Using a learning styles approach to improve learning, achievement and retention in further education - work in progress

Cynthia Klein and Alison Swabey,  South Bank University, UK

The London Language and Literacy Unit is carrying out a two year DfEE funded pilot project to investigate the effectiveness of implementing a learning style approach to teaching in improving both achievement and retention, particularly by addressing the needs of low achieving and at-risk students.  The body of research, particularly in the USA, shows that underachievers drop-outs and at risk students tend to have less adaptable learning styles and are more frequently 'mismatched' to conventional teaching and environments.   Early work in the UK suggest that an approach which both identifies and addresses individual learning styles can improve achievement and motivation, as well as alter teacher perceptions.

The project is taking place in three colleges in Inner London, focussed on GNVQ Intermediate courses where retention and achievement is of national concern as these courses have become increasingly academic, yet tend to attract non academic students with good vocational attitudes.  The programme areas selected are Business and Health and Social Care, both of which attract large numbers of students nationally.

The project is using the Dunn and Dunn learning styles model, which is both comprehensive and practical to implement.  Dunn and Dunn's inventory covers individual reactions to 23 elements in five strands: a) environmental,  b) emotional, c) sociological, d) physical and e) psychological.  It also has good reliability and validity.  The inventory is coded to identify elements in which individuals show strong preferences.  Elements which are usually most significant among low or underachieving students include perceptual modality (usually tactual/kinaesthetic), amount of light (low), mobility (need for), intake (need for food), seating (informal) and hemispheric processing style (right/global).

Cooper's interactive questionnaire using his two dimension ("verbal-visual and holistic-sequential") model will be used as an adjunct to Dunn and Dunn's inventory, as it emphasises the cognitive aspect.

The paper will discuss the first year of the project, which involves identifying the groups, setting up the project, initial staff development sessions and follow-up support with course teams, staged implementation based on identified learning styles profiles of individuals and groups, and continuing evaluation and revision of approaches tried.  These will be based on clusters of significant learning styles variables identified for individual learners for each group.

Th paper will raise emerging issues and findings at this stage of the project which include:

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