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Learning styles & learning strategies Dr Desmond Thomas, University of Essex.

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1 Learning styles & learning strategies Dr Desmond Thomas, University of Essex

2 Indicated reading & references Ellis, R. 1985, Understanding Second Language Acquisition, Oxford University Press. Oxford, R. 2003, Language Learning Styles & Strategies: an Overview, Gala 2003 Reid, J. 1987, ‘The Learning Style Preferences of ESL Students’, TESOL Quarterly, Vol.21/1

3 The learner perspective There are a number of situations that haunt me …… waiting at airports, being in prison, being in a traffic jam on the M25 and being a learner in a classroom situation…… The common factor which most affects me in these situations is my total lack of control or choice. I feel helpless and frustrated, so much so that I temporarily lose my sense of identity and responsibility. And the worst thing is that there is no tangible target for my frustration. (Sheelagh Deller, 1990 Lessons from the learner, London: Longman).

4 The learner perspective 2 Let me define more precisely the elements involved in significant or experiential learning. One element is the quality of personal involvement. The whole person, both in feeling and in cognitive aspects, is part of the learning event. Self-initiated involvement is another element. Even when the impetus or stimulus comes from the outside, the sense of discovery or reaching out, of grasping and comprehending comes from within. Carl Rogers & H. Jerome Freiburg, 1994, Freedom to Learn, New York: Merrill).

5 Summarizing points made by Deller & Rogers Learners are different – with different wants and different needs. Learners need to feel that what they learn is meaningful to them. The whole person is part of the learning event Learners need to be actively involved in the learning process Learners need to initiate and not just respond. A learner-centred approach or learner-centred activities are essential in FLT To achieve this we must take account of different learning styles and different learning strategies

6 What is a learning style? Ellis (1985) described a learning style as the more or less consistent way in which a person perceives, conceptualizes, organizes and recalls information. Your students' learning styles will be influenced by their genetic make-up, their previous learning experiences, their culture and the society they live in.

7 Classifying learning styles 1.Sensory preferences: Visual (seeing), Auditory (hearing), Kinesthetic (moving), Tactile (touching) 2.Personality types: extrovert/introvert, intuitive-random/sensing-sequential, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving 3.Degree of generality: holistic/analytic, field dependent/field independent

8 McCarthy's four learning styles Innovative learners Analytic learners Common sense learners Dynamic learners arning-styles-teaching arning-styles-teaching

9 Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (1981)

10 Learning Styles Questionnaire Are you an ACTIVIST? Are you a REFLECTOR? Are you a THEORIST? Are you a PRAGMATIST? Try out the questionnaire from Everard and Morris 1996, Effective School Management, Paul Chapman

11 Everard & Morris categories Are you an ACTIVIST? Are you a REFLECTOR? Are you a THEORIST? Are you a PRAGMATIST? Or are you a mix of several? How balanced?

12 Other factors that affect LS Biological differences: ‘biorhythms’ mean that some learners perform best early/late in a day Cultural norms Educational norms Societal norms

13 What are learning strategies? “Specific behaviours or thought processes that students use to enhance their own learning… A strategy is useful if the following conditions are present: (a) the strategy relates well to the L2 task at hand, (b) the strategy fits the particular student’s learning style preferences to one degree or another, and (c) the student employs the strategy effectively and links it with other relevant strategies.” (Oxford 2003)

14 Indicated reading (learning strategies) Chen, Y. 2007, Learning to learn: the impact of strategy training, ELT Journal 61/1 Ellis, G. & Sinclair, B. 1991, Learning to Learn English: a Course in Learner Training, Cambridge Oxford, R. 1990, Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know, Heinle & Heinle Stern, H. 1983, Fundamental Concepts in Language Teaching, Oxford

15 The ‘good language learner’ (Stern) 1.Active planning strategy 2.‘Academic’ or explicit learning strategy 3.Social learning strategy 4.Affective strategy But “later studies found there was no single set of strategies used by GLLs” (Oxford 2003)

16 A more recent categorization (Oxford 1990) 1.Cognitive strategies 2.Metacognitive strategies 3.Memory-related strategies 4.Compensatory strategies 5.Affective strategies 6.Social strategies

17 Can Learning Strategies be taught? Small-scale interventions? For example: helping readers guess the meaning of words Strategy-based teaching: The CALLA (Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach) “Learning to learn” courses (Ellis & Sinclair)

