Teaching & Learning Styles

Individuals have their own varied and preferred ways of learning. In every course that you teach, whether on campus or online, you should look for opportunities to connect to and use each of these styles to help students be successful.

This section looks at:

  • Teaching Styles
  • Thinking Styles
  • Learning Styles

Teaching Styles

No one model of instruction will be the best for all situations. These two contrasting teaching styles are basic models for instructor/student interaction.

Instructor-centered TeachingLearner-centered Teaching
  • The learning objective is usually the transfer of knowledge, information or skills from the instructor to the students.
  • The instructor has primary control over course content and the pace of learning
  • The purpose of learning is to acquire and memorize new knowledge or learn new skills.
The underlying philosophy is that students learn best by not only receiving knowledge but also by:
  • Interpreting it
  • Learning through discovery
  • Setting the pace of learning. Instructors coach and mentor students, facilitating learning by designing experiences through which students acquire new knowledge and develop new skills.

You can select one or combine these two teaching models when designing or facilitating a course.

In general, a learner-centered approach works best when the learners are relatively mature and possess significant related knowledge, or where sequencing of material is less critical.

Instructor-centered presentation is more appropriate when learners are less mature and lack necessary prior knowledge. Learners who are immature or lack necessary prior knowledge frequently make poor instructional choices if left on their own (e.g., they are unlikely to estimate correctly whether practice is needed, when sufficient mastery has been attained, etc.).

Thinking Styles

Different learners have different thinking styles. While these are generalizations — some people use more than one style — each individual usually has a preferred style. Your course will be most successful if you vary your style to meet the variety of thinking styles among your students.
Thinking Styles

Reflective Thinkers
  • View new information subjectively
  • Relate new information to past experiences
  • Often ask "why?"
  • Examine their feelings about what they are learning
Creative Thinkers
  • Like to play with new information
  • Always ask "why?"
  • Make excellent troubleshooters
  • Create their own solutions and shortcuts
Practical Thinkers
  • Want factual information without any "nice-to-know" additions
  • Seek the simplest, most efficient way to do their work
  • Are not satisfied until they know how to apply their new skills to their job or other interest
Conceptual Thinkers
  • Accept new information only after seeing the big picture
  • Want to know how things work, not just the final outcome
  • Learn the concepts that are presented but also want to know the related concepts that may not have been included

Learning Styles

Most students gravitate to one of these main learning styles, but they can usually adapt to another style if necessary. However, learners tend to look for their preferred style in each learning situation because they associate that style with learning success. When designing or teaching a course, you should look for opportunities to incorporate learning experiences and activities that appeal to each learning style to increase the likelihood of learner success.

Learning StyleCharacteristicsTeaching Strategies
Visual LearnersProcess new information best when it is visually illustrated or demonstrated
  • Graphics, Illustrations, images
  • Charts, graphs, tables
  • Demonstrations
Auditory LearnersProcess new information best when it is spoken
  • Lectures
  • Discussions
Kinesthetic LearnersProcess new information best when it can be touched or manipulated
  • Written assignments
  • Taking notes
  • Examining objects
  • Participating in activities
Environmental LearnersProcess new information best when it is presented in surroundings that match learner preferences (room temperature, lighting, seating, etc.)
  • Online learners can control their own learning environment to a greater extent than on-campus students!

Individual or group projects that allow learners to define the form of their final learning product let them create learning experiences that appeal to their personal learning style.

If you would like to talk with an Instructional Design Consultant about learning strategies and methods that connect with different types of learners, contact Teaching & Learning Services.

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