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Learning about learning styles…

January 26, 2010

In a December, 2009 article in American Educational Research Journal, researchers reported on a study of how students learn using four different instructional approaches. All four claim to be effective at getting students actively selecting relevant information, organizing it in their minds, and integrating it with what they already know. Here are the teaching approaches, as seen from the student’s point of view:

  • Tell me how it works
  • Show me how it works
  • Let me explain how it works
  • Let me investigate how it works

Under normal circumstances, it’s very difficult to determine the merits of an instructional approach from the talents of the individual teachers. It was decided to factor out teaching as a variable by studying the four approaches as students worked with interactive computer instructional programs, all teaching mathematical probability theory to the 10th and 11th graders:

  • Hypermedia learning (tell me) – Text, pictures, animation, and video elements are presented in nodes interconnected by hyperlinks; students are free to decide which piece of information they want to select and observe, and can work at their own sequence and pace.
  • Observational learning (show me) – The computer program allows students to observe experts performing a task or solving a problem.
  • Self-explanation-based learning (let me explain) – Worked-out examples are presented without the solution steps and students themselves type in explanations of how to work out the steps.
  • Inquiry learning (let me investigate) – Students inductively come up with the answers by interacting with the subject matter.
  • And the winner was… (c) The self-explanation approach. The outcome for students who used this learning program had the most impressive results across the board. The hypermedia and observational approaches produced the lowest results, and the inquiry approach was in between.

The only downside of self-explanation was that it took more time, whereas the hypermedia software was the quickest. Given enough time, self-explanation would be the method to use – although, if they could redesign the experiment, the researchers suspect that a combination of self-explanation and inquiry would be even better.

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