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Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 11 (2011) 155159

Teachers for the Knowledge Society

Do different learning styles require differentiated teaching strategies?


Cristina Tulbure*
Postdoctoral fellow, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Bd. M. Kogalniceanu 050107, Bucharest, Romania

Abstract The purpose of this study has been that of identifying the categories of teaching strategies that lead to the best academic outcomes for students having a certain learning style. We used five categories of teaching strategies along two Educational Sciences classes in one semester. A sample of 85 pre-service primary and pre-school teachers participated in the study. Data was collected through a survey method and has been analyzed using a one-way analysis of variance. Our results support the idea that students with different learning styles achieve better learning outcomes when confronted with teaching strategies that respond to their learning preferences.
2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Masterprof team 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Masterprof team.

Keywords: Learning styles; Teaching strategies; Academic achievement; Higher education; Pre-service teachers

1. Introduction Teaching Educational Sciences to pre-service teachers is a complex and multifaceted process. On the one hand, the emphasis should be placed on developing teaching skills. In order to provide an effective instruction, college instructors should take into account the individual differences concerning learning (i.e. learning styles and learning needs) and design appropriate teaching strategies to increase the chances of academic achievement for each student. On the other hand, having in view that these students become in-service teachers, we anticipate that the instructional process which accommodates different learning styles will lead to a development in differentiated instructional approaches for these students, which might have a positive impact on selecting differentiated teaching strategies. A growing interest in investigating pre-service and in-service teachers learning styles has developed lately (Arslan, Gocmencelebi, & Tapan, 2009; Birenbaum & Rosenau, 2006; Can, 2010; Okur & Bahar, 2010; Oskay, Erdem, Akkoyunlu, & Yilmaz, 2010; Peker & Mirasyedioglu, 2008). It is believed that reflection on their own learning style would help teachers appreciate individual differences related to learning and therefore differentiate their instruction strategies in order to revaluate these differences (Sloan, Daane, & Giesen, 2004; Tripp & Moore, 2007). In the last decades, a considerable amount of research has been focused on investigating the relationship among teaching strategies, learning styles and academic achievement in higher education (Akdemir & Koszalka, 2008; Arthurs, 2007; Bidabadi & Yamat, 2010; Can, 2009; Contessa, Ciardiello, & Perlman, 2005; Kiguwa, & Silva,

* Cristina Tulbure. Tel.: +40-746-079-249; fax: + 40-31-425-34-52. E-mail address: tulburecristina@gmail.com.


1877-0428 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.01.052

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2007; Kolb & Kolb, 2005; Naimie, Siraj, Piaw, Shagholi, & Abuzaid, 2010). More specific, some studies have found that congruence between teaching strategies and learning styles enhances students academic achievement (Beck, 2001; Felder & Brent, 2005; Rogers, 2009) and assures positive attitudes toward the course contents (Fox & Bartholomae, 1999). In contrast, other studies revealed the fact that the mismatch between teaching strategies and learning styles has a negative impact on academic achievement and course attendance (Felder & Henriques, 1995). The students may become bored and absent, they may do poorly on tests and get discouraged regarding courses (Naimie et al., 2010). Empirical studies concerning primary and pre-school pre-service teachers, though limited, are mainly focused on identifying students learning styles (Birenbaum & Rosenau, 2006; Metallidou & Platsidou, 2008; Sloan, Daane, & Giesen, 2004; Tripp & Moore, 2007; You & Jia, 2008). Other studies are also exploring the relationship between learning styles and attitudes towards some academic courses (Peker & Mirasyedioglu, 2008; Sloan, Daane, & Giesen, 2002). To our knowledge, there is currently a lack of research aiming to accommodate teaching strategies with learning styles for pre-service primary and pre-school teachers. In the Romanian context, the Ministry of Education has recently implemented the educational reform stipulated by the Bologna Declaration within the higher educational system. One of the main directions of this reform aims at promoting a learner-centered curriculum through flexible and differentiated educational settings focused on developing lifelong learning competences (Singer & Sarivan, 2006). In this context, identifying the most appropriate teaching strategies for every learning style represents, in our opinion, a proper way to respond to the higher educational reform requests. In addition, the results of a recent study involving Romanian pre-service teachers (Tulbure, 2010) have revealed that students needs should be considered separately, to be treated as developing personalities with individual needs that should be acknowledged and revaluated within the educational process. 2. Objective and research question In light of all considered above, the objective of this study has been that of investigating whether various teaching strategies lead to superior academic results for students having different learning styles. More precisely, a crosssectional study was designed to answer the following question: What are the categories of teaching strategies that lead to the best academic achievement for students with specific learning styles? 3. Method 3.1. Procedure As a first step, it was identified the learning style of each participant. Secondly, two lecturers applied, in teaching these students, five types of heuristic teaching strategies based on: graphical organization of information, cooperative learning, investigation, debate and problem solving. Each strategy took about four hours to apply, along two Educational Science classes. After applying each category of teaching strategies, a summative assessment test was used in order to measure each students academic achievement. 3.2. Participants The sample consisted of 85 pre-service primary and pre-school teachers attending a Romanian college for teachers (49 first-year and 36 second-year students). Their ages ranged from 18 to 51 years (M=21.89; SD=7.47). The selection was based on willingness to participate. Two lecturers from the Educational Science Department were also involved in the study. 3.3. Measures Kolbs self-report Learning Style Inventory (adapted by Lussier, 1990) was used in order to assess participants learning styles. The students were divided into four categories: assimilators; convergers; divergers; accommodators (as proposed by Kolb, 2005). The academic achievement scores (i.e. grades) of the students were measured based on five summative assessment tests, each applied after a certain category of teaching strategies was implemented. The official grading system at the university is that of using scores ranging from 1 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest). The five different

