Chapter One

An Investigation of Learning Styles in General Chemistry Students


INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

 

All students regularly enrolled in general chemistry CH102 in the Spring semester of 1995, and in CH 101 in the Fall semester of 1995 at Clemson University were administered a cognitive profile inventory. The treatment group members were given the resulting individual learning style profile and information on the interpretation of the profile and study techniques appropriate to each of the four quadrants. The students in the control group were given the same information after the common final exam for the course was completed. Comparisons were made between the treatment and control groups, and between subgroups by demographic variables and by cognitive dominances for grade in the course. Further evaluations were completed for goodness of fit of the cognitive profile model, and for study techniques used by the students.


Justification

In recent history, a student's failure to become competent in areas studied in school has been blamed on the school, the teachers, the curriculum -everything but the student. Along with responsibility for his actions in society in general, our student has been absolved of responsibility for his own learning. Teachers' hands are tied in many respects, as most effective modes of discipline have been put beyond their reach by orders of the courts, and parental support has been severely reduced, perhaps by the return to the work force of a large proportion of mothers of school age children, or perhaps by the views adopted by the "60's generation" whose children we now have in school. Additionally, today's students have been raised with television, which has alternately been praised for such educational phenomena such as Sesame Street and the National Geographic events (Spring, 1994), and blamed for children's lack of skill in attending to anything that doesn't flicker, and their becoming accustomed to an extreme level of violence and profanity. Despite these effects, we must continue to do what we can to educate the present generation and the generations to follow. Clearly the best we can do is to increase motivation on the part of the students themselves, and encourage the student to again take responsibility for his own learning.

Those students who reach the university level generally have personal motivation, or would not have reached tertiary education. It remains for us to give them the tools with which to make the best use of their talents. In addition, many of these students are the brightest of their peers, and had little or no need to study effectively in secondary school. They then reach university with few, if any, study skills. The high dropout rates in college among the brightest of the students is cause for concern, and may relate to the lack of preparation in study skills of these bright young people. American schools have traditionally taught most subject areas with a pedagogy based on repetition, drill, concrete to abstract process, with a more recent attention to hands on practice and wherever possible, the use of manipulatives to enhance the concept building (Rippa, 1992). Much rhetoric also has recently surrounded the issue of the higher order thinking skills, following the model of Bloom's taxonomy, encouraging students not only to master the content and be able to regurgitate following rote memorization of facts, but to comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate learned concepts and to effectively transfer the learning to new material and situations. We want to teach our students "to think," but continue to demand little more than repetitive practice at problem solving. The two directions seem to be at odds. It is well known that all individuals do not think alike (Anderson, 1995) and a great deal has been learned about how students learn. Contrary to older schools of thought, all students do not learn most efficiently in the same manner. Some students do, indeed, learn best through the repetitive drill that characterizes our schools, but perhaps as many as 88% learn better through other mechanisms, according to Dunn and Dunn (1994). Many models have been proposed and used which describe a variety of learning styles with a wide latitude (Yale, 1988). But all agree on one issue. Individual students learn in different ways. This work shall not attempt to treat the learning styles rhetoric exhaustively, since the volume of material in the literature is vast. I shall treat the major schools of thought on the subject, from Jung to Dunn, and look at the cognitive theory behind the concept of learning style. Initially I shall attempt to determine whether a difference can be detected in students' patterns of learning, thinking, and reasoning by using the Jungian model, and then whether assisting students to identify their style can improve their grades.

Most of the current discussion of learning styles centers around modalities, 50 years of research studies looking for improvement of grades by serving student preferences, with no positive conclusive results. Given a general consensus that all students do not learn alike, if the common model for "learning styles", Dunn and Dunn's modalities, doesn't produce improvement in achievement, either the premise is incorrect and all students learn alike, or the model is incorrect, and a different model is needed to describe differences in student learning. I believe that although differences in preferences for learning modalities certainly exist, Dunn's modalities model is inadequate to describe major differences in student learning. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (Armstrong, 1994; Gardner, 1993) also is descriptive of the latitude of student abilities, and a valid tool for acknowledging differences in individuals, but offers little in help to the classroom teacher tailoring lesson plans. The Jungian model of personality may be superimposed upon Dunn's work, and upon Gardner's work, and may demonstrate a correlation between the student's persona and learning patterns. Using two of Jung's four bipolar descriptors, we may describe an individual's use of information, either concrete or abstract, and his pattern in decision making, either thinking or feeling, and show how the individual processes and assimilates information. This research is intended to assess an abbreviated Jungian model as a more complete descriptor of individual differences in learning, and one that may offer real help to classroom teachers in working with those differences.

For this research a model based on Jungian personality type theory was chosen, as best describing the range of learning styles. Of the wide variety of models proposed in the literature and previous research (Yale, 1988), the Jungian is considered by this researcher to be the best fit of those issues raised in relevant research, and the most appropriate to the conditions and situations relevant to learning. Chapter two will consider those other models, and attempt to demonstrate superposition of Jungian theory on other models.

