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Learning styles (7): how we learn is important

Learning styles: universal, but unique

That's how we'd define the learning process. Even when it comes to lifelong learning, which involved a real commitment towards gaining information. Why? Because learning is for everyone, but it is not the same for everyone. We are different, so we acquire information differently and we put it into practice in our own ways. Thus, we should place this idea at the centre of any learning process in order to make it efficient, worth approaching and easy to turn it into more that just theory. Learning styles guide the process. All the time. Even the lifelong learning process.

Multiple intelligences, different learning styles

There are a lot of theories that research the unique character of lifelong learning imposed by a variety of learning styles and individual abilities. One of them belongs to Howard Gardner, who has radically changed the perspective upon education, by exploring a theory which highlights the existence of several types of intelligence, each of them imposing a certain approach to learning. Of course, he is aware of the challenges imposed by his theory at the level of the educational system, in general and how any learning endeavour besides the formal education, in particular.

At first blush, this diagnosis would appear to sound a death knell for formal education. It is hard to teach one intelligence; what if there are seven? It is hard enough to teach even when anything can be taught; what to do if there are distinct limits and strong constraints on human cognition and learning? (Howard Gardner 1993: xxiii)

Indeed, this approach comes with a series of new barriers to overcome in the process of learning, but once people actually take into consideration their learning styles and adapt the process according to it, they can start internalising information in a way that actually matters. On the long term (lifelong learning).

Seven kinds of intelligence would allow seven ways to teach, rather than one. And powerful constraints that exist in the mind can be mobilised to introduce a particular concept (or whole system of thinking) in a way that children are most likely to learn it and least likely to distort it, Howard Gardner states.

But it does not apply only to children and their education, it can rather be extended to any learning endeavour in general. According to Gardner's theory, there are seven types of intelligence:

  • Linguistic intelligence, which involves the idea that individuals effectively use language to retain information;
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence which is based on the capacity to detect patterns and to apply them in the process of critical thinking;
  • Bodily kinesthetic intelligence;
  • Musical intelligence;
  • Spatial intelligence;
  • Interpersonal intelligence, which is based on the idea of social learning, which implies people learning effectively together and can be applied to any stage of the lifelong learning process;
  • Intrapersonal intelligence which implies an effective working model of ourselves.

Kolb's experiential learning

Another perspective upon lifelong learning is brought to us by David Kolb who, along with Roger Fry, created the experiential learning model which consists of four elements: concrete experience, observation, forming abstract concepts and testing them in new situations, a model which implies a circular movement (source: infed).

According to Kolb, effective lifelong learning requires four basic abilities, which define the outcomes of a learning process: concrete experience abilities, reflective observation abilities, abstract conceptualisation abilities and active experimentation abilities. Based on these, Kolb & Fry identified some learning styles (Tennant 1996):

  • The converger, characterised by practical application of ideas, lack of emotional involvement and the usage of a hypo-deductive reasoning on specific problems;
  • The diverger, defined by imagination and a creative perspective upon different situations, leading to an ability to generate ideas and a human-centred approach;
  • The assimilator, who prefers an inductive reasoning and a preference for abstract objects, rather than for people;
  • The accomodator, who is a risk-taker and uses intuition when challenged by different issues.

Of course, each of these approaches and learning styles has its own limitations, but they shed light on the idea that learning styles are fundamental and learners should be aware of that which best suits them, so that they can fully benefit from the lifelong learning approach in which they get involved.

Some (final) thoughts

Lifelong learning is a great asset in one's personal and professional development and in the effort of achieving multiple goals, but it should be employed after a thorough analysis of learning styles and abilities.

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