Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Learning Styles as Predictors of Fieldwork Performance and Learning Adaptability of Graduate Nontraditional Occupational Therapy Students

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Learning Styles as Predictors of Fieldwork Performance and Learning Adaptability of Graduate Nontraditional Occupational Therapy Students

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Assessing the learning styles of nontraditional graduate students and their adaptation to the fieldwork context is important for the achievement of educational success. METHODS: A non-experimental mixedmethods design examining learning styles, fieldwork performance, and adaptation to the clinical setting in a sample of 84 graduate nontraditional occupational therapy students. Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (LSI) and the Fieldwork Performance Evaluation (FWPE) were the outcome measures. Select participants completed a 1-hr interview and reflection on their fieldwork. RESULTS: The Accommodating style was favored (n=37, 44%) with a strong preference for the active experimentation phase of learning (n=38, 45%). MANOVA tests confirmed a significant relationship of learning styles (F(7,71)=2.62, p=0.018) and phases of learning (F(21,198.7)=2.10, p<0.01) with fieldwork performance. Qualitative data indicated that students experiencing difficulty during fieldwork conveyed low self-awareness about their learning approach and used limited diversity of methods to adapt to the fieldwork setting. CONCLUSIONS: Recognizing learning styles and adjusting the approach to the learning conditions have relevance for maximizing outcomes. Educators in allied health fields may consider designing instructional activities that advance students' awareness of their preferences and support the use of diverse approaches for success in various learning contexts. J Allied Health 2015; 44(3):145-151.

IT IS WIDELY AGREED that individuals have preferred styles for learning.1-3 Current research suggests that although fairly stable, learning styles are influenced by the learning context4,5 and that knowledge of learning styles is a valuable factor when considering pedagogical methods used to appeal to diverse students and to guide their critical thinking for achievement in didactic and clinical learning experiences, particularly for students in allied health professions who are required to complete such experiences as part of their training.5-9 Certain prevalent learning styles have been associated with different academic disciplines2,10-12; however, there is limited and inconsistent evidence on the learning styles of graduate, nontraditional occupational therapy students. Previous research has included mostly traditional undergraduate students. They may differ from nontraditional graduate students in that the latter are typically older than 25 years, attending evening or weekend classes, predominantly females, of minority groups, and having multiple responsibilities outside school.13 Furthermore, researchers disagree about the extent to which learning styles are a determinant of learning adaptability, that is, how students may modify their learning approach to applied knowledge based on contextual circumstances.4,7,8,14

The purpose of this paper is to further previous research on this topic by examining the learning styles prevalent in a sample of nontraditional graduate occupational therapy students and the relationship of learning styles with their fieldwork performance, as well as to explore how this unique population adapts their learning approach for success in the fieldwork context.

Learning Styles

Kolb (1984)3 described learning styles as the cognitive, physical, and emotional schemes individuals use to perceive and process information. In his theory of Experiential Learning, Kolb conceived learning as a dynamic process involving transactions between the individual and his environment through the use of selected learning preferences or styles. These styles are encompassed within four phases of a learning cycle. The cycle represents learning preferences along two dichotomous dimensions: the perception dimension denoting preferences for taking in information either through concrete experiences (CE) or abstract conceptualization (AC), and the processing dimension denoting preferences for dealing with experiences either through reflective obser- vation (RO) or active experimentation (AE). …

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