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How Do Our Students Learn?

Nowadays, with the advent of computer aid instruction (CAI), computer access programs, distance learning and modular instructions, it becomes increasingly apparent that our students can no longer be taught all they want to learn within the limits of the classroom. Faced with these challenges and technological advancement in education, we can not help but shift our concern to teaching students how to learn, how to be independent, how to be self-directed such that they will be equipped with the skills needed to deal with an ever-changing environment.

Let me share with you my observations of some students’ approaches learning. There was that student who started with the intention of understanding the meaning of the article assigned to him for critiquing. He questioned the author’s arguments, and related them both to his previous knowledge as well as his personal experiences. He tried to determine the extent to which the author’s conclusions seemed to be justified by the evidences presented. That student has a deep approach of to learning. Another student seemed to rely almost exclusively on a surface approach. His intent was only to memorize and copy those parts of the article which he considers to be important. He had anticipated the questions to be asked afterwards. His focus of attention was thus limited to the specific facts or pieces of disconnected information learned by rote.

The two types of students I have just mentioned exemplify the identified four basic personalities (Mc Carthy, 1981) of students in relation to learning. Mc Carthy found out that some people learn by doing, others by sensing and feeling, some by watching, and some by thinking. He added that a person does not only rely on one of these ways all the time but shows a preference for one over the others. Furthermore, he found two basic variables in the learning preferences of people and these are; perception and process. That is, people perceive in a continuum between concrete and abstract. Those at the concrete end of the spectrum sense and feel their way, and they are called sensers or feelers. Others at the abstract end would rather think than feel, and they are called thinkers.

As for processing information, a person may go on a continuum between those who like to act or do, and those who would rather watch. These learning styles according to Mc Carthy are labeled into four, namely:

type 1 – innovative learners

type 2 – analytic learners

type 3 – common sense learners

type 4 – dynamic learners

The innovative learner is briefly described as: social interactor, learn by listening, divergent thinker, feeling person, perceives ideas concretely and processes reflectively, and innovative.

The analytic learner is briefly described as: idea oriented, perceive ideas abstractly, and processes reflectively, considers what the experts think, idea oriented, and seeks sequential information.

The common sense learner is described as: practical, reality-oriented, problem solver, interested in applying and making things work, and perceives ideas abstractly but processes it actively.

The dynamic learner is intuitive, unstructured, changeable, risk taker, experimental, and perceives ideas concretely but processes it actively.

So, in summary, each learning style is related to a variable personality type indicated in Figure 1.

Learning Styles and Personality Type

The students who had that deep approach to learning may either be classified to learning may either be classified as analytic, innovative, dynamic learner while the student with a surface approach to learning maybe classified as a common sense learner.

Knowing that each students has its own style of learning, it’s worth remembering 10 fundamentals principles of learning (Novak, et.al 1988).

  1. A motivated learner learns more readily than one who is not motivated.
  2. Learning motivated by reward is usually preferable to learning under the treat of punishment or the fear of failure
  3. Self-motivation to learn is preferable to motivation imposed by external sources, e.g. teacher or school.
  4. Students who have experienced success in the past are more wiling to set higher goals for the future. They will also be willing to work harder to achieve these goals even if they fail in their initial attempts.
  5. Students need practice in setting realistic goals – goals neither so low as to elicit little effort nor so high as to preclude success. Realistic goal-setting leads to more efficient learning than unrealistic goal-setting.
  6. Active participation in a learning task is preferable to passive receipt of what someone else has learned.
  7. Application of knowledge to the solution of new problems will be more efficient if the student has experience during learning of applying this knowledge in a variety of situations. Knowledge will also be more useful it is learned in a situation similar to that in which it will be applied.
  8. Student may learn in different ways and at difference rates.
  9. A clearly stated goal and a clearly perceived relationship between instruction and achievement of that goal increase student motivation.
  10. Emotion as well as intellect is involved in the learning process.

Lastly, it has been said that if students can be trained to be effective and independent learners, they need not be filled with all the information they can contain before going into a new job. They will have the capacity to learn whatever they need to learn. (Knowles, 1986). Indeed, they will have to generate that capacity in any case, whether they are trained to do so or not, since no classroom can prepare them for every contigency, for every aspect of life and work encountered outside the classroom.

Paulita Boado
CLSU, Munoz, Nueva Ecija

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