Watching Dallas McPheeter’s film ‘5000 Year Timeline of Learning Theories’ has given me a new appreciation for the way teaching has, and continues to evolve. Gaining a broader comprehension of learning theories has helped me evaluate and understand my own teaching practices and the impact this has on my students.
The theories of learning that resonate with me the most are ‘Hands on Learning’ and ‘Adaptive Learning’. I feel these theories are the most relevant to the type of work I do and I believe I can continue to utilise them in my own practice as a Learning Support worker.
The below quote best summarises my interpretation of ‘Hands on Learning’:
“If you tell me, I will listen. If you show me, I will see,
but if you let me experience, I will learn” – (500 B.C. China Lao – Tse)
Although this statement was made in relation to apprenticeships I believe it is also relevant in today’s educational context. It describes the notion that when a person is encouraged to experience something for themselves they are more likely to benefit than when they are simply shown or told. This is one of the key philosophies that John Dewey describes in his 1920 text ‘How We Think’. In his version Dewey uses the concept of ‘Abstract’ and ‘Concrete’ thought to describe the same principle.
In ‘Learning Styles and Learning Spaces’ Kolb & Kolb also make a similar observation when they state, ‘making space for students to take control of and responsibility for their learning can greatly enhance their ability to learn from experience’.
Lao-Tse, Dewey and Kolb & Kolb’s points all describe clearly the idea of ‘Hands on Learning’ and emphasise how important it is in the development of our students. Hands on Learning has often been the most beneficial method for my students, however I have experienced situations where individuals have found this approach difficult to implement on their own. It is our responsibility as teachers to provide our students with the necessary tools to think and learn in a reflective way, but we must also remain aware that this approach does not suit everyone. In some cases, a combination of abstract and concrete learning will achieve the best results.
Howard Gardener suggests ‘our intelligence is measured vertically rather than as a general set of abilities meaning that teaching should be adapted depending on the learner.’
The study of personality theories has been conducted for many centuries, however more recently it is Gardener who has expanded the study a great deal. He has identified seven key learning styles that demonstrate the diversity of student learning. I have found Gardener’s theories very relatable and interesting to research. I find he explained his discoveries in a clear manner which is easy to understand.
By devising the seven key learning styles Garnder aims to educate us that teaching must be tailored to suit the learner’s needs – we cannot rely on one format for every student. For example as someone who is creative and dyslexic I find the Visual-Spatial and Bodily-Kinesthetic styles of learning to be the most suited to me. At the beginning of this course I found the research and writing formats a particular challenge and I believe I will find the observational and practical expects much easier to process.
What is happening now and beyond? (a mix of the two)
Technology is informing the way we learn therefore it affects the way we teach. Technological advances and constant internet access provides us with infinite information at our fingertips. However as Aoun. J suggests we must ‘understand not only what technologies can do but what it cannot.’
I believe because information has become so obtainable we as a society only consume it on a skin-deep level. Technology is now a mainstay in the educational world and we have the ability to know anything at any time. Although undoubtedly beneficial in some capacity I believe that this ease of learning means we have become complacent with what information we retain.
As teachers we should show our students that information goes beyond a cognitive state. Rather than searching for instant solutions we should encourage our students to use divergent thinking skills when responding to a brief. This deeper approach to learning allows students to not only obtain a good understanding of the facts but also gain the tools to use information to gain more knowledge. Eventually this will mean that students learn as much from a process as they do from an outcome.
This method links to constructivism and active learning theories which state that students are not ‘blank slates’ – they have knowledge that teachers are to identify and build on.
Kolb, A. and D.A. Kolb. (2005) Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 4 (2) 193–212.