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Unformatted text preview: In this chapter you
will explore Confessions of a COLLEGE STUDENT... ‘‘ ’’ BILLIE DIVER, 20
University of North Dakota ever thought about how you learn? People
learn differently. This is hardly a novel idea, but if you are to do well in college,
it is important that you become aware of your preferred way, or style, of learning. Experts agree that there is no one best way to learn.
Maybe you have trouble paying attention to a long lecture, or maybe
listening is the way you learn best. You might love classroom discussion, or
you might consider hearing what other students have to say in class a big
waste of time.
Perhaps you have not thought about how college instructors, and even
particular courses, have their own inherent styles, which can be different
from your preferred style of learning. Many instructors rely almost solely on
lecturing; others use lots of visual aids, such as PowerPoint outlines, charts,
graphs, and pictures. In science courses, you will conduct experiments or
go on field trips where you can observe or touch what you are studying. In
dance, theater, or physical education courses, learning takes place in both
your body and your mind. And in almost all courses, you’ll learn by reading
both textbooks and other materials. Some instructors are friendly and warm;
others seem to want little interaction with students. It’s safe to say that in at
least some of your college courses, you won’t find a close match between the way you learn most effectively and the way you’re being taught. This chapter will help you first to understand how you learn best and then to think of
ways in which you can create a link between your style of learning and the
expectations of each course and instructor.
There are many ways of thinking about and describing learning styles.
Some of these will make a lot of sense to you; others might initially seem
confusing or counterintuitive. Some learning style theories are very simple,
and some are complex. You will notice some overlap between the different
theories, but using several of them might help you do a more precise job of
discovering your learning style. If you are interested in reading more about
learning styles, the library and campus learning center will have many resources.
In addition to its focus on learning styles, this chapter will also explore
learning disabilities, which are very common among college students. You
might know someone who has been diagnosed with a learning disability,
such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. It is also possible that you
have a special learning need and are not aware of it. This chapter seeks to
increase your self-awareness and your knowledge about such challenges to
learning. In reading this chapter, you will learn more about common types
of learning disabilities, how to recognize them, and what to do if you or
someone you know has a learning disability. The VARK Inventory focuses on how learners prefer to use their senses (hearing, seeing, writing, reading, or experiencing) to learn. The acronym VARK
stands for “Visual,” “Aural,” “Read/Write,” and “Kinesthetic.” Visual learners prefer to learn information through charts, graphs, symbols, and other
visual means. Aural learners prefer to hear information. Read/Write learners
prefer to learn information that is displayed as words. Kinesthetic learners
prefer to learn through experience and practice, whether simulated or real. To
determine your learning style according to the VARK Inventory, respond to
the following questionnaire. Use the following scoring chart to find the VARK category to which each of
your answers belongs. Circle the letters that correspond to your answers. For
example, if you answered b and c for question 3, circle V and R in the 3 row. Count the number of each of the VARK letters you have circled to get
your score for each VARK category. Total number of Vs circled =
Total number of As circled =
Total number of Rs circled =
Total number of Ks circled =
Because you could choose more than one answer for each question, the
scoring is not just a simple matter of counting. It is like four stepping stones
across some water. Enter your scores from highest to lowest on the stones in
the figure, with their V, A, R, and K labels. Scoring VARK - Stepping Stones
Stepping Distance Your stepping distance comes from this table: Follow these steps to establish your preferences.
1. Your first preference is always your highest score. Check that first stone
as one of your preferences.
2. Now subtract your second highest score from your first. If that figure
is larger than your stepping distance, you have a single preference.
Otherwise, check this stone as another preference and continue with
3. Subtract your third score from your second one. If that figure is larger
than your stepping distance, you have a bimodal preference. If not, check
your third stone as a preference and continue with step 4.
4. Last, subtract your fourth score from your third one. If that figure is larger
than your stepping distance, you have a trimodal preference. Otherwise,
check your fourth stone as a preference, and you have all four modes as
Note: If you are bimodal or trimodal or you have checked all four modes
as your preferences, you can be described as multimodal in your VARK
preferences. How can knowing your VARK score help you do better in your college
classes? The following table offers suggestions for using learning styles to
develop your own study strategies. A learning model that is more complex than the VARK Inventory is the widely
used and referenced Kolb Inventory of Learning Styles. While the VARK
Inventory investigates how learners prefer to use their senses in learning, the
Kolb Inventory focuses on abilities we need to develop in order to learn. This
inventory, developed in the 1980s by David Kolb, is based on a four-stage
cycle of learning (see Figure 4.1).