Jungian Personality Type

Jung (1970, 1990) used four bipolar descriptors: Introvert - Extrovert, Sensor - Intuitive, Thinker - Feeler, and Perceiving - Judging. He described personality in these terms, labeling individuals relative to which end of each bipolar was more descriptive. An individual might be extroverted, sensor, thinker, perceiving, that is ESTJ. The extrovert gains energy from interaction with other people; the introvert finds such interaction tiring. The sensor relates to information in a concrete fashion, using the senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight, in contrast to the intuitive who works in the abstract, turning concepts about in the mind's eye. The thinker makes decision based upon facts, data, information, details and logic. The feeler bases decisions on feelings, interpersonal relationships, personal values, and beliefs. The judger possesses a strong system of correct and incorrect and is likely to overtly impose that system on those around him. The perceiver observes and accepts differences, is less likely to judge the actions of others. Myers and Briggs developed an instrument for evaluating personality type, called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, (Myers & McCaulley, 1958) based on Jung's bipolars. It classifies individuals by the four bipolars, as combinations of E or I, S or N (using N for iNtuitive to avoid confusion with the I for Introvert), F or T, and P or J, yielding 16 distinctive personality types. An individual is either extrovert or introvert, for example. No allowance is made for differing degrees of extraversion or introversion, or of any of the other bipolars.


Learning Styles Based on Jungian Theory

The abbreviated Jungian personality model, as adapted and appropriate for classroom and individual learning may be demonstrated on a diagram that consists of two axes. The y, or vertical axis runs from "Sensor" at the top to "Intuitive" at the bottom. The x, or horizontal axis runs from "Thinker" at the left to "Feeler" at the right.






Figure 1. Cognitive Profile Model, after Jungian Personality Type Theory.

The following descriptions are applications of Jung's personality descriptors to learning preferences and aptitudes. Described earlier by Hansen, Silver and Strong, (Silver, 1980, 1981) the descriptors have been modified and expanded from that work, and from the author's considerable study of Jung's own descriptions of the personality types. (Hansen, Silver and Strong reverse the x axis from Jung's original diagrams. That reversal is maintained here for consistency in practice, although some further applications of the theory are more consistent with Jung's original orientation.

Learners are classified by expressed preferences and needs within the four quadrants formed by the two axes, with areas within the quadrant determined through the evaluation instrument. Every learner has some area within each quadrant, with the greatest area describing the learner's strongest preference in learning style.

Looking at Figure 1, the characteristics of the learner may be described as follows: The Sensateworks effectively with information taken in through the senses. Concrete experiences and manipulatives are most effective. The Intuitive learner works in the abstract, connecting less with sensory input than with ideas and concepts. The Feelingmakes decisions based on personal and societal values, and relates on a personal level with the content in order to construct meaning. The Thinkingconstructs logically and develops understanding of concepts. Four quadrants fall between the axes, and are therefore described as sensor feeler (SF), sensor thinker (ST), intuitive feeler (NF) and intuitive thinker (NT).

It must be stressed that the profile described by the instrument used in this research does not attempt to diagnose abilities, or level of ability, in the skills encompassed, only preferences and perhaps a level of comfort in modes of thinking and decision making. It is specifically in this regard that certain previous models have been ambiguous, most notably some applications of Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.



The Styles

Sensory Learners

The sensor thinker (ST) is closest to Dunn and Dunn's analytical learner, working in an organized fashion, methodically and stepwise. The ST student learns best alone, and by repetitious drill and practice, and has a profound need for timely feedback. Answers are either right or wrong, and the ST student may be easily frustrated by discovery learning where there is no clearly defined path to the correct result. ST's memorize well, and do best in recall tests. The ST student is advised to study alone, in a well lit structured area, desk and chair, with no distractions, and to do repeated example problems and exercises. Concepts which are presented in a manner that is not conducive to recall can be restructured by the ST student. Complex concepts should be broken into steps or small pieces, and each piece mastered before going on to the next. Large quantities of information may be tabulated on flash cards, and some stepwise progression devised to facilitate learning. The ST is the classic student for which American schools have been structured for most of this century, and the population from which Dunn emphasizes most of our teachers have come, perhaps because they enjoyed success in school under the structure imposed.

The sensor feeler (SF) is also a concrete learner, and is the student for whom cooperative learning is made to order. SF learners must process information verbally, and learns best if they can relate personally to the content. When attempting to process complex content, the SF must talk it through, studying most productively with another learner. The SF should break large tasks into several small steps, and find a means of relating to the content. This student may create a story line or example problem using friends and family members names, take part in a play or game.

Both SFs and STs need to learn sequentially, building from the known to the unknown with manipulatives where possible. Constructivist theories (Aldridge, 1992) hold well for both ST's and SF's, in that the learning is built stepwise from basics to concept, and that the students build their own learning based on their own experiences.

The intuitive learners, NT and NF, work most effectively in the abstract, and need to begin new material with a global perspective. This direction is foreign for most educators, so the intuitive learner will generally be assisted by reading the material prior to class in order to glimpse the whole concept for a starting point.

Intuitive Learners

The intuitive thinker (NT) is characterized by logical thinking, perception of patterns and a strong need to understand, needs to process new material alone before discussion, and must see the overall picture prior to processing details to enhance understanding. When studying alone, the NT should first look over new material to get the overall picture. Once the global concept is grasped, the pieces fit in naturally. The NT must look for patterns in the information in order to facilitate recall, using mnemonics and other memory devices. Since NT's do not memorize well or easily, they must understand the concepts in order to figure out what they will not otherwise recall. The NT is perhaps ideally suited for a career in research sciences, but often does not find academic success early due to natural dislike of repetition and memorization.

The intuitive feeler (NF) is the creative learner. Lacking aptitude for both logic and memorization, most at home in the abstract, the NF represents the greatest risk for non-completion of the educational process. The NF learns best through metaphor, building new learning on a structure of comparison with some other known concept, no matter how far afield. NF's usually work well in cooperative groups, and should study with other classmates whenever possible. The NF student should look for another situation in which the same "rules" apply, as those that apply to the concept being studied. "How is an internal combustion engine like a rock band?" has meaning for the NF, who will see connections between the various energy sources and sounds in the two contexts, and thereby enhance understanding of internal combustion engines.