How to make learning effective
There are many different factors contributing to successful learning. Among them are learning styles which we are going to shed some light on in this article:
One of the most current approaches is based on the model of psychologist David A. Kolb. He developed four different categories that describe how a person learns. Before we look deeper into these four categories, let’s ponder for a moment what “learning” actually means.
For Kolb, learning is a process that aims to transform experience into knowledge. This means, learning typically starts with a concrete experience. The learner would then, as the next stage, reflect on their experience. This reflectionwould lead to a new idea or a modification of their understanding of an abstract concept. This stage can be viewed as the result of a learner’s cognitive process. The whole learning process itself, however, is not yet complete: In the last stage, a learner would then apply what they have learnt to reality. This active experimentation leads to a new concrete experience, starting the learning cycle anew. Learning is seen as effective when a learner runs through all four stages of this cycle.
With this concept in mind, let’s come back to Kolb’s four learning styles that explain how learner might best succeed in completing the learning cycle:
Learners with a diverging learning style prefer to feel and watch. They are good at considering multiple perspectives on a topic and are generally sensitive people. Watching suits them better than doing. They like to collect information before acting and are good at creative problem solving. Often, learners with a diverging learning style are talented in the arts, like group work and have a strong interest in people.
Learners with an assimilating learning style like logical structures. Their interest lies in abstract concepts rather than in people. They prefer to watch and think rather than to watch and feel. These learners benefit from clear instructions and are good at organizing information.
Learners with a converging learning style like to think and do. This means they often have a preference for solving problems practically rather than theoretically. They are not as interested in people or relationship building as in technical tasks.
Learners with an accommodating learning approach like to do and feel. Their strong point is not so much a logical approach to problems or situations but rather a practical, hands-on mentality. They experiment with different solutions until they have found the one that works best for them and they like new challenges. As they don’t like to gather and analyze information, they often rely on others in this aspect.
What does this mean for the classroom?
For learners, of course, it means that knowing which learning style feels most natural to them can boost their self-confidence and encourage them to plan their learning accordingly. It can ultimately result in a more successful and more effective learning experience.
Knowing about the different learning styles enables teachers to reach their students in a more effective way. It can also influence group work as learners with the same learning style tend to work more effectively together due to their shared approach to the subject. An example is that a teacher could prepare different exercises on a topic which students can choose from depending on their individual learning style:
For learners with a diverging learning style, they can offer different perspectives on the new input and design the learning material in a way that triggers imagination. The teacher can offer them the chance to work with others and to actively experience something new. Divergent learners benefit from visualisations.
For learners with an assimilating learning style, the teacher can offer more abstract explanations and give them the chance to summarise information or work on a concept. Assimilating learners often prefer to work alone rather than in a group and benefit from a clear structure in class.
Learners with a converging learning style could benefit from conducting experiments in class and applying theoretical knowledge into practice.
For learners with the most practically oriented learning style, the teacher can create material that does not offer abstract explanations but rather enables them to discover the content intuitively. These learners also like working with others.
Thanks to mixed methods and mixed approaches based on Kolb’s learning styles, lessons can be more accurately tailored to the students’ preferred way of learning, thereby making learning more effective.