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By S Maxwell Lyngdoh
‘If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn’ – Ignacio Estrada
The much-discussed topic during the pandemic is teaching and the challenges accompanying it. Teaching, as an art, has been researched time and again in the past and, there have always been efforts to ease the process in the best possible way for the learners.
Over the years, the approach to teaching-learning has improved drastically with new pedagogy approaches and practices. While there are pros and cons associated with the various medium used in teaching, the only medium popularly used during the pandemic are online platforms, right from the elementary to tertiary level.
In line with this new approach which has now seemed like a suitable option, analysing the drawbacks that have crept into the process is something worth visiting, especially when the target is to complete the prescribed syllabus.
Neil D. Fleming and Coleen E. Mills in 1992 described the four modalities of student learning as VARK which consists of four different learning styles - Visual, Auditory, Read/Write and Kinaesthetic. This helped the educators to identify and understand the different learning styles which the learners prefer.
Visual learners are students who best internalise and combine information when it is presented to them in a graphic depiction of meaningful symbols. They may respond to arrows, charts, diagrams and other visualisations of information hierarchy, but not necessarily to photographs or videos. They tend to be holistic learners who process information best when it is presented to them as a robust whole rather than in bits and pieces. They see positive educational outcomes when they are presented with summarising charts and diagrams rather than sequential slides of information. Students with this learning style will learn best by using maps, pictures, images, charts and graphics. They like making posters, drawing, doodling, and using colours to think instead of using words. Computers and any other visual media can be used to help them learn.
Auditory (or aural) learners are students who learn best by hearing information presented to them vocally. Students with this learning style may sometimes opt not to take notes during class to maintain their unbroken auditory attention. Educators may erroneously conclude that they are less engaged than their other classmates but these students may simply have decided that taking down notes is a distraction and that their unbroken attention is a more valuable way for them to learn. Students who fall into this modality often find success in group activities where they are asked to discuss course materials vocally with their classmates, and they may benefit from reading their written work aloud to themselves to help them think it through. Such learners learn by listening to lectures and tutorials regularly and use rhymes, jingles, and auditory repetition through tape recording to improve memory.
Read/Write learners demonstrate a strong learning preference for the written word. This includes both written information presented in class in the form of handouts and PowerPoint presentations as well as the opportunity to blend course content in the completion of written assignments. This modality also lends itself to conducting research online, as information on the internet is relatively in written format. Reading/writing-oriented students should be encouraged to take down notes during lectures to help them process information and have an easier time recalling them later. They often take exhaustive or verbatim notes in class and like articulate teachers who put a lot of information into sentences and notes. They learn well when they condense information into small, easily ingestible bits. Bullet point lists are the easiest way to put down a lot of information in one easy-to-read format.
Kinesthetic learners are hands-on, participatory learners who need to take a physically active role in the learning process to achieve their best educational outcomes. They are sometimes referred to as tactile learners. Rather than simply utilising touch, kinesthetic learners tend to engage all of their senses equally in the process of learning. Because of their active nature, kinesthetic learners often have the most difficult time succeeding in conventional classroom settings. Some educators have found success in encouraging kinesthetic learners to utilise flashcards for subjects like Maths and English to make rote memorisation into an interactive experience. Since they learn best by doing rather than reading or listening, it is advisable to allow them to experiment and figure out a new assignment or assessment rather than dictating them on how to go about it (Source: University of Kansas - School of Education and Human Sciences, 2020).
Online learning which seemed like a short term solution during the lockdown imposed in March this year has continued till date and currently, it appears that it will continue for a few more years. But if we are to reflect on the use of VARK effectively in Online Learning, it presents within itself challenges for those who prefer to use some particular VARK modalities through this medium.
It is relatively simple for written learning materials (VARK’s Read/Write mode) to be distributed to students, either in a printed form, or online, and these materials can easily contain the same graphs, charts, diagrams and maps (VARK’s Visual mode) that would be used in a classroom setting.
Traditionally, it has been more difficult in online learning to provide materials using VARK’s Auditory or Kinesthetic modes, but to some extent, technology advances have facilitated a range of alternatives to the ways that these modalities are typically used in the classroom. However, students who have an Auditory style of learning preference have been significantly impacted by a lack of face-to-face communication in online learning. This is because students cannot attend lectures, or participate in classroom discussions, or ask their teacher questions in person. The possible option could perhaps be to watch or listen to recorded lectures, attend live lectures online, discuss their learning online with their classmates, and talk with their teachers on the phone, WhatsApp or other online platforms (VARK Learn Limited, 2020).
Online teaching and learning imply a certain Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), mainly related to designing and organising for better learning experiences and creating distinctive learning environments, with the help of digital technologies (Rapanta, Botturi, Goodyear, Guàrdia & Koole, 2020).
The above suggestions look good in paper and while addressing the issue from the theoretical point of view, although in reality, the state of affairs is very different and far more challenging than what it appears to be. Even more miserable are educational institutions with a huge number of students in each class and, in such scenarios, giving due attention to each student is out of the question, leave alone the time to identify the students based on their learning styles.
Universities, Schools and College teachers across the country have a series of classes to complete each day, additional administrative work and lastly following the curriculum is an additional task added to their plate. The teaching aids used are based on topics and not on learning styles of students, and with technical knowledge being at a phase where both the teachers and learners are trying their level best to adapt and adjust only leaves them with a greater gap of understanding what is being taught.
This is perhaps why Kirschner (2015) stated, what we should be talking about is effective, efficient and enjoyable learning that is facilitated and or enhanced by the technologies available to the teacher, the learner and the school.
On the one hand, the design of effective learning environments and embedding online technologies can serve as catalysts for teachers to experiment new things, explore creative alternatives and reflect on their own practices (Goodyear and Markauskaite 2009; McKenney, 2015).
On the other hand, the mandate for quality teaching at higher educational institutions, followed by adequate teaching evaluation methods, is nowadays more urgent than before.
This is the reason why many of the teachers still prefer a classroom setup which, to them is uncompromised, having a firm belief that quality education can only happen on face-to-face interaction with the students. Online teaching is an essential part of such professional preparedness but not the only one. Universities, now more than ever, should invest in teacher professional development of their faculty, for them to be updated on effective pedagogical methods with or without the use of online technologies.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)