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Vol. 8, No. 1: September 17, 2001

How Can We Appeal to All Learning Styles in One Online Course?
An Issue-Focused Dialogue White Paper
Virtual Pedagogy Conference, UW Oshkosh, July 18, 2001
Facilitated by Dr. AnnMarie Johnson,
Instructional Developer, UW-Oshkosh

I brought this question to the conference because I have heard that one advantage of online materials is the ability to present course content in many different forms, to appeal to multiple learning styles. I have even shared this idea with my instructors during training seminars. Recently, I started wondering if such an attempt is truly a good idea and if it's even possible, given faculty workloads.

Some of the questions our group asked included:

  • How can we appeal to all learning styles in one online course?
  • Should we appeal to multiple learning styles in one course by using online materials?
  • What are the best ways provide assignments, information, lectures, that appeal to different styles?
  • Are there specific classes or types of classes in which this would work best?

Key issues of consensus

We agreed on a basic definition of learning style: Strengths an individual has and brings to the learning environment. The way a person takes in knowledge and interacts with and constructs that knowledge.

One's styles are based on one's strengths and weaknesses. The online environment provides opportunities for presenting similar content in various ways. For example, instructors can offer extra or extended examples, analogies, and/or additional modes of explanation for which there just is not enough time in class.

It is both easier and more difficult to address multiple intelligences. Some of the things that are easier:

  • Can provide multiple assignments without handing out or discussing every one in class.
  • Less boring to share papers among students.
  • Multiple discussion threads are simple to implement.
  • Can present material in multiple formats "at once."

On the more difficult side:

  • It takes time and effort to create additional materials.
  • Materials should be provided in advance, so there is less room for "thinking on the fly."
  • If you change and update the class from semester to semester, you have that much
    more to change.
  • You cannot accommodate all learning styles within every part of the class, and you should not have to.
    Students should stretch their weaknesses. They do not need everything to be offered in their individual style.
  • Some styles are "inherent" in or extremely easy to address online: visual, linguistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal. We should focus on the harder ones: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, spatial. These are the things you just cannot easily do sitting in front of the computer screen. (These are
    the eight multiple intelligences of Howard Gardner.)
  • Instructors need assistance from instructional designers to develop materials. Some online resources for finding materials include MERLOT (http://www.merlot.org), MIT's OpenCourseWare (http://web.mit.edu/ocw/), University of Southern Queensland (http://www.usqonline.com.au/), wNET School (http://www.thirteen.org/teach/index.html).

Areas Where Consensus Was Not Reached

Participants did not come to agreement on the following issue:

  • Should the instructor adapt to the students or should the students adapt to the instructor?

Suggestions for Further Discussion and Research

  • How can we determine what styles to use with our classes? This relates to both course content and the students' style.
  • What are the students' styles? How do we help them understand their own and others?
  • Where can we get help finding materials outside of our own learning style. We tend to teach from how we learn. How do we break this?
  • How does attrition in fully online courses relate to the match of learning styles to course presentation style?
  • Is there any present research on learning styles and the online environment?

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