Learning Styles and Learning Dispositions in Public Schools: Some Implications of Preference

Article excerpt

There have been several major thrusts to research in the area of teaching and learning style in the past 20 years. The initial emphasis was to document that there are style differences among learners and to develop instruments that accurately assess those differences in both adults (Gregorc, 1985) and children (Dunn, Dunn, & Price, 1979). The second wave of research has been to use this diagnostic capability to match instruction to the style of individual students. Studies described in recent theme issues of Theory into Practice (Galloway, 1984) and Educational Leadership (Brandt, 1990) enumerate dramatic instructional successes associated with matching certain teaching approaches to the students' particular learning style preferences. Although these studies show that a relationship exists between style "match" and learner success, there has been no investigation of the learning style of teachers and the potential of a "match" with their success in public school teaching. This study investigates the learning style of public school teachers and students who are studying to become teachers. The latter group represents the pool from which the former group are drawn.

A Definition of Learning Style

Anthony Gregorc (1988) defines learning style as the manner in which the learner mentally orders the concrete and abstract perceptions of his or her environment. Based on his 20 years of research, Gregorc asserts that learners connect with and interpret their environment with either sequential or random ordering patterns. Consequently, when concrete and abstract perceptions are combined with the sequential and random ordering preferences, four distinct learning styles emerge: Concrete Sequential (CS), Abstract Random (AR), Abstract Sequential (AS), and Concrete Random (CR). According to Gregorc, each of these four styles is associated with specific learning dispositions. (See Box 1.) However, since we all interpret both concrete and abstract perceptions, and, since the nature of that undertaking often requires that we use either a sequential or random approach, most people opt for whichever style of thinking is required by the situation. For instance, when filling out an application for a bank loan, we are required to operate "Concrete Sequentially" by using our precise, step-by-step, goal-oriented abilities. However, at the party celebrating our loan approval, we initiate conversation, joke and respond to the talk and body language of our guests using our more people-oriented, imaginative and playful "Abstract Random" skills.

Some Educational Implications of Style Preference

Research and experience have borne out the fact there are educational implications to the concept of learning styles. Gregorc (1985a) found that up to 95% of the population have a preference regarding learning style. Some people have such a strong preference that they are unable to adapt their style to requirements of a particular situation. The potential for both style "match" and "clash" between teacher and learner as well as principal and teacher should be considered. The most obvious implication is that when students have a strong preference for the manner in which new material is presented, it may be difficult or impossible to learn when educators fail to present material in their preferred way. For example, does a sequential learner and a random learner have equal access to knowledge when their history teacher introduces the lesson in a chronological order rather than thematically? What can happen if a teacher fails to teach in the preferred style of the principal who evaluates him/her? What happens if a principal does not administer to the school in a style perceived by the teachers and parents to be appropriate? Is the judgment of that principal based on the knowledge of what qualities are needed to administrate a school or is it based on personal belief systems influenced by what special styles and dispositions the teachers and parents themselves value and possess? …