Usage of Learning Styles Concepts to Enhance Learning Activities of Basic Literacy Students
Maureen A. Lawlor, MA Program Coordinator LVA/ACI Literacy Volunteer Program
Adult Education Teacher Inquiry Project June, 1997
This study sought to investigate whether the provision of individual learning styles information to students in a correctional institution participating in a basic literacy program would enhance their learning activities.
Described in the literature as characteristic cognitive, affective and physiological behaviors, learning styles are generally recognized to serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact and respond to the learning environment (Kolb, 1984). Generally, it is believed that the learner possess different ways of learning, and, in and of themselves, those ways are considered neither good nor bad--just different, and individualized for each learner. It has been, and continues to be my contention that even a basic understanding of the learning process and the fact that each person possesses different and individualized styles of learning can provide a student a significantly greater likelihood of maximizing their learning experiences.
The participants in this study were fifteen (15) basic literacy students who were Medium Security inmates in a state correctional institution. Each participant had been actively working in the program for at least six (6) months and was tutored by an inmate peer literacy tutor. Additional criteria for selecting these participants were that each student was required to have a minimum reading assessment level of Level D (Grade 2.1-2.5) as determined by the Reading Evaluation Adult Diagnosis (READ) Test, (Colvin and Cheatham, 1982) to be able to read the materials provided by the researcher.
The student/participants were administered the Center for Innovative Teaching Experiences (CITE) Learning Styles Inventory, a forty-five (45) item self-reporting instrument available in the public domain. This inventory was selected after reviewing three other learning styles inventories for several reasons, the most important of those being the simplicity of language. This inventory was rated a level 3.8 when assessed by the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. (Ease of delivery was an equally important factor to insure completion and timely scoring and calculations). In addition to the learning styles inventory, student/participants were given a ten (10) item pretest, a learning process information booklet and a post test developed for this project by this researcher. Procedure: During the study's four (4) week duration, this researcher conducted the following activities in a classroom within the Education and Recreation Building at the Medium Security facility. A total for four (4) classroom hours were devoted to researcher presentations, pretesting, learning style inventory administration, group and individual discussions and post testing.
Week one was devoted to a one hour class during which the pretest was administered to student/participants and, following that, a presentation to familiarize them with the concept of individual learning styles was delivered by the researcher.
( Present during all sessions were the peer tutors, included because it was hoped that the supportive relationships they had previously built with the students would help to counter any anxiety the students might experience should they perceive the learning styles inventory was a test.
Week two was devoted to administration of the learning styles inventory during a one hour class. Week three consisted of a presentation focusing on a discussion of the inventory and the participants reaction to the experience of taking the inventory. The final presentation in week four saw this researcher further discussing the notion of learning styles and administering a ten (10) item post test. During the class discussion, input from the peer tutors was encouraged. It may also be added that several tutors attending had participated in this researcher's 1996 inquiry project study of peer tutors' learning styles, giving them an enhanced foundation for discussion in this final class.
By using the 'self as instrument ' (McCracken, 1988) method of inquiry, at the close of this study, the researcher used discussions and interviews with the fifteen (15) student/participants as a means to gather relevant data. Survey results from the pre and post tests were also reviewed and analyzed as a source to assess any, and if so the nature and extent of changes in their understanding about individual learning styles.
Each of the study's student/participants cooperated fully with the tasks (pre test, CITE Learning Styles Inventory, post test completion, class attendance and class discussion) required of them. Students all reported no knowledge of learning styles prior to the onset of the study. Some students during the initial classroom discussion expressed some anxiety about taking the CITE LSI (i.e., "I've never been good at taking tests.") The need to clarify the fact that this was not a 'test ' (i.e., "What's my grade on the test?", "Did I pass the test?") continued to surface at each session, and is both indicative and demonstrative of the previous negative educational experiences of this group of adult learners, experiences that, in large measure, make correctional education one the of the most challenging venues in which contemporary adult education is attempted.
The final class session was most positive, with lively and active participation by students and peer/tutors in a discussion of the idea of different ways of learning. Post test results indicated all students reporting some degree of understanding about learning styles. However, no student reported confidence in the ability to apply this understanding to his learning activities.
Discussion and Practical Applications
The results of this study suggest that the participants gained some knowledge about their individual styles of learning. The researcher would suggest, however, that based on pre and post test responses and class discussions, the students did not gain enough understanding about learning styles to incorporate this knowledge into their learning activities. The researcher can suggest several factors that may contribute toward this conclusion. Lower than diagnosed individual reading levels, moderate to severe learning disabilities or prior negative classroom learning experiences in this population of learners may all be factors to consider. The researcher would suggest that devoting more time to learning styles activities beyond the four (4) hours in this study may counteract the suggested impediments to deeper understanding about learning styles. Based on the overall results of this inquiry project, this researcher would suggest that, if more time is devoted to the introduction of the information, explanation of the material is more detailed and if learning styles information related to the students' learning activities is reinforced, learning styles information has a significant potential to enhance the learning experiences of basic literacy students .
Captive Students: Education and Training in America's Prisons. (1996) Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Cheatham, J., Colvin, R., and Laminack, L. Tutor: A Collaborative Approach to Literacy. (1993) (Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc.) Syracuse, NY: Follett.
Flannery, D., editor. Applying Cognitive Learning Theory to Adult Learning . (1993) New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 59, Fall. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kolb, D. Experiential Learning. (1984) New Jersey: Prentice Hall.\par
McCracken, G. (1988) The Long Interview (Sage University Paper Series on Qualitative Research Methods, Vol. 13). (1984) Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.