Educational Implications of Learning Style for Australian Indigenous University Students 

Professor Gillian Boulton-Lewis   Lynn Wilss,  Queensland University of Technology,   Australia

1.To analyse research on thinking and cognitive styles and approaches to learning.
2.To use this analysis to examine aspects of learning for Australian Indigenous University students. 

An analysis of learning 'styles' literature was undertaken. Additionally empirical data regarding formal learning experiences was collected from 22 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander University students as part of a phenomenographic investigation. They were also asked about the strategies they used to learn and their experiences of informal learning.

Background Literature
Sternberg's (1997) approach to styles involves three functions of thinking styles: legislative, executive, and judicial and two levels, global or local. Riding (1997) developed two cognitive style dimensions: Wholist-Analytic which is concerned with whether someone processes information as a whole or in parts and Verbal-Imagery which relates to whether information is represented either verbally or in pictures when thinking. Inventories that measure approaches to learning were developed by Biggs (1987). He identified deep, surface and achieving approaches. A surface approach entails adopting strategies with the intention to meet minimum requirements and a deep approach relies on intrinsic interest and the intention to understand.

Thinking Styles (cf. Sternberg, 1997). The Indigenous students reported informal learning experiences such as independently developing practical skills by active problem solving and independently seeking information in areas of interest by finding appropriate resources. These activities would require relational thinking and analysis which fits the judicial function of think style. Christie (1985) found that Aboriginal children learn by trial-and-error in traditional settings. This indicates a legislative style of thinking as children explore their own ways of doing something.
Cognitive Styles (cf.Riding, 1997). It could be argued that these students exhibited an Analytic-Imager (Riding, 1997) cognitive style. Analytics prefer to have control over their learning and this was evident in their informal learning practices. Many of the Indigenous students also reported a preference for learning by observation which matches the Imager style of learning.
Approaches to Learning (cf. Biggs, 1987). Formal learning strategies were many and varied. Some students evidenced a surface approach by reading over and over information and rewriting notes. A deep approach was also evident as students wrote information in their own words, questioned themselves, and related informal to formal knowledge. 

Educational Significance
The findings of this study show that Aboriginal students exhibit a range of cognitive and thinking styles that are similar to those found for other students.  They also use strategies that are similar to those used by others. These results differ from some studies that state Aboriginal students exhibit a style of learning that is unique to their culture and traditional background. Further research is needed to consolidate the findings apparent in this study. 

Biggs, J. (1987). Student approaches to learning and studying. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.
Christie, M.J. (1985). Aboriginalizing post primary curriculum The Aboriginal Child at School, 22(2), 86-94.
Riding, R.J. (1997). On the nature of cognitive style. Educational Psychology, 17(1&2), 29-49.
Sternberg, R.J. (1997). Are cognitive styles still in style? American Psychologist, 52(7), 700-712.

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