According to Kolb, effective learners need four kinds of abilities:
Concrete experience abilities, which allow them to be receptive to others
and open to other people’s feelings and specific experiences. An example
of this type of ability is learning from and empathizing with others.
Reflective observation abilities, which help learners to reflect on their
experiences from many perspectives. An example of this type of ability
is remaining impartial while considering a situation from a number of
different points of view.
Abstract conceptualization abilities, which help learners to integrate observations into logically sound theories. An example of this type of ability
is analyzing ideas intellectually and systematically.
Active experimentation abilities, which enable learners to make decisions,
solve problems, and test what they have learned in new situations. An
example of this type of ability is being ready to move quickly from
thinking to action.
Kolb’s Inventory of Learning Styles measures differences along two basic
dimensions that represent opposite styles of learning. The first dimension is
abstract-concrete; the second is active-reflective. See Figure 4.1 to visualize
how these polar-opposite characteristics link together to create four discrete
groups of learners: divergers, assimilators, convergers, and accommodators.
Doing well in college will require you to adopt some behaviors that are
characteristic of each of these four learning styles. Some of them might be
uncomfortable for you, but that discomfort will indicate that you’re growing,
stretching, and not relying on the learning style that might be easiest or most
natural (Kolb, 1981).
If you are a diverger, you are adept at reflecting on situations from many
viewpoints. You excel at brainstorming, and you’re imaginative, people oriConcrete Experience
Accommodators Divergers Active
Observation Convergers Assimilators
Conceptualization ented, and sometimes emotional. On the downside, you sometimes have difficulty making decisions. Divergers tend to major in the humanities or social
If you are an assimilator, you like to think about abstract concepts. You
are comfortable in classes where the instructor lectures about theoretical ideas
without relating the lectures to real-world situations. Assimilators often major in math, physics, or chemistry.
If you are a converger, you like the world of ideas and theories, but you
also are good at thinking about how to apply those theories to real-world,
practical situations. You differ from divergers in your preference for tasks
and problems rather than social and interpersonal issues. Convergers tend to
choose health-related and engineering majors.
If you are an accommodator, you prefer hands-on learning. You are
skilled at making things happen, and you rely on your intuition. You like
people, but you can be pushy and impatient at times, and you might use trial
and error, rather than logic, to solve problems. Accommodators often major
in business, especially in marketing or sales.1
1 Adapted from David A. Kolb, “Learning Styles and Disciplinary Differences,” in The Modern
American College, ed. Arthur W. Chickering (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1981), pp. 232–35. Wired WINDOW In all your classes, but especially in liberal arts and social science courses,
you will need to develop the strengths of divergers: imagination, brainstorming, and listening with an open mind. The abilities that are characteristic of
assimilators, developing theories and concepts, are valuable for all students,
especially those in the sciences. If you major in the health sciences or in engineering, you will routinely practice the skills of convergers: experimenting
with new ideas and choosing the best solution. Finally, whatever your major
and ultimate career, you’ll need to get things done, take some risks, and
become a leader—skills that are characteristic of accommodators. One of the best-known and most widely used personality inventories that can
also be used to describe learning styles is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or
MBTI.2 While the VARK measures your preferences for using your senses to
learn and the Kolb Inventory focuses on learning abilities, the MBTI investigates basic personality characteristics and how those relate to human interaction
and learning. The MBTI was created by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother,
Katharine Cook Briggs. The inventory identifies and measures psychological type as developed in the personality theory of Carl Gustav Jung, the great
twentieth-century psychoanalyst. The MBTI is given to several million people
around the world each year. Employers often use this test to give employees
insight into how they perceive the world, go about making decisions, and get
along with other people. Many first-year seminar or college success courses also 2 Isabel Briggs Myers, Introduction to Type, 6th ed. (Palo Alto, CA: CPP, 1998). include a focus on the MBTI because it provides a good way to begin a dialogue
about human interaction and how personality type affects learning.
