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Learning Styles in the Modern Classroom

The modern college lecture hall is bursting at the seams with multi-sensory mediums for learning and distributing information. With so many personal tech devices entering the classroom and encouraging multitasking, professors’ lessons are easily in one ear and out the other, especially if one ear is occupied with an earphone. This impersonal and all too familiar classroom delivers education in a one-size-fits-all package, and ignores the notion that no two students are exactly alike. Even the way students utilize their gadgets differs based on learning preferences. Students can listen to music and podcasts, watch videos, search images, communicate in discussions and forums, participate in interactive tutorials, take notes, and create presentations, all using 21st century learning tools. The idea that students might thrive in a classroom that specifically responds to any one of these individualized learning preferences is not new—in fact, the idea might already be outdated. In the 70s and 80s, psychologists and educators discovered that students have identifiable tendencies when it comes to learning. The popular VARK model, developed by Neil Flemming, assigns students to visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic styles of learning. Early research suggested that matching students with a teaching style that aligned with their preferred learning style could improve their ability to remember and recall information. The idea is relatively straightforward, but seems to insinuate that every student fits neatly into a single learning style box—a peculiar concept when so many innovators in education are striving to think out of the box. As groundbreaking as the original learning style research was, advancements in the psychological sciences debate whether matching teaching modes to learning styles ever carried any benefits at all. The research now suggests that creating lessons based on singular learning styles has little to no impact on a student’s ability to perform on exam day. Although educational communities are backing away from the belief that students learn better when taught according to a predefined style, recognizing the nuances between learning styles is still exceedingly valuable. Rather than tailoring lectures and lessons to one type of learner, instructors who can apply multiple teaching styles will appeal to more students and improve overall engagement among today’s easily distracted learners. It is no coincidence that innovations in education are recognizing the potential of blended teaching styles. Today’s technology allows educators to cater to students with dissimilar learning preferences by implementing various teaching styles through multimedia and e-learning delivery systems. Educational tools now have the potential to be as individualized and unique as the students using them. Rather than disregarding a student’s tendency to absorb information visually, aurally, kinesthetically, or through reading and writing, trailblazers in education are developing solutions that embrace and integrate each distinctive style.
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