Using Learning Preferences to Improve Coaching and Athletic Performance: Are Your Players or Students Kinesthetic Learners? Visual? Multimodal? Knowing Who Is Which Will Help You Coach or Teach Effectively

By Dunn, Julia L. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Using Learning Preferences to Improve Coaching and Athletic Performance: Are Your Players or Students Kinesthetic Learners? Visual? Multimodal? Knowing Who Is Which Will Help You Coach or Teach Effectively


Dunn, Julia L., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Research regarding how students learn has long been an integral part of the emerging scholarship on teaching and learning. As far back at the early 1970s, Dunn and Dunn developed theories about how to create learning environments that positively influence a student's ability to learn and consequently a teacher's ability to teach (Dunn, Dunn, & Treffinger, 1992). Most of their research identified variables that affect how students learn, including emotional, physical, environmental, and sociological factors such as motivation, anxiety, classroom aesthetics, and cooperation (Hiltz, Coppola, Rotter, Toroff, & Benbunan-Fich, 2000). Although researchers can identify most of the variables through classroom observation, many of the variables require specialized testing (Beaty, 1986). Their studies also show that, although one can identify the variables that contribute to positive teaching and learning environments, said variables are often difficult to control (Shaughnessy, 1998).

According to Dunn and Griggs (2000), every individual has the capability to learn, regardless of academic aptitude; however, each individual learns in a different manner. Perceptual preferences influence how individual students learn. For instance, students with a main visual preference will prefer to gain information through diagrams, charts, and posters (Holloway, 2003). Teachers can then reinforce or enhance new knowledge through advanced presentations in other perceptual modes such as the auditory (e.g., lecturing, class discussion) or kinesthetic (e.g., experiments, hands-on activities, simulations).

Students learn best when teachers present new material through main perceptual preferences and reinforce that material through secondary preferences. When teachers accommodate different learning preferences, learner motivation increases. Perceptual preferences account for the ways in which people prefer to receive and share information in a learning situation. Primary perceptual modes are those ways that learners prefer for quickly taking in new knowledge. Secondary and tertiary perceptual modes are those ways that learners use to enhance or strengthen existing knowledge. Teachers and students can influence perceptual preferences from their unique and often divergent vantages. In a traditional classroom, the onus for interpreting perceptual differences often falls to the student. Teachers frequently present new material in a manner similar to how their own teachers presented the material to them, and so they often pitch material in ways that are outdated or not wholly conducive to student learning. Students then take the presented information, translate it into a useable form, process it for learning, and then translate it back into a form that will facilitate their assessment.

Teaching and learning in a physical education class or athletic setting presents distinct challenges that are often absent from a traditional classroom setting. In particular, the dependence of motor skill acquisition on time-appropriate cues and instruction leaves little latitude for students and teachers to differ perceptually. While students in a traditional classroom have time to process information presented in a modality outside their primary preference, athletes must often make snap adjustments in the stress of a performance constrained by time. Any delay in response between coach and athlete could equate to a missed opportunity or ill-timed motor response. The time-sensitive nature of sport necessitates that coaches and athletes speak a common language of instructions, verbal cues, and appropriate motor responses. Thus, developing a clear understanding of how to use students' learning preferences to enhance teaching and coaching methods is essential for any physical education teacher or coach. Teachers and coaches who invest time to understand who they are as a teacher, in terms of teaching methods, and who their students are, in terms of learning preferences, will enhance their ability to present new material, strategies, and technical skills in the uniquely challenging physical education and athletic environments. …

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