All the psychological types described by the MBTI are normal and
healthy; there is no good or bad or right or wrong—people are simply different. When you complete the Myers-Briggs survey instrument, your score
represents your “psychological type”—the combination of your preferences
on four different scales. These scales measure how you take in information and how you then make decisions or come to conclusions about that
information. Each preference has a one-letter abbreviation. The four letters
together make up your type. Although this book doesn’t include the actual
survey, you will find a description of the basic MBTI types below. Which
one sounds most like you? The E-I preference indicates whether you direct your energy and attention
primarily toward the outer world of people, events, and things or the inner
world of thoughts, feelings, and reflections.
Extraverts tend to be outgoing, gregarious, and talkative. They often
think “with the volume on,” saying out loud what is going through their
minds. They are energized by people and activity, and they seek this in both
work and play. They are people of action; they like to spend more time doing things than thinking about them. At their best, they are good communicators who are quick to act and lead. However, they might seem to talk too
much and too loudly, drowning others out or acting before they think. (Note
that when the term is being used in the context of psychological type and the
MBTI, “extravert” is spelled with an “a” and not an “o,” even though “extrovert” is the more common spelling.)
Introverts prefer to reflect carefully and think things through before taking action. They think a lot, but if you want to know what’s on their minds,
you might have to ask them. They are refreshed by quiet and privacy. At their
best, introverts are good, careful listeners whose thoughts are deep and whose
actions are well considered. On the other hand, they might seem too shy and
not aware enough of the people and situations around them, or they can
think about things so long that they neglect to actually start doing anything. The S-N preference indicates how you perceive the world and take in information: directly, through your five senses, or indirectly, by using your intuition.
Sensing types are interested above all in the facts, what is known and
what they can be sure of. Typically sensing types are practical, factual, realistic, and down-to-earth. They can be very accurate, steady, precise, patient, and effective with routine and details. They are often relatively traditional
and conventional. They dislike unnecessary complication, and they prefer to
practice skills they already know. At their best, sensing types can be counted
on to do things right, taking care of every last detail. However, they can plod
along while missing the point of why they are doing what they do, not seeing
the forest (the whole picture) for the trees (the details).
Intuitive types are fascinated by possibilities—not so much the facts themselves, but what those facts mean, what concepts might describe those facts,
how those might relate to other concepts, and what the implications of the
facts would be. Intuitive types are less tied to the here and now and tend to
look farther into the future and the past. They need inspiration and meaning
for what they do, and they tend to work in bursts of energy and enthusiasm.
Often, they are original, creative, and nontraditional. They can have trouble
with routine and details, however, and they would rather learn a new skill
than keep practicing one they have already mastered. They can exaggerate
facts sometimes without realizing it. At their best, intuitive types are bright,
innovative people who thrive in academic settings and the world of invention
and ideas, although they can also be impractical dreamers whose visions fall
short because of inattention to detail. The T-F preference indicates how you prefer to make your decisions: through
logical, rational analysis or through your subjective values, likes, and dislikes.
Thinking types are usually logical, rational, analytical, and critical. They pride
themselves on reasoning their way to the best possible decisions. They tend to
decide things relatively impersonally and objectively, and they are less swayed
by feelings and emotions—both their own and other people’s. In fact, other
people’s feelings sometimes puzzle or surprise them. They can deal with interpersonal disharmony and can be firm and assertive when they need to be. In all
of their dealings, they need and value fairness. At their best, thinking types are
firm, fair, logical, and just. On the other hand, they can seem cold, insensitive
to other people’s feelings, and overly blunt and hurtful in their criticisms.
Feeling types are typically warm, empathic, sympathetic, and interested in
the happiness of others as well as themselves. They need and value harmony,
and they can become distressed and distracted by argument and conflict.
They sometimes have trouble being assertive when it would be appropriate
to do so. Above all, they need and value kindness. At their best, feeling types
are warm and affirming, and they facilitate cooperation and goodwill among
those around them while pursuing the best human values. However, feeling
types can be illogical, emotionally demanding, reluctant to tackle unpleasant
tasks, and unaffected by objective reason and evidence. The J-P preference indicates how you characteristically approach the outside
world: by making decisions and judgments or by observing and perceiving
Judging types approach the world in a planned, orderly, organized way;
they try to order and control their part of it as much as possible. They make
their decisions relatively quickly and easily because they like to make and follow plans. They are usually punctual and tidy, and they appreciate those
traits in others. At their best, judging types are natural organizers who get
things done and get them done on time. However, judging types might jump
to conclusions prematurely, be too judgmental of people, make decisions too
hastily without enough information, and have trouble changing their plans
even when those plans are not working.
