Learning Theories and Styles


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A learning style is defined as a unique way in which a personacquires, retains, and retrieves information during the process oflearning (Mumford, n.d). In other words, a learning style simplyrefers to the different ways or approaches to learning preferred byan individual. There are many theories about and models of learningstyles that have been proposed and include the Kinesthetic (VAK),Auditory, Visual, learning style, multiple intelligences,experiential learning, Dunn, and Dunn learning styles among others(Reynolds, n.d). This paper compares and evaluates the VAK learningstyle and the multiple intelligences theory and explains how both canbe applied in the learning of English.

The Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (VAK)Learning Style

Fleming proposed this model, and it is the most common andextensively used model. The VAK model proposes that learners use allthe three modalities (Kinesthetic (VAK), Auditory, and Visual) tolearn (Pritchard, 2005). However, one or two of these threemodalities is usually dominant and, therefore, the dominant modalitydefines the best way in which the learner takes in new informationduring the process of learning. The style is at times not the samefor some tasks. For instance, a learner might prefer to use aparticular style for learning a certain task but a combination ofother styles for learning another task, different from the first.

The major basis of this typology is modalities that is, a pathwaythrough which human expression can occur and consists of acombination of both perception and memory (Pritchard, 2005). Learnersuse all the three modalities to learn but to a different degree. TheVAK theorists propose that teachers should present their informationby making use of all three styles. Auditory learners learn better byhearing. Visual learners, on the other hand, have two sub channels,that is, linguistic and spatial. Visual – linguistic learners learnbest through written language. Visual-spatial learners learn betterwith visual materials such as charts, videos, and demonstrations.Kinesthetic learners learn best using touch (tactile) and movement(Pritchard, 2005).

In the learning and teaching of English, the model can be implementedin various ways. Visual learners require observing the teacher’sbody gestures and facial expressions to grasp a lesson better. Theteacher can also make use of charts, diagrams, videos, handouts, andflipcharts among other visuals. He/she may add illustrations fortextual information whenever possible, help learners envision thetopic, allow them to draw diagrams in the margins, invite questionsto keep them alert and eliminate potential distractions from theenvironment (Parvez, 2008).

For auditory learners, an English teacher can use discussions, a taperecorder, or reading text aloud in class. The teacher may also beginthe lesson by giving a brief explanation of the content and give asummary after concluding. Auditory learners could also be encouragedto verbalize questions. The teacher should also include auditoryactivities in the lessons such as brainstorming, give the learnersenough time for debriefing to enable them make connections of thecontent they have learned and develop an internal dialogue betweenhim/her and the learners (Parvez, 2008).

Kinesthetic learners the English teacher can use activities thatenable the learner to get moving, include music when appropriate inthe lesson, highlight key points using colored markers on whiteboardsor give them colored pencils/highlighters, allow for frequent breaksduring the lesson and encourage learners to transfer information fromone medium to another (Parvez, 2008). For example, the students cantransfer information from a textbook to a laptop or tablet.

Multiple Intelligences Theory

Howard Gardner of Harvard University put this theory forward. Heproposes that we all have multiple intelligences and that we use oneor two of these multiple intelligences for effective learning(Gardner, n.d). Instead of defining intelligence by using IQ scores,Gardner defined intelligence as a combination of psychological andbiological factors that makes it possible for individuals to createsolutions to problems or make products that are of significance inone or more cultures (Gardner &amp Hatch, n.d). Therefore, thismeans that the intelligence could be viewed as a capacity that isdeveloped and expressed in particular social and cultural contexts.Gardner then came up with eight intelligences that comprise of themultiple intelligences based on the criteria he developed, and theyinclude linguistic intelligence that enables people communicate andunderstand the world through language. This type of intelligence isbest demonstrated in lawyers, poets, public speakers among others andis highly valued and rewarded in schools.

