Kolb - 10 David A Knit Learning Styles and Disciplinary...

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Unformatted text preview: 10 David A. Knit) Learning Styles and Disciplinary Differences Chickering, A. W., & Associates (Eds). (1980). The Modern American Colic e. San Fransisco: .inczev Race. Along the Cleveland heights there is a vantage point where I can view the -univetslty spreading beneath me toward the horizon—in the foreground is the new medical complex of concrete and glass towers placed among older yellow brick hospitals and labora~ tories. To the left. stretched along the road that separateslt from the medical buildings is the long, low. steel. glass and brick home of the natural science laboratories. Nested against this brick and steel spine. lie vestiges of science past: On one side, the old physics building, large and austere with a red tile roof slowly turning black. and tail. narrow windows that belie lhe high-ceilinged dark rooms within. 0n the other side. two black stone fortress-like buildings. one capped by an observatory telescope. Parallel' tog these buildings around a mall punctuated at one end by a towering smokestack and at the other by I computer center office tower. lie the squat. functional ceramic brick and concrete buildings of the engineering and management schools. almost defiantly ugly. as though to emphasize that appearances are secondary to reality. in the distance across Euclid Avenue. still another world—strong gothlc stone Note: I am indebted to David Brown. Arthur Chickering. and Suresh Srivastva for their comments and suggestions on this chapter. 232 .... i l l I NOTICE: THIS MATERIAL MAY? BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT LAW ‘ fl lT LE 17 li.S. CODE) David A. Kalb 233 buildings beside awkward Victorian red briclr constructions. the old Western Reserve carn- pus now home for the humanities and social sciences Beyond is the flashy. contemporary law school building. its black one-way windows meeting as little Inside as a state troop- er's sunglasses. And finally. the serene. classic beauty of Severance Hall and the Museum of Art. ' , - I have stopped here several times as l framed this essay. The diversity that lies below is staggering—not one university but many. each with its own language. norms, and values. its own ideas about the nature of truth and how it is to be sought. By crossing the street. or in some cases even the hallway. i can visit cultures that differ on nearly every dimension assnciated with the term. There are different languages (or at least dialects). There are strong boundaries defining membership and corresponding initiation rites. There are different norms and values about the nature of truth and how it is to be sought. There are different patterns of power and authority and differing criteria for attaining status There are differing standards for intimacy and modes for its expression. Cultural variation is expressed in style of dress. furnishings. architecture. and use of space and time. Must important. these patterns of variation are not random but have a meaning and integrity for the members There is in each department or profession a sense of historical continuity and in most cases historical mission. While there are obviously points of interpenetration among these "cultures" and in some cases. true integration. I want here to emphasize the themes of differentiation and diversity. In considering the student careers that are spawned and shaped in the university community and the university's responsibility for the intellectual, moral. and personal development of its members. we have often emphasized the unitary linear trend of human growth and development at the expense of acknowledging and managing the diverse de- velopmental pathways that exist within different disciplines and professions. These paths foster some developmental achievements and. as we shall see. inhibit others. The channels of academic specialization are swift and deep. the way between them tortuous and wind- ing. For example. these days the major career transitions in college are from science to the humanities (Davis. “’65). When i taught at M.|.T.. I served fora while an freshman adviser. Two or three of my students in each group faced the awkward realization near the end of their freshman year that a career in engineering was not quite what they had imagined it to be. What to do? Transfer. to a liberal arts school and possibly lose the prestige of an M.i.T. education? Endme the lnstltute's technological requirements and "bootleg" a humanities major? Switch to management? Most decided to wait and see but. in so doing. experienced a distinct loss of energy and increase in confusion. i felt power- ' less about what to advise or even how to advise. ' It was only later that l was to discover that these shifts represented something more fundamental than changing interests—that they stemmed in many cases from funda- mental mismatches between personal learning styles and the learning demands of