Perceiving types don’t try to control their world as much as adapt to it.
Theirs is a flexible, wait-and-see approach. They deal comfortably and well
with changes, unexpected developments, and emergencies, adjusting their
plans and behaviors as needed. They tend to delay decisions so that they can
keep their options open and gather more information. They might procrastinate to a serious degree, however, and they can try to juggle too many things
at once without finishing any of them. At their best, perceiving types are
spontaneous, flexible individuals who roll with the punches and find ways to
take the proverbial lemons in life and turn them into lemonade. On the other
hand, perceiving types can be messy, disorganized procrastinators. Because there are two possible choices for each of four different preferences,
there are sixteen possible psychological types. No matter what your MyersBriggs type, all components of personality have value in the learning process.
The key to success in college, therefore, is to use all of the attitudes and functions (E, I, S, N, T, F, J, and P) in their most positive sense. As you go about
your studies, here is a system we recommend:
1. Sensing: Get the facts. Use sensing to find and learn the facts. How do we
know facts when we see them? What is the evidence for what is being said?
2. Intuition: Get the ideas. Now use intuition to consider what those facts mean.
Why are those facts being presented? What concepts and ideas are being supported by those facts? What are the implications? What is the big picture?
3. Thinking: Critically analyze. Use thinking to analyze the pros and cons of
what is being presented. Are there gaps in the evidence? What more do we
need to know? Do the facts really support the conclusions? Are there alternative explanations? How well does what is presented hang together logically? How could our knowledge of it be improved?
4. Feeling: Make informed value judgments. Why is this material important?
What does it contribute to people’s good? Why might it be important to
you personally? What is your personal opinion about it?
5. Introversion: Think it through. Before you take any action, carefully review
everything you have encountered so far.
6. Judging: Organize and plan. Don’t just dive in! Now is the time to organize
and plan your studying so you will learn and remember everything you need
to. Don’t just plan in your head either; write your plan down, in detail.
7. Extraversion: Take action. Now that you have a plan, act on it. Do whatever it takes. Create note cards, study outlines, study groups, and so on. If
you are working on a paper, now is the time to start writing.
8. Perceiving: Change your plan as needed. Be flexible enough to change something that isn’t working. Expect the unexpected, and deal with the unforeseen. Don’t give up the whole effort the minute your original plan stops
working. Figure out what’s wrong, and come up with another, better plan
and start following that. Another way of measuring how we learn is the theory of multiple intelligences,
developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education
at Harvard University. Gardner’s theory is based on the premise that the
traditional notion of human intelligence is very limited. He proposes eight
different intelligences to describe how humans learn.
As you might imagine, Gardner’s work is controversial because it
questions our longstanding definitions of intelligence. Gardner argues that
students should be encouraged to develop the abilities they have and that
evaluation should measure all forms of intelligence, not just linguistic and
As you think of yourself and your friends, what kinds of intelligences do
you have? Do college courses measure all the ways in which you are intelligent? Here is a short inventory that will help you recognize your multiple
intelligences. Educators who study learning styles maintain that instructors tend to teach
in ways that conform to their own particular styles of learning. So an introverted instructor who prefers abstract concepts and reflection (an assimilator,
according to Kolb) and learns best in a read/write mode or aural mode will
probably structure the course in a lecture format with little opportunity for
either interaction or visual and kinesthetic learning. Conversely, an instructor
who needs a more interactive, hands-on environment will likely involve students in discussion and learning through experience.
Do you enjoy listening to lectures, or do you find yourself gazing out the
window or dozing? When your instructor assigns a group discussion, what
is your immediate reaction? Do you dislike talking with other students, or
is that the way you learn best? How do you react to lab sessions when you
have to conduct an actual experiment? Is this an activity you look forward to
or one that you dread? Each of these learning situations appeals to some students more than others, but each is inevitably going to be part of your college
experience. Your college or university has intentionally designed courses for
you to have the opportunity to listen to professors who are experts in their
field, interact with other students in structured groups, and learn through
doing. Because these are all important components of your college education,
it’s important for you to make the most of each situation.
When you recognize a mismatch between how you best learn and how you
are being taught, it is important that you take control of your learn-ing process.
Don’t depend on the instructor or the classroom environment to give you everything you need to maximize your learning. Employ your own preferences, talents,
and abilities to develop many different ways to study and retain information.