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achievement scores (obtained by each student at the assessment tests) were analyzed according to different learning styles and teaching strategies. 4. Results 4.1. Students learning styles According to the results of the Learning Style Inventory, the general tendency of the distribution showed that 31% of pre-service teachers were classified as assimilator learners (N=26) and 28% as diverger learners (N=24). Approximately 23% were mainly convergers (N=20), while only 18% were classified as accommodator learners (N=15). 4.2. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) of achievement scores We hypothesized that different teaching strategies will lead to different achievement scores for each of the four learning style groups. We performed the one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) in order to determine the differences among the groups. The students achievement scores obtained after applying the five teaching strategies were treated as dependent variables. The means and standard deviations of the achievement scores for the four groups are presented in Table 1. In addition, Table 1 shows the results of the one-way ANOVA analysis. According to these results, there were statistically significant mean differences across learning styles after each of the five teaching strategies was used. So it seems that overall, the various teaching strategies lead to different academic achievement scores for students with dissimilar learning styles. Table 1. Mean, standard deviation and one-way analysis of variance on achievement scores
Teaching strategies Graphical organization of information Cooperative learning Investigation Debate Problem solving *significant at p < .05 Assimilator Mean (std.dev.) 8.58 (1.10) 7.12 (1.30) 7.00 (0.98) 6.92 (1.05) 7.46 (0.94) Achievement scores Converger Diverger Mean (std.dev.) Mean (std.dev.) 7.05 (1.46) 7.25 (1.67) 7.95 (1.46) 7.95 (1.39) 7.65 (1.18) 7.80 (1.19) 6.75 (1.35) 7.00 (1.18) 7.83 (1.37) 7.63 (1.20) Accommodator Mean (std.dev.) 7.20 (1.14) 7.00 (1.13) 7.53 (0.99) 8.20 (1.01) 8.73 (1.03) F 6.33* 3.16* 3.47* 4.48* 4.61* p .001 .029 .020 .006 .005

To identify the specific differences in achievement scores among the four categories of students with a dominant learning style we used certain post-hoc comparison tests. According to Sava (2004), two criteria should be taken into account when selecting a post-hoc comparison test: the score variance and the number of participants in each compared group. For the Graphical organization of information strategy the Levenes test was significant (p<.05), therefore we chose the Games-Howell post-hoc multiple comparison test (which applies for unequal number of participants and equal variance not assumed). For the other teaching strategies the value of Levenes test was not significant, therefore we used Hochberg GT2 as a post-hoc test. Table 2 shows the results of the above mentioned post-hoc comparisons. These results illustrate the fact that the most effective teaching strategy for the assimilators was the Graphical organization of information. The assimilators scored significantly higher in comparison with all the other groups when the teachers used this strategy in the instructional process. Although convergers obtained better results with both Cooperative learning and Investigation strategies, their achievement scores tend to be significantly higher (compared to assimilators and divergers) when the Investigation based teaching strategy is used. Therefore, from this preliminary analysis we could infer that an investigation approach discriminates between convergers and two of the other three learning styles. We also found that divergers and accommodators obtained significantly better achievement scores when compared to assimilators after the Debate based instructional strategy was implemented. Finally, it appears that the Problem-solving strategy is the most effective approach for accommodators, as they obtained higher achievement scores when compared to both assimilators and divergers.