18 Learner Autonomy Dr Desmond Thomas, University of Essex

19 Learner autonomy reading Ballard, B. 1996, ‘Through Language to Learning: Preparing Overseas Students for Study in Western Universities’ in Coleman, H. (ed.) Society and the Language Classroom, CUP Chen, Y. 2007, ‘Learning to learn: the impact of strategy training’, ELT Journal 61/1 Cotterall, S. 2008, ‘Autonomy & Good Language Learners’. In Griffiths, C. (ed.) Lessons from Good Language Learners, CUP Lee, I. 1998, ‘Supporting greater learner autonomy in language learning’, ELT Journal 52/4

20 What is autonomy? Holec 1981: “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning” Little 1991: “a capacity for detachment, critical reflection, decision-making, and independent action”. Not culturally-determined. Benson 2001: “the content of learning should be freely determined by learners”. (Reported in Cotterall 2008)

21 What do we mean by autonomy in language learning? (HEA Language, Linguistics and Area Studies page for definitions of autonomy and the autonomous learner) “Learner autonomy is a problematic term because it is widely confused with self-instruction. It is also a slippery concept because it is notoriously difficult to define precisely …. (Benson 2001)

22 Definition of Autonomy 2 “The rapidly expanding literature has debated, for example, whether learner autonomy should be thought of as capacity or behaviour; whether it is characterised by learner responsibility or learner control; whether it is a psychological phenomenon with political implications or a political right with psychological implications” (Benson 2001)

23 Desmond Thomas, SOAS: 23 ‘Reproductive’ learning approach Aim: transfer of knowledge Transmission of information/rules Tests of memory & rote learning Emphasis on replication & right answers Focus on correctness Strong guidance from the teacher Characteristic of secondary education? (Ballard 1996)

24 Desmond Thomas, SOAS: 24 ‘Analytic’ learning approach Analysis of information and ideas within interpretative frameworks Independent and critical thinking Emphasis on originality Questioning and arguing Characteristic of university education? Allowing learners more freedom in a language learning context?

25 Desmond Thomas, SOAS: 25 What do we expect of our autonomous learners? There is nevertheless broad agreement that autonomous learners understand the purpose of their learning programme, explicitly accept responsibility for their learning, share in the setting of learning goals, take initiatives in planning and executing learning activities, and regularly review their learning and evaluate its effectiveness. In other words, there is a consensus that the practice of learner autonomy requires insight, a positive attitude, a capacity for reflection, and a readiness to be proactive in self-management and in interaction with others. “

26 Desmond Thomas, SOAS: 26 The industry of support for our autonomous learners at university level Tutor feedback (oral & written) Personal tutors Counsellors Orientation programmes for LL 1-to-1 learning support tutorials Workshops (eg on exam techniques) Specific learning difficulties eg dyslexia

27 Ways of encouraging learner autonomy 1 Raising awareness of purpose Learners can make better decisions about their learning if they are aware of the purpose of different tasks and exercises in the course book. Taking opportunities outside the classroom As well as understanding the purpose of classroom tasks, learners can also be encouraged to use resources for language practice that exist outside the classroom.

28 Ways of encouraging learner autonomy 2 Raising awareness of individual learning styles and preferences Course books are beginning to include discussion points to raise students awareness of their own learning styles e.g. on different ways review the days lesson, to organise course material, to keep vocabulary note books

29 Ways of encouraging learner autonomy 3 Encouraging reflection Learners can be encouraged to reflect on their own progress (as you have been required to do!). Some learners enjoy keeping learner diaries. Learners can also be encouraged to reflect on individual classes. E.g. In todays class I learned ……………………. I am confused about………………………

30 Ways of encouraging learner autonomy 4 Learner responsibility and empowerment Useful expressions for the classroom can be taught right from beginner level to allow students to have some control of the teaching / learning process I’m sorry, I don’t understand how do you spell ….. ? Can you repeat please? …

31 Ways of encouraging learner autonomy 5 Involving students in the teaching /learning decisions By allowing students to take some of the decisions about how the classes will be run, they will also have a greater sense of responsibility. (What class ‘rules’ might be discussed & what type of ‘rules’ drawn up? E.g. think of: homework; attendance; use of L1…..).

32 Life-long Learner Autonomy The Council of Europe's European Language Portfolio is a tool that may bring 'autonomisation' to much larger numbers of learners. The ELP was first launched as a concept in 1997 and has since been realised in almost 40 different models, all of which conform to Principles and Guidelines laid down by the Council of Europe (

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