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Feature: Learning Styles in E-Learning


Using Learning Styles Analysis Dr Yvonne Walus explains how to tailor e-learning to the needs of the individual to optimise their ability to learn.

The beauty of the technology available behind e-learning is that the method of teaching can be customised to the needs of the individual. E-learning has the potential to allow learning at a pace, time of day and in the surroundings that best accommodate the student’s optimal.

The Learning Styles Analysis (LSA) Pyramid

The core elements of LSA, found in the top two layers of the pyramid, are:
* the area of processing (Brain Dominance)
* the area of perception (Sensory Modalities)

The remaining levels of the LSA Pyramid define the following learning styles:
* physical needs;
* environment conditions;
* social preferences;
* personal attitudes.

Brain Dominance
When it comes to internal information processing, learners will always use either sequential/analytic or impulsive/holistic brain processing and will either need to reflect or think simultaneously about the learning content.

Generally speaking, people with a sequential/analytic dominance (corresponding to Theorists in Kolb’s model) like facts, details and logic. They want their learning materials neat and organised, and they will read them from the beginning to the end, without skipping around. They learn step-by-step, prefer logical and analytic arguments and focus on details and facts.
To cater to their needs, the e-learning package should:
1. Make frequent use of keywords.
2. Explain all procedures to be used.
3. List all the assignments and objectives.
4. Underline important facts and arrange them in sequence.
5. Proceed step-by-step through detailed information.
6. Test frequently.
7. Provide instant and regular feedback.

Impulsive/holistic processors, in contrast, aren’t interested in the nitty-gritty of issues. Instead, they need to know the overall picture and the reasons behind a project. They tend to use their intuition or feelings rather than rationalise about a problem.
The software should:
1. Relate the lesson to the students’ experience, use practical examples.
2. Provide an overview of the concepts using mind-maps or summaries.
3. Allow the students to discover the facts by themselves.
4. Allow the students to map, graph or illustrate the material.
5. Give positive feedback even for small achievements.

Sensory Modalities
All learners can be classified into a single but more often into combination of the following four sensory types:
* Visual
* Auditory
* Tactile
* Kinesthetic

Because of the wealth of imagery offered, e-learning is best suited to highly visual people.

Auditory learners can be accommodated with background music, recorded speech and sound-effects (such as pings).

Tactile learners are disadvantaged, although their need can be partially satisfied by touch-pads, mice and/or touch-screens. It can be further enhanced by having to match pieces of a puzzle on the screen or match questions and answers using the drag-and-drop technique. Such students can also be encouraged to make their own memory aids offline, such as sculptures of molecules or board games depicting new topics.

The real challenge, however, comes with the kinesthetic learners who rely on real experiences as the most effective way of assimilating information. To enhance their retention and enjoyment of information intake, the e-learning course should offer off-line projects to enhance the online sessions. Learning sessions for these students will only be successful (and hopefully lead to understanding, skills, competencies, and knowledge) when they have physically experienced and/or actively ‘done’ something during the learning process.

Physical Needs
E-learning is ideal for people who can sit still for long periods and rarely fidget, but some learners need to pace or move about when concentrating. Having chairs on wheels or even a treadmill in front of their station may help them cope with the stress and repetitiveness of learning. Others might find high tables and standing while they are typing a good solution for their need for mobility.

Intake is a physical need that can be accommodated by e-learning. Some learners prefer to eat, drink, chew or nibble when concentrating. When discouraged, they resort to chewing pencils, fingernails or collars. They could also combine short movement breaks with eating.

Time of day is a physical need very compatible with e-learning. In fact, it is one of the main advantages e-learning holds over conventional learning. Every individual knows when they prefer to absorb new information: early or late morning, afternoon, evening, or in the middle of the night. Whatever their preference, the computer is there for them to use, 24/7.

Environment Conditions
Whatever the individual’s preferences for light, sound, temperature and working area they can all be met while e-learning; provided, of course, that the learner is aware of their own needs and goes into a little trouble to prepare the study accordingly.

Social Preferences
Social preferences include working alone, in a pair, with several peers, as part of a team, or with a figure of authority. Of those, only working alone is truly satisfied by e-learning. Nevertheless, on-line discussions and exchanging MSN or e-mail messages with a study buddy might help those who need others to learn with. Some e-learning can be performed in pairs or groups or teams (either physical presence or on line), so learners with a preference for not learning alone should strive to find like-minded colleagues.

Because the computer may be a figure of authority to some learners, every opportunity should be taken to represent it as such to learners with that particular preference.

Personal Attitudes
Self-starting e-learners don’t need any specific incentive. In contrast, those seeking external motivation may struggle to find it in the impersonal face of a computer, no matter how user-friendly and motivational the software. Such people would probably benefit from human coaches (albeit online ones) to encourage them, reward progress and provide clear-cut objectives.

Persistence can be classified into high, fluctuating and low. Again, individuals with a high persistence will have no trouble with e-learning. For those with fluctuating or low persistence, a form of keeping them on track is recommended to remind them about their tasks and to encourage their efforts. Their tasks may have to be broken down into small, manageable bits with small rewards and fun activities.
The same can be said of high and low responsibility.

The question of conformity to the rules is more pertinent to the classroom setup, so it will not be discussed here, except to highlight the fact that problems conforming may be one of the reasons an individual may embark on a course of e-learning but never follow through.

Problems with learning and education cannot be fixed with technology alone.

An individual’s learning potential is vastly enhanced when they can absorb information in their favoured conditions. To be truly successful and recognised as a valid way of learning, e-learning should always take the students’ learning needs into account.

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