Applying learning styles to small groups part 2

We started this three-part series in applying learning styles to small groups with a brief discussion on two models of learning styles: Kolb’s and Fleming’s VARK-model. It was still purely theoretic however, so today we’ll see what practical implications Kolb’s model has and tomorrow we’ll do the same for the VARK-model.

Determine preferred learning style

Determining the preferred learning style of your small group members according to Kolb’s model is not an easy task. There is not simple test to take, the only way you can find out is by observing your students. As a matter of fact, you may never know for certain who has which learning style. That in itself is not a problem, as long as you adapt your teaching to all styles, everyone will take something home.

It would help if you could find out your own preferred learning style, because it may vary well be that you have a corresponding dominant teaching style you’ll need to be aware of. If you realize for instance that you’re heavy on the assimilating style, you can start by making some changes and introducing some more ‘doing’ instead of ‘just thinking and talking’.

Active experimenters will want to try things out themselves instead of observing others like reflective observers (photo: Dan MacDonald)

Here is some extra info and the corresponding practical applications for each of the four learning styles according to Kolb:

Divergers

Divergers are concrete thinkers and reflective observers. They prefer logical instructions and love group discussions. Their standard question would be ‘why?’ They often learn from other people. Conflict is something they don’t handle well and they like their feedback to be personal. They have a great imagination and are often superb at brainstorming and thinking creatively. Not surprisingly, they often like the arts and all things creative. Here’s what you can do for this type of learners:

  • Use group discussions about the topic you’re teaching on. Make sure these are well led and that people’s opinions are respected
  • Brainstorm about topics
  • Ask ‘what would it have been like?’ questions
  • When teaching, be sure to explain the ‘why’ and make it obvious. For instance: why did Jesus have to die? Why did God punish David after the whole Batsheba thing?
  • Use ‘steps’ in teaching when possible
  • You can also pair students up and let them discuss prepared questions together
  • Use art and creative means to teach, think of visiting a museum, showing photos or paintings
  • Use arts to creatively apply truths, like making a drawing, painting, creating something

Convergers

Convergers are abstract thinkers and active experimenters. They will ask the ‘how’ question, they want to know the details and want to understand it before they’ll accept it or believe it. Don’t mistake their honest questions for unbelief or criticism! They often like to work individually. Computer-based training is for instance very effective with this group. They’re great at solving problems and will tend to focus on practical applications. They will often try things out carefully. Here’s how you can speak to the convergers:

  • Give individual assignments, either during small group or as ‘homework’
  • When teaching, try to include relevant details. For instance, they’ll want to know how it’s possible that all the animals fit into Noah’s Ark
  • Use their problem solving skills by presenting Biblical stories or concepts as problems. What would you have done if you were Abraham and you still didn’t have a son? What should you do when you feel like God doesn’t hear you?
  • Practice things after you’ve sufficiently explained the theory behind it. For instance: first explain why personal testimonies are effective and how they are done best and then have them practice writing these down
  • Have them do research on topics, for instance have them find out what they can about Israel in the time of Jesus

Accommodators

Accommodators are concrete thinkers and active experimenters. They simply like to do things instead of listening to long talks and discussions and reading a lot of stuff. They prefer intuition (their ‘gut’) over logic, they’ll just do ‘what feels right’. They like working in teams, but conflict comes easily when their intuition clashes with someone else’s logic or reasoning. Challenges motivate them and they are usually risk takers. Here’s how you can help them learn:

  • Do something. Really, it’s that easy. Instead of sitting and listening, just do something. Use games, role plays, acting things out, trying and practicing.
  • Use experiments and practical work where possible, for instance service projects, sharing the gospel, etc.

Assimilators

Assimilators are abstract thinkers and reflective observers. Their approach is ‘what’s to know?’. They love lectures, information, reading and they value the opinion of experts. They have a very logical approach and will test any reasoning on it’s logic. They are serious when they learn, they usually dislike playful learning. They often need time to think things through before they make a decision. Very often, they will turn out to be scientists and academics. Here’s what you can do for them:

  • Give them assignments (home work) where they can gather info themselves and have them present it in a logical way
  • When teaching, be sure to have all steps in your reasoning covered. For instance: when explaining the gospel, focus on the logical thought process behind Jesus’ sacrifice
  • Paint the big picture before you give the details
  • Teach on a topic and then ask the students to mull it over till next time and then have them give their opinion or conclusion
  • Use handouts with info

I hope you have some ideas now on how you can change your teaching style and methods to reach all your students, including those with a different learning style than your own. Have any thoughts or ideas? Share them in the comments!

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