__a.
__b.
__c.
recalling verbal material (names, dates).
recalling visual material (diagrams, maps).
equally good at both.

36.

I remember faces easily.
__a.
__b.
__c.
No.
Yes.
Sometimes.

37.

When reading or studying, I:
__a.
__b.
__c.
prefer total quiet.
prefer music.
I listen to background music only when reading for enjoyment, not while studying.

38.

I like to learn a movement in sports or a dance step better by:
__a.

__b.
__c.
hearing a verbal explanation and repeating the action or step mentally.
watching and then trying to do it.
watching and then imitating and talking about it.

39.

Sit in a relaxed position and clasp your hands comfortably in your lap. Which thumb is on top?
__a.
__b.
__c.
Left.
Right.
They are parallel.

BRAIN-DOMINANCE INVENTORY SCORING

Number of A s _______
Number of B s _______
Number of C s _______

Your A s, B s, and C s must total 39, or your score is incorrect.
1. Compute your B score minus your A score. It can be a minus or a plus answer. ________________ .
2. If your C score is 17 or higher, divide your B minus A score by three. Round your score to the nearest number. The answer will be your score. It can be a minus or plus number. __________________.

OR

If your C score is from 10 to 16, divide your B minus A score by two. Round your score to the nearest number. The answer will be your score. It can be a minus or plus number. ______________.

OR

If your C score is less than 10, do not divide at all. Your B minus A score is your answer. ___________.
3. NOW PLOT YOUR SCORE BELOW
-11 -10 -9 -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8 +9 +10 +11
A score of O = Whole-brain dominance (bi-lateral)

A score of - 1 to - 3 = Slight preference toward the left
A score of - 4 to - 6 = Moderate preference for the left
A score of - 7 to - 9 = Left-brain dominant
A score of -10 to -11 = Left-brain dominant (very strong)

A score of + 1 to + 3 = Slight preference toward the right
A score of + 4 to + 6 = Moderate preference for the right
A score of + 7 to + 9 = Right-brain dominant
A score of +10 to +11 = Right-brain dominant (very strong)


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