differ- ent disciplines. That disciplines incline to different styles of learning is evident from the variations among their primary tasks. technologies and products, criteria for academic excellence and productivity. teaching methods. research methods. and methods forte- cording and portraying knowledge. Disciplines even show sociocultural variation— differences in faculty and student demographics. personality and aptitudes. as well as dif- ferences in values and group norms. For students. education in an academic field is a continuing proeess of selection and socialization to the pivotal norms of the field govern- ing criteria for truth and how it is to be achieved. communicated. and used. and second— arily. to peripheral norms governing personal styles, attitudes. and social relationships. 7-2-34 - Today‘s Students and Their Needs Over time these selection and socialization pressures combine to produce an increasingly impermeable and homogeneous disciplinary culture and correspondingly specialized stu- dent orientations in learning. This. briefly. is the thesis I will attempt to articulate in this chapter. . ' In reviewing the research on differences among academic disciplines. I have been struck by the fact that relatively little comparative research has been done on academic disciplines and departments In fact. Higlan “9733) has stated: One of the most easily overlooked facts about university organization is that academic departments are organized according to subject matter. . . .While the organization of university departments has received increasing attention from social scientists. . . , the way in which subject matter characteristics may require particular forms of department organlration has not been examined In. I951. The reason for this lies in the same difficulties that characterize all cross—cultural research -the problem of access and the problem of perspective. The relatively closed nature of academic subcultures makes access to data difficult. and it is equally difficult to choose a perspective for interpreting data that Is unbiased. To analyze one system of inquiry ac- torrling to the ground rules of another is to invite misunderstanding and conflict and further restrict access to data. Studying disciplines from the perspective of learning and tire learner offers some promise for overcoming these difficulties. particularly if learning is defined not in the narrow psychological sense of modification of behavior but in the broader sense of ac- quisition of knowledge. The access problem is eased because every discipline has a prime commitment to learning and inquiry and has developed a learning slychhat is at least moderately effective. Viewing the acquisition of knowledge in academic disciplines from the perspective of the learning process promises a dual rewatdva more refined epislcrmrlv ogy that defines the varieties of truth and their interrelationships and a greater psycho- logical understanding of how indiViduals acquire knowledge in its different forms. Over ' fifteen years ago. in the distinguidred predecessor to this voIUme. Tire American College. Carl Bereiter and Mervin Freedman envisioned these rewards: There is every reason to suppose that studies applying tests of these sorts to students in different fields could rapidly get beyond the point of demonstrating the obvious. We should. for instance. be able to find out empirically whether the biological taxonomist has special aptitudes similar to his logical counterpart in the field of linguistics. And there are many comparisons whose outcomes it would be hard to foresee. In what fields do the various memory abilities flourish? ls adap- tive flexibility more common in some fields than In others? Because. on llrc psychological end. these ability measures are tied to theories of the structure or functioning of higher mental processes. and because. on the philosophical end. the academic disciplines are tied to theories of logic and cognition. empirical data linlrlng the two should be in little danger of remaining for long in the limbo where so many correlational data stay “962. pp. 567-68]. It is surprising that. with the significant exception of Piaget‘s pioneering work on genetic epistemology. few have sought to reap these rewards. The research that has been done has focused primarily on what from the above perspective are the peripheral norms of academic disciplines rather than the pivotal norms governing learning and inquiry. Thus. studies have examined political and social attitudes and values (Berciter and Freedman. "162; Kirtz. I966}. personality patterns tRaI. I956). aspirations and goals (Davis. I964}. sea distribution and other demographic variables David a. Roth ' 235 (Feldman. I974), and social Interactions [Biglan, I913b; Hall, [969). The bias of these studies is no doubt a reflection of thefact that psychological research has until qulte recently been predominantly concerned with the social and emotional aspccts of human behavior and development. Concern with cognitive or Intellectual factors has been neatly wrapped into concepts of general intelligence. T hos. moat early studies of intellectual dif- . ferences among disciplines were only interested in which discipline had the smarter stu- dents ( for example. Wollle. 