KVCC Faculty Orientation Manual Online
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Academics (Teaching Excellence): Learning Styles and Teaching Styles

Learning Styles and Teaching Styles

There is a lot of hype about "Learning Styles" in the media and much of it is not as useful as it may seem.  You have likely heard of "auditory", "visual", and "tactile" learners…identifying those who learn best by "listening", "seeing", and "doing".

Learning styles have risen from efforts to help students identify the best ways in which they learn…to identify their own best skills and assets and apply them to learning.  For the instructor this has a seductive quality to it…it would seem that if we understood the individual learning styles of each of our students we could teach them better.

The problem with this approach is that as each of our students has their own learning style, so do we each have our own teaching style (and our own learning style)

At this level of instruction it is important that you understand that your students will be diverse (see below) and that they will come to the class with a number of different skills.  To try to be all things to all people will only result in confusion to you and your students.  Learn your own teaching style and describe it to your students.  A key skill that STUDENTS must learn is how to either MATCH their own learning style with the teaching styles of their instructors or how to adapt the material presented to them by instructors to their learning style.

I will describe a way of looking at your classroom activities and how they engage different kinds of learners when we discuss the use of media (including you as the dynamic instructor!) in the classroom.

Levels of Learning

Levels of learning are best described through the identification of different kinds of learning objectives as described by Bloom in the famous "Bloom's Taxonomy".  This is best left to the discussion on writing Learning and Performance objectives.

Individual Differences

If there is anything to be said about the population of students at KVCC, it is that they are diverse.  They are also changing, not only as individuals, but also as a population.

As a community college we are often the first entry point into Higher Education for individuals who are less prepared and/or less skilled.  We also attract highly prepared and skilled students.  This results in classrooms that are sometimes filled with students of a high degree of variance in skill, preparedness, age, experience, etc.

This is a particular challenge to new faculty, as they will be dealing with such a wide variety of individuals.  Mutual respect between students and instructors is the best way to take advantage of this diversity.

Working with OUR students…

The key for working with the students who attend KV rests in answering the following questions:

  • Why is the student in your class?
    • To answer this question you might have to ask why students come to KVCC.  Some of our students come here with a specific career in mind, others are searching.  Some are here to get quickly trained so they can enter (or re-enter) the workforce, while others are here to broaden their perspective.  Each and all of these can be in your classroom at any given time!
    • It may be important to ask your students what they want to get out of the class.  What will make the class important to them (see motivation below)?  Connecting your course to the ultimate goals of your students will help them see the content in the context of their lives.
  • What motivates this student to perform?
    • As mentioned above, making a connection between the course and the students goals is important.  But many times, students take classes for a lot of reasons.  They may be intersted in the topic or it may be just to fullfill a requirement.  Either way, we need to construct our courses in such a way as to get the best performance out of our students possible.
    • Way may assume, as instructors, that students love to learn…we likely did.  This is not always true at KVCC.  For some education has been a series of frustrations and let-downs…school might be seen as more of a barrier than a door to a new future.  These are the students we need to think about (the group that loves to learn are rarely a "problem"!)
    • Grades, recognition, one-on-one meetings, etc. are common ways that we motivate our students.  Just as we need to get to know employees and children if we want to motivate them we also need to get to know our students.  Find out what motivates them…(not all like recognition for example).
    • Don't assume that what motivated YOU to learn is what motivates EVERYONE to learn.
    • Structure your class to provide feedback on how well your students are doing on a regular basis.
  • What skills does the student bring to class?
    • One of the many advantages of teaching at a Community College is the diversity of our student population.  Many of our students are working, have children, have worked in various fields, and bring loads of experience to the classroom.
    • Capitalize on the collective experience of your students and engage them in applying what they already know.
  • What skills does the student need to develop?
    • This is a very key aspect of knowing how to teach a diverse class of students.  When we construct learning units to use in class we often make some assumptions as to the skills that our students would need in order to understand what we are talking about.
    • In some classes we make these assumptions because our classes have "pre-requisites" which act to ensure that the students in the class have some basic skills taught in the pre-requisite class.
    • For many of our classes we need to think about what students need to be know in order to understand what we are talking about…basic skills that we should not take for granted include:
      • College level reading and comprehension
      • College level writing skills
      • Reflective and critical thinking skills
      • Study skills
      • Note taking
      • How to be a "college student"
      • Time management
    • If we think a basic skill is needed for our classes we need to make sure our students understand this…we will likely need to assess it (often with the first assignment). 
    • If a student is lacking a specific skill we can teach it or refer them to services available at KVCC.  Keep in mind that it is expected that ALL of us are responsible to help students be successful…this does not mean making the class easy…it means helping students identify what they need to do to be successful.
  • What skills and limitations do I, as an instructor, bring to the class?
    • As in any job involving interaction with other people we bring to the class a certain amount of baggage!  By this we mean that we have expectations and values about how we should perform and how our students should perform.
    • It is important to be aware of these as they will shape the way you teach.  A teacher's attitude is nearly as important as content and pedagogy when it comes to learning outcomes!
    • Keep in mind your values about learning…just as our student population is diverse so are their approaches to learning
    • Be confident with your own skills!  You have been selected to teach at KVCC by individuals who saw that you have a lot to bring to the classroom.  You will be most effective by not only bringing what you know to the content but by bringing the person you are…your interests, your stories.  You are more than a teacher, you are a role model for all of your students.