Can Hybrid Schooling Empower Students to Embrace their Learning Preferences?

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

Learning Preferences are different than Learning Styles. The "styles" aspect is rooted in the work of Howard Gardner and his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Due to such widespread misuse of his theory, Gardner himself had to come out and clarify the nuance of his work, separating it from the simplicity of 'learning styles' while maintaining other psychology concepts important for teaching and learning. That a student has one "style" of learning is not at all the point of Gardner's work and is even further from the idea of Learning Preferences.

Learning preferences refer to how much a learner prefers various means of receiving new information as well as expressing interest and understanding in that new learning through various modes. For some students on some topics this may mean receiving explicit direct instruction while other topics are received through videos online. At the same time, students might prefer orally presenting some kinds of skills and concepts while written presentation of other skills and concepts may simply be the only relevant form. The focus here is on developing a student's capacity to recognize preferences and learn to intentionally use these preferences to learn and improve on other skills and concepts. Teachers, equally, who are able to identify their own preferences may see a tendency for certain instruction and assessment practices which can either support or hinder individual student learning.

In classrooms with a one-size-fits-all approach to all new learning for dozens of students at a time, addressing individual learning preferences can seem impossible. Yet, with the pandemic causing many schools to allow smaller class sizes to be combined with partial distance learning schedules, an opportunity for addressing individual learning preferences has never been closer to becoming a reality for so many students and teachers at one time.

The question I am asking in this post is whether students not only have preferences but whether they can be objectively measured in ways that parents and teachers can intentionally shape instructional approaches and focus them to develop student academic and non-academic skills and concepts.

To address this question, I considered the work of Anton Tolman at Utah Valley University. A survey he designed asked professors in higher education to self-assess the frequency of various evidence-based teaching strategies - these strategies are focused on developing student-led learning environments with an emphasis on metacognition. I adapted that survey for use in a K-12 school setting. Yet, I realized it wasn't enough to only address the strategies implemented by teachers if the intended goal of those strategies were not impacting how students were approaching learning. So I adapted the K-12 version of that survey to focus on student attitudes and beliefs toward learning.

If we know how a student feels about learning with specific evidence-based teaching practices (identifying student learning preferences), we can more accurately measure the effectiveness of specific teaching practices in context of the particular students being instructed by a classroom teacher. The survey described below is a first step in this process of identifying student learning preferences as they related to specific teaching practices. I am excited about the impact such a tool can have on the change in student learning expectations we are now seeing in schools and homes during this pandemic.

Surveying Learning Preferences

This survey includes fifteen statements to which students may respond either 'Yes' or 'No' with an 'Other' option allowing students to clarify a response as needed. Each statement begins with "I like..." which gives students a chance to agree or disagree with a particular preference. This helps give insight into how effective a related teaching strategy might be for that student.