Advancing learning styles


Chase Mielke, a teacher at Plainwell High School, has noticed changes in his classroom and in his students caused by the implementation of more technology into the school system. These changes have affected how kids interact with one another and with him, as well.

It’s a common practice among high school students to get out of doing certain things by complaining about how something doesn’t fit their learning style. I’m an auditory learner, they’ll say. Or: I’m a kinesthetic learner, I can only learn through visuals, I can’t do this.

But according to Matthew Stuve, an associate professor of educational psychology at Ball State, you can’t only be one of these things. We all learn through using a little bit of each of these styles, even though we may focus on one more than the others. And the use of technology in classrooms has changed the way these learning styles work.

Tech in the Classroom

At the school where Chase teaches, administrators introduced iPads into the classrooms in an attempt to bridge the gap between different learning styles, which is a common action, according to Stuve. They thought that by updating their materials—a tablet instead of several books, for example—it would help the students learn better.

But Stuve says they aren’t using the technology in a positive way; they don’t know what to do with it. Just giving it to students is not enough. They need to understand how to use it in constructive ways in order for it to help their learning, which is something Stuve has noticed doesn’t always happen.

Chase says that in his own education, he became frustrated because he didn’t think the teachers really saw him as anything other than another body. Because of this, he wanted to become a teacher. He wanted to change the problems he saw in his own education, in order to better the education of his future students. One of those problems was the way he was taught.

In Chase’s opinion, tests and papers are mostly useful as formative assessments. In order to understand where a student is at in their education, there needs to be a way to assess that, and tests seem to do an okay job for the most part. When a teacher knows what’s working well and what isn’t, it makes way for understanding how to best use other learning techniques.

He believes that hands-on activities should be what we strive for in education—the tests should be used in order to better see where the students are at, so that lessons can be planned around them with that knowledge.

He thinks that one way to get students more interested in their own education is by personalizing assignments. For example, he has students write persuasive letters to businesses or people of their choosing. It’s hands-on, relevant to the class, and students are more motivated because they had a say in what they were doing.

Chase has noticed that at his school, the iPads haven’t really been used as much as the school thought they would. They’re mostly used in larger projects, like in the math classes, instead of most classes, as the school had intended.

In his research, Stuve has observed several schools that have implemented the use of devices like Chase’s. He said that usually, when iPads entered the school system it became clear that the technology wasn’t helping, because of the lack of time, access, and training on the devices.

According to a survey conducted by Scholastic, children aged 6–17 preferred to read physical books, not on a device. At Plainwell High School, teachers noticed students playing games on the device during class time or not using it as all, so the devices that were meant to help became more of a distraction than a learning aide. As Stuve said, the idea for the advanced learning techniques was good, but misplaced in how it was implemented

When we don’t understand something, we can’t use it effectively, which can lead to problems such as the ones experienced in Plainwell High School.

Inclusivity in Learning

Making learning more interactive through the use of technology can also help those with disabilities, both physical and cognitive. Oftentimes, a different approach must be taken to accommodate for the disabilities. Lisa Osborn, a physical therapist assistant at Kalamazoo Heritage Community Center, says that things like the learning and physical activity games that the Wii systems have can help those with disabilities learn in their own way—a more physical way. She has seen this progress in the people she works with.

Stuve says the hardest work of being an educator is the moment-by-moment, everyday decision made by a teacher. Often, an approach must be adjusted to fit a person’s learning style, and this is especially true in those with disabilities. If something isn’t working, it’s important to adjust the activity in a way that might make it easier for the individual to learn.

Some of the biggest breakthroughs with more-advanced technology have occurred with students with disabilities. According to Concordia University, innovative communication technology is what has been the most beneficial to those students. These technologies include: Devices that convert text to speech, speech-recognition software that converts speech to text, text-manipulation that increases font sizes to accommodate vision impairments, transcription tools that allow students to control the speed of audio transmissions, portable keyboards, and computing devices that are customizable and mobile.

Through these technologies, students are able to visually and auditorily learn better, and with this feeling of empowerment they don’t feel as alienated in the classroom. Assistive technology like this helps raise their goals so they don’t feel segregated from other students and can participate just as well. It helps them be more capable of personal success and growth.

The changes in technology allow learning techniques to grow and change alongside those who use them, especially with individuals with disabilities. With these technologies, educators can be more accommodating to the students’ specific needs, which can allow them to more easily learn.

Even the way we teach those who help with disabilities has been changing. Osborn knows about a transitional doctorate of physical therapy that allows physical therapists to expand their knowledge when it comes to children with disabilities. Not only do they help with physical disabilities, but with cognitive ones, as well. Osborn’s coworkers are pursuing their doctorates to better understand and explore the needs of disabilities with adults and children.

Computing Toward a Degree

Corinne Thinnes, a nursing major at Ball State University, has learned to adjust to the increasing presence of technology in her life. She uses it to her advantage, especially when it comes to school. She can find the answers to almost everything on the Internet when she’s struggling with an assignment or other academic obligation, which she sees as a good thing.

When you attend college, technology can be a great asset. It can be used to communicate with others going through the same experiences as you, whether they’re in the same classes or not. According to Purdue University, communication and collaboration have been expanded by technology. Classrooms are typically kept to themselves without a lot of outside help, and collaboration comes from group projects within that same classroom.

Because of today’s technology, students in a typical college classroom setting can have more opportunities for learning than they might have had before. This allows for more accommodation of different learning styles. For example, students in a class at Purdue are learning about the Arctic by following a team of scientists online who are on an expedition in that area.

They are able to research through blog posting, viewing photos, e-mailing questions to the scientists, and even having live conversations with them through a videoconference.

Now, across the country, students can share with other students on similar topics and talk about what they have learned. They can also collaborate their ideas on laptops, iPads, and phones as well.

Corinne says that the technology we have today allows her and other nursing students to better succeed in their field. They have better visuals and graphics to learn from, which helps them more accurately memorize anatomy.

According to Stuve, the use of educational technology has altered realities and caused schools and universities to look at things more closely; instead of broader categories they now zoom in on specifics aspects of a topic. This, in turn, has allowed students to see the bigger picture of their education, which has given them a better understanding of what they are learning and trying to achieve. He says that this is a good thing and a step toward progressing education further.

The ability to have access to technology so close to us at all times can be useful, but it can also be misused, as Stuve suggested. It often brings up the idea that just because we can, does not necessarily mean we should.

Though technology has allowed for many advancements and changes in learning styles, there is still much to be done to further this progress. One tool might not always be the answer to helping students learn in more helpful ways.


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