Learning Styles / Adult Learners

Summary of the Learning Styles Forum Discussion 

by Silvia Diblasio

Threads and topics:

  • Are Learning Styles a Myth? (started by Silvia)
  • If “Learning Styles” are a Myth, what are Learning Differences and how can we approach them? (started by Silvia)
  • Learning Styles (started by Doug)
  • Culture and Age (started by Doug)
  • Learning Styles FAQ (started by Silvia)
  • The Marshmallow Challenge forces learners to collaborate

Main ideas discussed with authors:

  • Real factors that impact learning, such as people’s habits (Cindy Bai) or preferences (Elaine Lai) are sometimes wrongly called “learning styles”
  • Cultural beliefs can influence on how learners perceive education and the roles of both learners and educators, as well as expectations (Tanya Tan) and these can as well make the teaching of certain topics (history, religion, etc) very sensitive
  • Internationalization of curriculum (Doug): a trend that strives on embracing differences and being sensitive towards other cultural approaches to learning, how topics are determined and taught, etc.
  • Age differences may also affect how people learn, how they manage technology and expectations about educator and learner’s roles (Jolene Loveday), however, individual differences may override both socio-cultural and generational generalizations and teachers should be aware of this.
  • Fear, more than age, may impact how learners approach and use technology (Katrina Connell) and knowing how to match previous experiences with current ones and encouraging learners may be helpful to understand and engage them with tools they have never experience before
  • Diversity (which is different from learning styles and beyond cultural diversity and include people with disabilities, learning difficulties, addictions and other social or psychological challenges) may also become an “issue” for educators, as when it is a barrier, it can slow down and deeply impact a learner’s progress or even an entire class (Amie Schellenberg)
  • “Learning styles” have been catalogued and classified by different authors in even more diverse groups Linguistic, Math/Logical, Visual/Spatial, Musical, Interpersonal, Intra-personal, Bodily/Physical, Naturalistic Tactile, Active, Reflective , Global Understanding, Analytical Understanding (Tanya Tan)
  • “Rather than determining one specific style or another, the Felder-Silverman model proposes four dimensions of learning styles, and that each of us falls within a scale on each dimension. The four dimensions are:
  • Laughing (while not a learning style) leads to learning and should be encouraging in class through diverse activities as long as they are appropriate for the topic, group characteristics and time when they are applied, such as the Marshmallow Challenge (Talisa Ramos and Katrina Connell)
  • Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT’s) are great tools for educators to fully understand their learners’ needs, expectations, level of learning and motivation (Talisa Ramos)
  • While most educators are aware of the fact that learners come to class with different experiences, motivation levels, expectations and preferences or habits, the tendency is to “teach everybody the same”. Why does this happen?: Why does this happen?
  • As educators, we need to be sensitive and careful about how we address “learning styles” and do this as a team along with our learners (not external labeling) (Avi Sternberg)
  • Finding diversity in the approaches we use to reach out learners is a good strategy: exposing them to different formats and activities. It is also important to be aware of the type of knowledge or skill we are teaching, and adapt the strategy to this (Isabelle Vilm)
  • Ethical issues: how do we see educators who continue perpetuating the myth on learning styles not supported by research or any other credible evidence? (Elaine Lai)
  • Students may benefit from a a team of educators (being taught by a team instead of a single teacher) as each educator will approach the topics in a different way, reinforcing and reaching out to the diverse preferences and expectations of learners (Rhonda Hite)
    • Active vs. Reflective Learners
    • Sensing vs. Intuitive Learners
    • Visual vs. Verbal Learners
    • Sequential vs. Global Learners (by Elaine Lai)
    • the extra time and work involved
    • impracticality, especially in larger classes
    • fossilized ideas of what “good” teaching is
    • standardization (transferability of courses) and ideas of fairness (Jolene Loveday)

Group Conclusion:

While “learning styles” don’t exist, we all agree that a wide range of factors influence how people learn and approach the learning process. People of all ages and cultures come with a complex baggage of experiences, stories and beliefs related to learning, expectations about the process and roles in learning, different goals and different levels of independence, metacognition, etc.