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Table 2. Post-hoc comparisons on achievement scores


Mean Difference (MD) (I-J) (I) Learning style (J) Learning style
Graphical organization of information (Games-Howell) Cooperative learning (Hochberg GT2) Investigation (Hochberg GT2) Debate (Hochberg GT2) Problem solving (Hochberg GT2)

Assimilator

Converger

Diverger

Accommodator

Converger Diverger Accommodator Assimilator Diverger Accommodator Assimilator Converger Accommodator Assimilator Converger Diverger

1.52* 1.32* 1.37* -1.52* -0.20 -0.15 -1.32* 0.20 0.50 -1.37* 0.15 -0.50

-0.83 0.36 0.11 0.83 1.20* 0.95 -0.36 -1.20* -0.25 -0.11 -0.95 0.25

-0.95* 0.00 -0.53 0.95* 0.95* 0.41 0.00 -0.95* -0.53 0.53 -0.41 0.53

-0.72 -0.91* -1.27* 0.72 -0.18 -0.55 0.91* 0.18 -0.36 1.27* 0.55 0.36

-0.33 -0.16 -1.27* 0.33 0.17 -0.93 0.16 -0.17 -1.10* 1.27* 0.93 1.10*

*significant at p < .05

5. Discussion and conclusion Our study tentatively unveiled that certain teaching strategies could lead to superior academic achievement scores for pre-service primary and pre-school teachers with dissimilar learning styles. More precisely, we found that assimilators performed academically better when they were instructed based on a teaching strategy that involves the Graphical organization of information. Graphical organization stands for a concise representation of information that employs logical criteria to synthesize complex data (Dulam, 2008). Our results are in line with a previous study that indicates the assimilators as being able to integrate large amounts of data into a concise, logical format (Nilson, as cited in Arthurs, 2007). In our study, the participants with a predominant converger learning style seemed to achieve the highest academic scores when they were instructed using an Investigation based strategy. This result is supported by other studies showing that convergers process information by active experimentation (Fox & Bartholomae, 1999) and learn by trial-and-error (Felder & Brent, 2005). Although the divergers achievement scores were only different from that of assimilators, these students seem to prefer the Debate based strategy (but this relationship remains to be further investigated). Other studies appear to support the idea that divergers respond well to all types of discussions, group projects, emotionally moving stories, interactive lectures and experiential types of learning (Nilson, as cited in Arthurs, 2007). Finally, the accommodators in our sample obtained the best academic achievement scores when they benefited from the Problem solving strategy. Within this strategy, the instructional process starts by considering a real problem, the identification of possible solutions being achieved by inductive strategies (Dulam, 2008). According to previous studies, the accommodators like to apply the information provided within the course in order to solve real life problems (Felder & Brent, 2005). The results of our study should be interpreted with caution. The small number of participants and the limited amount of time allocated to applying the teaching strategies could have contributed to the lack of support for some of them (i.e. investigation and debate). Further work may include a greater number of students and the possibility to use various types of teaching strategies for a longer time period in order to effectively validate the results. Furthermore, future research could include not only the primary and pre-school pre-service teachers but also other categories of participants in order to make relevant comparisons and inferences. Overall, our research tends to support the idea that students with different learning styles achieve better academic scores when confronted with teaching strategies that respond to their learning preferences. Courses in Educational Sciences should provide the opportunity to integrate various learning experiences that emphasize different learning styles within the instructional process. Identifying students learning styles and differentiating the instructional strategies have the potential to significantly enhance the academic achievement in higher education.

Acknowledgements This work was supported by the strategic grant POSDRU/89/1.5/S/62259, the project entitled Applied social, human and political sciences. Postdoctoral training and postdoctoral fellowships in social, human and political

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sciences, co-financed by the European Social Fund within the Sectorial Operational Program Human Resources Development 2007-2013. References
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