1954; Terman and Oden. I94?) In the fifteen years since TheAmo'icon College was written. there has been a great burgeoning of research and theory focused on intellectual development and cognitive style—on how one comes to know his world and cope with it. The preceding chapters In this volume reflect this new focus of concern. As a result. we now have new tools and concepts available for the study of the learning process. My own research work during- this time has focused on an approach to learning that seeks to integrate cognitive and socioernotional Factors into an "experiential learning theory." _ Experiential Learning Theory The experiential learning model represents an integration of many of the intensive lines of research on cognitive development and cognitive style. The result is a model of the learning process that is consistent with the structure of human cognition and the stages of human growth and development. It conceptualizes the learning process In such a way that differences In Individual learning styles and corresponding learning environments can be Identified. The learning model is a dialectical one. similar to Jung's (i923) concept of personality types. according to which development is attained by higher-level inte- gration and expression of nondominant modes of dealing with the world. .The theory is called experiential teaming for two reasons. First. this term tles the theory historically to its intellectual origins in thelsocial psychology of Kurt Lewin In the forties and the sensitivity training of the fifties and sixties. Second. it emphasizas the important role that experience plays In the learning process. an emphasis that differen- tiates this approach from other cognitive theories of the learning process. The core of the model is a simple description of the learning cycle‘of how experience is translated into concepts. which. in turn. are used as guides in the choice of new experiences. 7 Learning Is conceived as a four-stage cycle (see Figure 1). Immediate concrete experience Is the basis for observation and reflection. An individual uses these observa- tions to build an idea. generalization. or "theory" from which new Implications for action can be deduced. These implications or hypotheses then serve as guides in acting to create new experiences. The learners. if they are to be effective. need four different kinds of Figure I. The Experiential Learning Model / Concrete experience _ Testing implications . oi concepts in new ohnnu'om and ' ctlons aituatrona "at \ Formation nlahstract / concepts and genoraliratinns 236 ' Today‘s Students and Their Needs abilities: Concrete Erperi'ence abilities (CE). Reflective Observation abilities (R0). Ab- stract Concepnmtizarrirn abilities (At'). and Arrive Erprrimenmir‘on (Ali) ahi]itics_ "that Is. they must be able to involve themselves fully. openiv. and without bras in new experi- ences ICE); they must be able to observe and reflect on these expe'trences from many perspectives IRO); they must be able to create concepts that integrate their observations into logically sound theories MC); and they must be able to use these theories to make decisions and solve problems (AE). Yet this ideal is ditficult to achieve Can anyone be- come highly skilled in all these abilities. or are they necessarily in conflict? How can one be concrete and immediate and still he themetlcal‘.’ A closer examination of the fourstage learning model indicates that learning re- quires abilities that are polar opposites. and that the learner. as a result. must continually choose which set of learning abilities ,to bring to hear on various learning taslrs. More specifically. there are two primary dimensions to the learning process. The first dimension represents the concrete experiencing of events. at one end. and abstract conceptualization It Ilte other. The other dimension has active experimentation at one ex'lrerne and reflec- tive observation at the other. Thus. in the process of learning. one moves in varying de- grees from actor to observer. from specific involvement to general analytic detachment, These two dimensions represent the major directions of cognitive development identified by Piaget. In his view, the course of individual cognitive development from birth to adolescence moves from a phenomenollstic tconcrete) view of the world to a constructivist (abstract) view and from an egocentric (active) view to a reflective inter- nalized mode of knowing. Piaget also maintains that these have also been the major direc- tions of development in scientific knowledge (Piaget. I970). Much other research has focused on one or the other of these two basic dimensions. Many other cognitive psychologists (for example. Flavell. I963; Bruner. I960. I966; Harvey. Hunt. and Schroeder. 