All of us acquire new skills or knowledge in different ways and at different speeds. The ways in which we learn and the speed with which we assimilate and process information depend on a wide variety of factors; aptitude, learning environment, age and motivation all play their part in determining our ability to learn.
But individuals also have different learning styles. While some of us learn best by reading around a subject, others need a practical, hands-on, trial and error approach to get the best results. The way in which we, as individuals, absorb, process, comprehend and, ultimately, retain information is a highly complex and personal thing.
This presents a problem for teaching or training professionals. Since a group of learners will almost inevitably have as many variations on learning styles as there are individuals in the class or group, a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to achieve the best possible results.
Learning style theory
To try to make sense of this variation in learning style among individuals, a number of theories have developed to explain how we approach learning.
Perhaps the best known of these is the VARK model. Developed by educationalist Neil Fleming, VARK is an acronym of the four main learning styles identified by the model. A good explanation of the model can be found at teach.com/what/teachers-teach/learning-styles . Basically, however, the four main styles identified by Fleming’s model are:
Visual – using maps, charts, films, visual aids and other images
Auditory – understanding through verbal presentation, discussion and repetition
Reading/writing – a strong preference for copious note taking and textbooks.
Kinaesthetic – Hands-on learning, or learning by doing, often through trial and error
There is, however, a potential problem with the VARK model – one that’s shared by other similarly focused educational and learning style models: in attempting to understand and emphasize the individuality of learners and learning styles, it can risk pigeon-holing individuals by devising labels and seeking to attach them, which can in turn, according to some, such as educationalist Professor Guy Claxton, actually inhibit learning.
Cultural Immersion learning
One method which is becoming popular in linguistic teaching seeks to address the issue of different styles of learning by a holistic approach to teaching, and becoming fluent in, a second language. Daily English, for example, are an organisation specialising in teaching English in France by placing students within a bilingual English/French speaking family.
As explained at their website here: www.dailyenglish.fr/en/new-concept , students are fully engaged in a linguistic and cultural sense with the language which they’re learning. Not only does this ensure that learning covers the widest possible range of individual learning styles, it provides a rock-solid base against which the student can practise and employ new skills within a real world environment as these skills are assimilated, thus cementing skills and knowledge almost as soon as they’re acquired.
In practice, the advantages of the total immersion approach to learning a second language are clear. It closely mimics the way in which all of us learned to communicate in our mother tongue. By accommodating a wide range of individual learning preferences, it ensures that learning focuses truly on the individual, their needs and their preferences. The results, compared with language teaching in a classroom environment speak for themselves.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of this approach, however – one that’s rarely mentioned in the scholarly treatises of learning theory – is the one that’s almost invariably the most important in practice; learning is fun. And whatever the learner’s individual style label, we all learn best when we’re having fun.
About the author:
A staff training professional with nearly thirty years’ experience, Angie Pitchford began her career with the Civil Service but has latterly specialised in training in the retail and service sectors. She is fluent in German and French as well as English and enjoys the opportunity to spend a couple of months a year working and living in France.
Keywords: immersion, language immersion, fun learning, VARK theory, linguistic teaching, methods of learning, learning English. Teaching English, English as a second language, learn English in France