Differences in Learning Styles
Most would agree that everyone learns differently. Oftentimes, though, many adolescent students have little time or attention paid to how they learn best. This can be doubly true for adolescents who have experienced past learning difficulties, or for those who learn differently than most others.
With a complex process like learning, a one-size-fits-all approach will inevitably leave some students behind. When teachers and academic institutions work to find our how students learn, however, everyone can benefit. By offering adolescents engaging ways to learn via multi-modal instruction, and providing personalized academic support, educational programs can help students overcome learning challenges and achieve academic success.
Many adolescents enter a new year of school with low hopes for their achievement based on past instances of poor academic performance. It’s often not a lack of effort that caused these beliefs. Instead, many students weren’t engaged in their learning from the beginning. A traditional approach, where students sit and listen to a lecture with little participation on their end, may not work for everyone. So what does a better approach look like?
How Schools Can Accommodate Different Learning Styles
At a basic level, different students process information differently. Students often have strong preferences for how they learn. For instance, many describe themselves as visual learners or note that learning through participation in an activity works best for them. Researchers have categorized these preferences into distinct learning “styles,” such as visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic modes of learning. [i]
Education researchers don’t agree on whether students can be said to have distinct “styles” that consistently help them learn more from a particular kind of approach. There’s much debate about how students acquire these preferences, and whether or not they always translate into better results in the classroom. But whatever concept of learning styles one subscribes to, a few things are clear. When students express a preference for one learning style, it doesn’t mean that teachers should put them in a box and only try to reach them with one kind of instruction. However, the student will probably be more interested in learning if teachers use that format. Teaching that offers students different ways of working through the material is more likely to appeal to a broad variety of learning strengths and preferences. This approach is vital to engaging students in the classroom.
Engaging Adolescents With Alternatives to Lecture-Based Instruction
There’s a reason why more schools do not break out of the traditional lecture-based style of education: it can be highly effective, and it lends itself to almost any subject. It’s not easy to design activities around every subject that help students learn. Instead of eliminating the traditional approach of lecturing altogether, many choose to supplement it with new approaches.
Teachers can incorporate more modes of instruction into their lessons in the form of class discussions, group work, and activity-based learning. These modes of instruction help students approach information from new angles. Students get a chance to work through problems, questions, and topics of discussion more actively. When students tackle the same problem or information in different ways, it helps them truly understand it so they can learn at a deeper level.
Experts recommend that teachers engage students by having them reflect on how they learned, what habits help and harm their learning, and how they can learn new things effectively in the future. [ii] When students have a chance to work through problems from multiple angles and reflect on how they learn, they develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that make them better learners and thinkers overall.
The Role of Individual Learning Plans in Academic Success
Because the classroom is designed to teach multiple students at once, it can be easy for individual students with different learning needs to slip through the cracks and feel left behind. Academic counseling offers students one-on-one support to capitalize on their strengths and address areas of challenge. As part of our Positive Youth Development approach at Shortridge, we attempt to find those areas in which a student excels, and incorporate them into their learning strategies.
Individual learning plans (ILPs) help students overcome common learning difficulties by identifying problem areas and developing goals and processes for working on them. ILPs should take into account learning differences, or conditions like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which profoundly impact how students learn. With new organizational and academic strategies, students can overcome the biggest learning obstacles these conditions present. This ongoing process of setting new goals and modifying a student’s approach over time is the kind of personalized academic support necessary for success.
When students encounter multiple ways of learning, they naturally have more opportunities to find the learning methods that work for them. Instructors at Shortridge Academy take their students’ differing needs into account and stay flexible with multi-modal approaches to learning in the classroom. This way, they engage more students and support learning at a deeper level while helping students find their academic confidence in challenging subjects. Combining these approaches, students can find their strengths, identify how they learn best, and grow towards academic and personal success.