1961) have identified the concrete-abstract dimen- Jr sion as a primary dimension on which cognitive growth and learning occur. Goldsteln and " Scheerer (I94I , p. 4) suggest that greater abstractness results in the development of the following abilities: To detach our ego from the outer world or from inner err perience. To assume a mental set. I 7 To account for acts to oneself; to verhaiire the account. To shift reflectiver from one aspect of the situation to another. To hold in mind simultaneously various aspects. . To grasp the essential of a given whole: to break up a given into parts to isolate an to synthesize them. "7. To abstract cornnron properties reflectively: to form hierarchlc con- cepts. ¢P¥HPF it. To plan ahead ideationally. to assume an attitude toward the more pos- sible. and to think or perform symbolically. By contrast. concreteness, according to these theorists. represents the absence of these abilities. the immeru'on in and domination by one's immediate experiences. Yet the circu- lar, dialectical model of the learning process wouid imply~thal abstractness is not exclu- sively good and concreteness exclusively bad. Witkln's “962, I976) extensive research on the related cognitive styles of global versus analytic functioning has shown that both exv trcmes of functioning have their costs and benefits: the analytic style includes compe- tence in analytical functioning combined with an impersonal orientation. while the global style reflects less competence in analytical functioning combined with greater social ori- entation and socia! skill. Similarly. when we consider the highest form of learning— David A. Kolb 237 through creativity insights—we note a requirement that one be able to experience anew. freed somewhat from the constraints of previous abstract concepts In psychoanalytic theory. this need for a concrete childlike perspective in the creative process ls referred to as “regression in service of the ego" (Kris. I952). aner-{I966}. in his essay on 'the con- ditions for creativity. emphasizes the dialectical tension between abstract and concrete invoivement. For him. the creative act is a product of detachment and commitment. of passion and decorum. and of a freedcrm to be dominated by the object of one's inquiry. The active-reflective dimension is the other major dimension of cognitive growth and teaming that has received a great deal of attention from researchers. In the course of cognitive growth. thought becomes more reflective and internalized. based more on the manipulation of symbols and images than overt actions. The modes of active experimen- tation and reflection. like abstractness and concreteness. stand in opposition to one another. Kagan and Hogan's (I970) research on the cognitive-style dimension of reflec- tlon-impulsivity suggests that extremes of functioning on this continuum represent oppos- ing definitions of competence and strategies for achieving. The impulsive strategy is based on seeking reward for active accomplishment. while the reflective strategy is based on seeking reward through the avoidance of error. Reflection tends to inhibit action and vice versa. For example. Singer (1968) has found that children who have active internal fan- tasy lives are more capable of inhibiting action for long periods of time than are children with little internal fantasy life. Kagan and others (I964) have found, however. that very active orientations toward learning situations inhibit reflection and thereby preclude the develctpment of analytic concepts. Herein lies the second major dialectic in the learning process—the tension between actively testing the implications of one‘s hypotheses and reflectiver interpreting data already collected. - ‘ Individual Learning Styles As a result of our hereditary equipment. our particular past life experience. and the demands of our present environment. must of us develop learning styles that empha- size some learning abilities over others. Through socialization experiences in family. school, and work. we come to resolve the conflicts between action and reflection and between immediate experience and detached analysis in characteristic ways. Some people dcveloP minds that excel at assimilating disparate facts into coherent theories. yet these saute people may be incapable of, or uninterested in. deducing hypotheses from those theories. Others are logical geniuses but find it impossible to involve themselves in active experience. And In on. A mathematician may emphasize abstract concepts. while a poet may value concrete experience more highly. A manager may be primarily concerned with the active application of ideas. while a naturalist may concentrate on developing observa- tional skills. Each of us develops a unique learning style, which has both strong and weak points. Evidence for the existence of consistent unique teaming styles can be found In the research of both Kagan and Witkin. cited earlier (Kagan and Kogan. I970). T...
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