Friday, February 12, 2016

Learning Strategies

Learning is such an individual experience! We all have our own way to learn, and the orientations, approaches and strategies we use for learning have been acquired during childhood and educational experiences, thus becoming quite stable by constant reinforcement and tending to last throughout our lives. However, it is possible to help students to become better learners by teaching learning strategies and metacognitive skills as byproducts of the subject matter.

We live in a world where life-long learning is a must. It doesn't have to be formal, academic learning, but being able to adapt to the new technology and the rapid changes in our lives. Where ever I teach,  I always want to support my students' self-regulated learning by engaging in process-oriented instruction and learning facilitation (as seen in Simons,1997).

Sometimes people confuse learning strategies with instructional strategies, but these are two distinctively different concepts. Instructional strategies are used by the teacher, learning strategies are in each students' own repertoire. Sometimes also learning styles are confused with learning strategies. Distance Learning Association has a good online presentation about learning styles and strategies.

Vermunt and Vermetten (2004) concluded that students' learning strategy patterns generally belong to one of the following dimensions: undirected, reproduction-directed, meaning-directed, or application-directed. TheKalaca & Gulpinar (2011) table below displays the learning components attached to each learning strategy (called learning style in the table).

Learning often gets hard for students who rely solely on undirected or reproduction-directed learning strategies. Both approaches focus strongly on memorizing the content without connecting the details to a hypernym (i.e.umbrella term). With external regulation of learning, these students aim to pass the exams, but find it hard to assess their own learning.

Meaning-directed students try to first understand the entities and then relate the details into these bigger concepts. Focusing on learning in the context, these self-regulating students try to connect the new information with their existing knowledge. They may be critical, as forming an opinion about the topic is important, and they may engage in independent search for additional material to better understand the concepts to be learned.

Application-directed students value learning about useful materials and topics, and they try to find practical applications for the content they learn. Being both externally- and self-regulating, these students reflect on their own experiences and relate their practical knowledge to the theoretical concepts to be learned.

Students in all four dimensions benefit from learning more about self-regulation and metacognitive strategies in order to become life-long learners, and able to choose from the information and misinformation that is available on every computer and handheld devise. The necessary instructional strategy for teachers - in addition to supporting learning process and teaching metacognitive strategies in various ways - is to learn how to ask non-googlable questions.

Kalaca S, Gulpinar M. A Turkish study of medical student learning styles. Educ Health [serial online] 2011 [cited 2016 Feb 12];24:459. Available from:
Simons, P. R. J. (1997). From romanticism to practice in learning. Lifelong Learn. Europe 1:
Vermunt, J. D., & Vermetten, Y. J. (2004). Patterns in student learning: Relationships
between learning strategies, conceptions of learning and learning orientations.
Educational Psychology Review, 16, 359–384