Look back through this chapter to remind yourself of the ways in which you can
use your own learning styles to be more successful in any class you take. While everyone has a learning style, a portion of the population has what
is characterized as a learning disability. Learning disabilities are usually
recognized and diagnosed in grade school, but some students can successfully compensate for a learning problem, perhaps without realizing that’s
what it is, and reach college without having been properly diagnosed or
Learning disabilities affect people’s ability to interpret what they see and
hear or to link information across different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up as specific difficulties with spoken and written language,
coordination, self-control, or attention. Such difficulties can impede learning
to read, write, or do math. The term “learning disability” covers a broad
range of possible causes, symptoms, treatments, and outcomes. Because of
this, it is difficult to diagnose a learning disability or pinpoint the causes. The
types of learning disabilities that most commonly affect college students are
attention disorders and disorders that affect the development of academic
skills including reading, writing, and mathematics. Attention disorders are common in children, adolescents, and adults. Some
students who have attention disorders appear to daydream excessively, and
once you get their attention, they can be easily distracted. Individuals with
attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have trouble organizing tasks or completing their work.
They don’t seem to listen to or follow directions, and their work might be
messy or appear careless. Although they are not strictly classified as learning
disabilities, ADD and ADHD can seriously interfere with academic performance, leading some educators to classify them along with other learning
If you have trouble paying attention or getting organized, you won’t really
know whether you have ADD or ADHD until you are evaluated. Check out
resources on campus or in the community. After you have been evaluated,
follow the advice you get, which might or might not mean taking medication.
If you do receive a prescription for medication, be sure to take it according
to the physician’s directions. In the meantime, if you’re having trouble getting
and staying organized, whether or not you have an attention disorder, you can
improve your focus through your own behavioral choices. The National
Institutes of Mental Health offer the following suggestions (found on their
website) for adults with attention disorders: Other learning disabilities are related to cognitive skills. Dyslexia, for example,
is a common developmental reading disorder. A person can have problems
with any of the tasks involved in reading. However, scientists have found that
a significant number of people with dyslexia share an inability to distinguish or
separate the sounds in spoken words. For instance, dyslexic individuals sometimes have difficulty assigning the appropriate sounds to letters, either individually or when letters combine to form words. However, there is more to
reading than recognizing words. If the brain is unable to form images or relate
new ideas to those stored in memory, the reader can’t understand or remember
the new concepts. So other types of reading disabilities can appear when the
focus of reading shifts from word identification to comprehension.
Writing, too, involves several brain areas and functions. The brain networks for vocabulary, grammar, hand movement, and memory must all be in
good working order. So a developmental writing disorder might result from
problems in any of these areas. Someone who can’t distinguish the sequence of
sounds in a word will often have problems with spelling. People with writing
disabilities, particularly expressive language disorders (the inability to express
oneself using accurate language or sentence structure), are often unable to compose complete, grammatical sentences.
A student with a developmental arithmetic disorder will have difficulty
recognizing numbers and symbols, memorizing facts such as the multiplication
table, aligning numbers, and understanding abstract concepts such as place
value and fractions.
Anyone who is diagnosed with a learning disability is in good company.
The pop star Jewel; Michael Phelps, the Olympic goal medal swimmer; and
actors Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Patrick Dempsey, and Vince Vaughn
are just a few of the famous and successful people who have diagnosed learning
disabilities. A final important message: A learning disability is a learning difference but is in no way related to intelligence. Having a learning disability is not
a sign that you are stupid. In fact, some of the most intelligent individuals in
human history have had a learning disability.
The following questions may help you determine whether you or someone
you know should seek further screening for a possible learning disability:
Do you perform poorly on tests even when you feel you have studied and
are capable of performing better?
Do you have trouble spelling words?
Do you work harder than your classmates at basic reading and writing?
Do your instructors tell you that your performance in class is inconsistent, such as answering questions correctly in class but incorrectly on a
Do you have a really short attention span, or do your family members or
instructors say that you do things without thinking?
Although responding “yes” to any of these questions does not mean that
you have a disability, the resources of your campus learning center or the
office for student disability services can help you address any potential problems and devise ways to learn more effectively. Where to go FOR HELP... Chapter REVIEW...
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This note was uploaded on 05/02/2010 for the course US/101 AAGI0NMRC4 taught by Professor Kathybaucum during the Spring '10 term at University of Phoenix.
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