Reflecting on your most recent class (and assuming your students were there, willingly or not, to learn the subject!), did you actually ‘know’ what your students wanted when you walked in? Maybe you did at the end; you may even have kicked yourself for missing the opportunity to address an individual learning issue that arose. But you had a whole class of students; you couldn’t address the learning requirements of every individual… right? Maybe it’s too idealistic, but wouldn’t you like the confidence of knowing that your lesson is likely to meet everyone’s requirements?
So how can you achieve that? Well it’s not rocket science. Many of you will be familiar with the work of David Kolb and experiential learning theory*. Kolb identified that different people learn in different ways; that each person has their own learning ‘style’ preference, and that students will learn most effectively by applying their own perspectives and experiences to the learning. These learning styles can be summed up as learning through a cycle of concrete experience, reflection, conceptualisation and active experimentation.
Not everyone has the skills (or the time) to accommodate the learning styles of every single student… right? Well I think that’s just plain wrong! I believe you can, with just a small amount of effort, establish a high degree of confidence in just that.
How about designing your own lessons around a variety of learning styles, and then establishing the preferred learning styles of your students before they attend the course? Let’s face it, if you know what each student’s learning style is you will have the opportunity to match that to your input, and capitalize on opportunities for their involvement in key aspects of your lesson. Practical examples of this include ensuring that, when designing group work, you include a mix of learning styles, providing opportunities for students to have an experience, reflect on it, conceptualise ways to act, and then experiment with these new concepts as appropriate. If you can design all your lessons in this way, then there should always be aspects of your lessons that will appeal to your students and enable them to assimilate the learning to maximum effect. Note that I am not advocating teaching to single learning styles, rather that your lessons should be designed to accommodate all the preferred learning styles in the class.
It should be evident that a lesson is only as effective as the learning styles of your students. A well designed lesson plan will provide flexibility of approach to achieving objectives by enabling use of the widest variety of training ‘tools’ available in your toolbox. Supplement that by adapting your delivery to accommodate all the learning styles, and you potentially have a winning formula.
Try a search on ‘Learning Style Inventory’; you will find plenty of resources out there (based on Kolb’s work) that can assist you. I do hope your students enjoy the fruits of your labours!
* Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (1984)
Tony Sheridan is the Managing Director of The Training Domain Ltd. His previous roles have included Head of Training for Airbus subsidiaries in the Middle East and provision of L&D expertise on large-scale Telecommunication and Command & Control projects.
Article originally published 2012 in 'The Evolllution', an online newspaper which publishes articles and interviews by individuals across the post-secondary space, sharing their insights on higher education and their opinions on what the future holds for the industry.