March, 2000
Issue 4 - Part 3
I N S I G H T S    I N T O    U S I N G    E D U C A T I O N A L   T E C H N O L O G Y


"Why is it that in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, and learning by passive absorption are universally condemned, educators are still so entrenched in its practice? Education is not an affair of telling and being told, but an active constructive process."
--John Dewey, (1916)

"All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions."

--Leonardo daVinci

The present day evidence for transition from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered educational environment is overwhelming. As the above quotes suggest, the whole concept of learner-centered education and fitting the unique characteristics of individual learners with more relevant instruction began long ago. In an article in the Educated Psychologist, Snow and Swanson (1992), discuss the matching of various social, emotional and intellectual attributes of learners to education. They conclude that the problem with this is that the appropriate implementation of these concepts is usually only suggested or left to the mind of the teacher. 

The fact that various learners perceive and process information in different ways has established a variety of learning style taxonomies and inventories. To some this may suggest that those with certain characteristics will actually have an advantage over others when engaging in online education. Does this mean that the rest may have to ‘go with the flow’ or opt out altogether? To go even further, are 21st century students and their predisposition to technology and particular learning styles unique and select? How do we cater to everyone? If you understand my analogy here, will those who respond well and have developed an aptitude for Nintendo games create a select population of learners that have an advantage in learning online? In the search for providing something for everyone, I consider various learning styles to create further meaning and insight.

There are several generally accepted learning style theories. Here are a few of the more popular ones typically applied in education:

Soloman’s Inventory of Learning Styles (Soloman, 1992), makes four classifications of learning styles:
  • Processing – (active Versus reflective) 
  • Perception – (sensing Versus intuitive)
  • Input – (visual Versus verbal)
  • Understanding – (sequential Versus big picture)

Myer’s and Briggs Inventory (Myer’s and Brigg’s, 1985) establishes the following opposing traits:

  • Extraversion (E) – (learns by explaining to themselves or others, prefers groups) Versus
  • Introversion (I) – (wants to develop frameworks that integrate or connect the subject matter)
  • Sensing (S) – (prefers organized, linear, and structured lectures) Versus 
  • Intuition (N) – (prefers the traditional Theory-Application-Theory approach using discovery learning)
  • Thinking (T) – (prefers clear course and topic objectives) Versus 
  • Feeling (F) – (enjoys working in groups, especially harmonious ones)
  • Judging (J) – (wants to know everything about each task, and often finds it difficult to complete a task) Versus 
  • Perceptive (P) – (often postpones doing an assignment until the last minute, but are still very concerned and active)

According to Kolb (1984), there are 4 opposing dimensions to consider: 

  • Concrete experience - (personal involvement, relates well to people) Versus
  • Abstract conceptualization - (forms conclusions, acts on intellectual)
  • Reflective observation- (searches for understanding and meaning) Versus
  • Active experimentation – (experiments and takes risks, likes taking action) 
By combining the opposite dimensions above, we get four quadrants of learning behavior:
  • Type I learner: A "hands-on" learner. Tends to rely on intuition rather than logic. Likes to rely on other people's analysis rather than their own. Enjoys applying learning in real life situations.
  • Type II learner: Likes to look at things from many points of view. Would rather watch than take action. Likes to gather information and create many categories for things. Likes using imagination in problem solving. Very sensitive to feelings when learning. 
  • Type III learner: Likes solving problems and finding practical solutions and uses for learning. Avoids social and interpersonal issues and prefers technical tasks. 
  • Type IV learner: Concise and logical. Abstract ideas and concepts are more important than people issues. Practicality is less important than good logical explanations.

What all of this research suggests, is that one learner's weakness may be another learner's strength. It is evident that there are diverse types of learners, and to complicate things even further, each may have different learning needs. In addition to the identifiable diversity between learning styles, other factors such as ethnic backgrounds, technological savvy, past experiences, age and gender can create even more specific types of learners. Obviously, no tutor can expect to develop ways to reach each individual student according to these criteria. All of this information suggests that we begin to think about using various modes of delivery and other methods to include all learners in a group. What is required is a way to scale up to everyone. Is it possible to put all of these data together and synthesize a viable teaching and learning strategy for (group) networked online learning so that no particular type of learner is left out? out? 

Paradigm Predominant Style (Kolb) Traditional Use ALN Implementation Likely Success with ALN
Learning by
listening and/or watching
Type II

Type IV

Lectures: very common;

succeeds with dynamic lecturers; students boredwith dull "sage on stage"

On-screen video played on-demand or downloaded, as well as audio, animations and graphics (Flash, Shockwave, Java, etc.) Fair to poor. Suffers from lack of presence of the "sage." However, permits replay, indexing of lecture.

Dynamic visual or audio productions can dramatically improve delivery and retention of information. 

Incorporating interaction with audio, video or other visuals would create a very successful environment, but may be cost prohibitive.

Type I

Type II

Library, literature searches. Web searching Web searches are often much better than traditional library searching, and certainly more current (i.e. mass media). 
Learn by
Type I

Type III


Laboratory. Works very
well in traditional model.

Writing, creating things.

Learning modules, simulations on-line;

writing on-line, critiquing


Learning modules can be very good, but on-line laboratory materials are not yet widespread. ALN is an excellent medium for writing and critiquing. 

Simulations are becoming less costly to design and produce, and are highly effective.

and debate; observation and reflection
Type II

Type IV

Type I

Type III

Poor in large classes, excellent in very small classes with the right instructor. Network conferencing

Threaded discussion areas, bulletin boards, etc.

Scales up to many learners; potentially much richer than classroom discussion.

More benefits of collaborative learning can be realized.

Table comparing common teaching paradigms and indicating which, are likely to be most successful in ALN implementation.
Adapted from John R. Bourne, Vanderbilt University (1997), Paradigms for Online Learning

It is apparent that we cannot cater specifically to each individual learner in a group setting. What we can do, is synthesize a multi-modal approach by implementing the proper learning theories, instructional design theories and tools that will scale up to the needs of many learners and appeal to the dominant and auxiliary learning modalities present in everyone.

Noted educator Sandra Rief (1993) suggests that by using more than one sense, our brain can store information in a more significant way. Her research postulates that student’s retain:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they see and hear
  • 70% of what they say
  • 90% of what they say and do
In contemplating all of the variables we have discussed while considering the table and data above, we see that discussion and debate through asynchronous learning networks (ALN) may in fact have the broadest appeal in totally online delivery. Other modes (i.e. audio, video, simulations, etc.) should when possible, be incorporated online as an adjunct to it so that the group can draw in part from each mode. Considering the practicality of this and the ubiquity of tools available which support this, let’s apply our best teaching practice, learning theories and learners’ styles using asynchronous communication as the foundation. The majority of existing online environments are textual in nature, and writing can be looked upon as the preferred online medium for expression. At present, attempting to duplicate the attributes of face to face communication may prove difficult and costly, but again, the use of non-textual representations considered as an adjunct to textual data would be more stimulating and have broader appeal. 

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