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Learning Styles

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 24, 2014

A most important characteristic of becoming an effective, caring educator is the ability and commitment to recognize individual learning differences among students.

Knowles and Brown, 2000, p. 65

Individuals have unique styles of learning. We adapt these styles, usually unconsciously, to varying circumstances according to the learning demand. Many psychologists and educators have observed, and attempted to label, the ways we learn.

Multiple intelligences and learning styles are linked in practical ways. Intelligences are “biological and psychological potentials and capacities” (Gardner, 1999, p. 82). Decisions about how to use these capacities may depend on style preference. Style determines our approach to intelligences. To clarify this concept, consider a person with strong musical intelligence. This intelligence may manifest itself in the careers of conductors, performers, composers, and music critics, or it may be manifested in a talent that is enjoyed as an avocation. Learner preferences and styles contribute to how intelligences are used and developed.

To use our understanding of learning differences to the benefit of students, we need to analyze our own inclinations as well as those of our students. Then we must help our students see how they can learn best so they can both use their dominant characteristics and enhance their less dominant characteristics. All this involves understanding of self. Carl Jung’s (1923) work has contributed greatly to our ability to do just that. He divides all human behavior into two categories—perception and judgment. To perceive is to find out or discover. To judge (or process) is to decide, evaluate, and take action. Each of us spends time perceiving and judging, individually tending toward one over the other.

Imaginative, Analytic, Common Sense, Dynamic Learners

Bernice McCarthy (1997) describes four major learning styles: imaginative, analytic, common sense, and dynamic. She explains these styles, using Jung’s conception of perceiving and judging. Imaginative learners perceive information in concrete ways and then process it reflectively. Imaginative learners prefer interaction and integration and sharing rather than the “sit and git” traditional classroom style. Analytic learners perceive information abstractly and then process it reflectively. They value established knowledge and detail. Because they prefer sequential, step-by-step learning, the traditional classroom approach works well for them. Common sense learners perceive information abstractly and then process it actively. They desire real life applications of learning and thrive with hands-on instruction. Traditional classroom instruction will frustrate them unless they can see immediate uses for the skills/knowledge presented. Dynamic learners perceive information concretely and process it actively. They do not care about order and sequential learning, but prefer to take risks and tackle new challenges. They are often frustrated by traditional classroom methods.

Given this theory of learning styles, it appears that traditional classrooms, generally recognized for material presentation, guided practice, and assessments, and characterized by lecture, notetaking, occasional demonstration, and testing, are places where analytic learners thrive most.

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