Because of the above, we as educators need to be able to assess these differences, if possible one-on-one and carefully build a “learner profile” along with the learner so we can create environments and activities that help each learner to be the best they can be and to learn how to learn…

 What did I get from this discussion

I am very interested in the part of the discussion related to the fact that “Age differences may also affect how people learn, how they manage technology and expectations about educator and learner’s roles”. Because I completed the Online Instruction program, but  also because the population of learners I teach to includes a wide variety of learners in terms of age, this topic is particularly important to me. I have started designing my own French online courses and I am not sure is the oldest part of the population will be interested in taking the course online or blended as I am planning to offer it. However, I also teach Digital Literacy and I see many people over 70, even 80 years old come to learn how to use their Digital Devices including computers. Does it mean that they would choose these tools in order to learn other topics? I doubt that it would be their first choice. It was mentionned in the discussion that “Fear, more than age, may impact how learners approach and use technology”. When I teach Digital Literacy, I  observe that fear is often related to age. Here is what the literature says about that:

  • People from the Veterans generation “do not like the change” and “they are not very risk tolerant” (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d., p.5). This is probably why they are afraid of doing something wrong when they use technology.
  • People from the Boomer generation are “either afraid of new technology or just simply do not understand it” (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d., p.9). However, since they are also “avid learners” (Coates, 2007) and “competitive” (Hart, 2008), they would probably take up the challenge of using technology to learn and do their best.
  • As for the Gen X who still belong to the Digital Immigrant group (Prensky, 2001) “learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment”. Therefore, we can expect that the majority should have a level of comfort facing the use of technology to learn higher than the two previous generations. They are motivated also by the possibility of the latest technological advances” (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d., p.8).

This is about age differences affecting how people manage technology. Now about their expectations about educator and learners’ role, I found that the difference is higher among people with different cultures. In some cultures, the mark of respect towards different people, including the teacher, is very important. For the same reason, people raised with this culture, expect the teacher to tell them what they have to know. (But whatever the differences are between the different learners, I believe that a self-directed approach is new for any adult learner. It needs to be clearly explained in order to be understood and accepted.)

I totally agree that “Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT’s) are great tools for educators to fully understand their learners’ needs, expectations, level of learning and motivation”. I have been using them a lot since I took PIDP 3230 but, maybe not so much to understand my learner’s expectations. I have been using a pre-course questionnaire for that but I guess I could us a CAT to also get better feedback about the course (to see if it meets learners’ expectation) during the course.

Why do we “teach everybody the same” despite the fact that we are aware of learners’ differences and how important they are? I am trying to see how I could take these differences into account during a group class. I believe that I do a little bit: when I ask questions individually, I choose the question according to what I know about the learner. However, this discussion makes me wonder if I could do more.

I am not finding any answer right now but this discussion forum has certainly been a good reminder for me that, even though I don’t like the learning style “classification”, differences among learners are very important to take into account all the time.

Coates, J. (2007). Generation Y – The Millennial Generation. In Generational Learning Styles. Retrieved from http://www.docstoc.com/docs/63832024/Generation-Y—The-Millennial-Generation +

United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund. (n.d.). Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (and Generation Z) Working Together. WHAT MATTERS AND HOW THEY LEARN? How different are they? Fact and fiction. [PDF Document]. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/staffdevelopment/pdf/Designing%20Recruitment,%20Selection%20&%20Talent%20Management%20Model%20tailored%20to%20meet%20UNJSPF%27s%20Business%20Development%20Needs.pdf

A long list of references posted in the forum on this topic

Culture, age and other differences in learning:

Documentation on the myth behind different learning styles:


Tests to “discover your learning style” and more “theories” on learning styles:


Tests and questionnaires:

Strategies and interesting links:


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