Logical-mathematical intelligence makes it possible for people toappreciate and analyze abstract relationships (Reid, 2005). Thisintelligence is applicable in mathematical fields and scientificinvestigations. Mathematicians, engineers, and scientists apply thiskind of intelligence. Spatial intelligence assists people perceivespatial information, transform it and recreate visual images frommemory (Reid,2005). Architects, surgeons, artist, and pilots employthis kind of intelligence in their work. Musical intelligence makesit possible for people to create, communicate and understand soundsand their meanings. Musicians, composers, and acoustic engineers usethis kind of intelligence mostly. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligenceinvolves using part of the body or the whole body to create productsor solve problems. Skilled artisans, choreographers, and rockclimbers make use of this intelligence. Interpersonal intelligence isthe ability to see and make distinctions in other people’s feelingsand use this knowledge to solve problems (Reid, 2005). Teachers,actors, therapists and politicians rely on this intelligence.Intrapersonal intelligence makes it possible for people to recognizeand distinguish their own feelings and in the end make decisionsconcerning their lives. It is demonstrated at times in skillfulautobiographies. Naturalistic intelligence enables people solveproblems by using features or characteristics of the naturalenvironment. It is important in the work of hunters, farmers,scientists and environmentalists (Reid, 2005).

Multiple intelligences can be applied in the teaching and learning ofEnglish in various ways. For learners who are gifted in linguisticintelligence, a teacher can use activities that involve listening,speaking and tongue twisters (Armstrong, 2009). Learners who possesslogical-mathematical intelligence, on the other hand, learn better,when a teacher incorporates the use of abstract symbols such asdeciphering code words, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles amongothers (Armstrong, 2009). Musical intelligence calls on Englishteachers to include audio tapes, music, and songs in the lesson. Forspatial intelligence, an English teacher uses activities that involveart, imagery, pictures, and those that require an active imagination.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is applicable in learning Englishusing role-play, drama, body language and dancing (Armstrong, 2009).For interpersonal intelligence, an English teacher includesactivities such as group work, collaboration skills and giving orreceiving feedback from students. Intrapersonal intelligence needs ateacher to use activities that call for silent reflection, thinking,and higher order reasoning. Lastly, natural intelligence calls forbringing the outdoors in the classroom through activities such aswildlife observation, writing journals, and relating to the outsideworld.

Advantages and Disadvantages of VAK LearningStyle

The Visual Auditory and Kinesthetic learning style has severaladvantages. To begin with, it ensures that the attention of studentsand their focus is engaged throughout the lesson using diverseteaching strategies. This lowers the disruption level in class sincemost of the students are engaged in the lesson. The learningexperience is also further improved by appealing to different sensemodalities thereby expanding the input range (Reynolds n.d). Inaddition, students who prefer to use one sense modality such as thosewith dyslexia cannot feel excluded or disadvantaged with thisapproach. However, there are also many criticism/disadvantages to theVAK learning style. This model of learning overlooks other factorsthat affect learning for instance, past educational experience inpreference of simple labels. Additionally, learners can give excusesfor their poor results by blaming the teachers for not using thesense that they prefer. There is also heavy criticism on thescientific basis for this learning style (Reynolds, n.d).

Advantages and Disadvantages of MultipleIntelligences Theory

Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory is critical since it helpsin explaining and understanding individual differences in learnersand the variations in mental performance. Using this theory, teacherscan provide their learners with opportunities for authentic learningaccording to the learner’s interests and needs. The students, onthe other hand, can show and share their strengths and areas ofexpertise leading to specialization and a boost in their confidenceand self-esteem. However, a lot of criticism has been generated onthe weakness of this theory. For instance, an instructor who is facedwith an overcrowded classroom but lacks the necessary resources willfind this theory quite impractical. Teachers will also need more timeto prepare lessons, however, assessing student’s learning isdifficult using this theory (Reynolds, n.d).

In essence, the Kinesthetic (VAK), Visual, and Auditory learningstyle and the multiple intelligences theory are both instrumental inteaching and learning. When students are aware of their learningstyle, they can discover their strengths and weakness and work onboth. Since teachers cannot be expected to accommodate all thelearners, they are encouraged to use a range of learning styles thatwill reach as many students as possible. In my opinion, however, Iprefer to use the multiple intelligences theory in the teaching andlearning of English. Multiple intelligences theory helps me toidentify, understand, and develop the diverse intelligence factors ofthe students. Using this theory in teaching will ensure that the manytalents of the students are explored, appreciated, and individualneeds of the students are met and the lessons are planned with a lotof consideration and thought.


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