I believe that to be a good teacher it is of the utmost importance that every instructor has a deep understanding of their preferred learning style/method.
Instructors begin their careers like everyone else. They are students first. Many that become faculty at post-secondary institutions have a zeal for life-long learning. Beyond that, they have found a formula for how they learn best. Some may be auditory learners, or visual learners, still others may learn best through physical experiences; more technically speaking– kinesthetically. No matter what the learning style is, an instructor must have a dialed-in sense of how they learn best.
There are two good reasons for this. The first reason is self-serving. Good teachers spend their entire careers in a perpetual cycle of learning. To do this with any kind of efficiency they must be able to find those sources that are congruent with the way that they learn best. An educator’s ability to find material presented in a way that is analogous to their preferred learning style allows them to digest and assign meaningfulness to the new content. Excellent teachers will be able to learn new content regardless of the presentation style, but the efficiency in understanding will be depleted, and as such, the time from concept, to learned, to accurately presented by them in their own classroom is significantly delayed.
Secondly, and more altruistic, faculty that understand their own preferred learning style are better equipped to deliver instruction in the diverse student learning methods found in the classroom. As humans, we all tend to gravitate to those things that are comfortable, well-known, or easy. It is very easy for an instructor to deliver their content in the way that makes the most sense to them. However, this only benefits the group of students that share the teacher’s learning style. A teacher that is keenly aware of their own learning style will teach with that style, but they will also realize that they must understand and work with other learning styles. This challenges them to leave their comfort zone to present their content in as many other learning methods as possible. If faculty don’t have a good hold on their own learning, it will be very hard for them to see that they are doing a great disservice to students in class that don’t share the same preferred method for learning.
Faculty and support staff both have to ask the important question: “Are all of my students comfortable learning this way?”
Recently, I gave a presentation at a higher education instructional technology professional development conference. During my presentation, I had an instructor raise his hand and volunteer that the practices I was sharing are nothing that he would ever do, because he “doesn’t like them.” Immediately, another hand shot up from a gentleman in the back of the room. Upon being given the floor, he quickly rebutted that the things I was talking about don’t resonate with him either, but the practices do resonate with his students. He finished by saying that anything that can provide him with an advantage that ultimately affects his student’s abilities to learn is something that he is going to do. This second gentleman, operating outside of this own comfort zone, in an effort to boost student success is what a top-notch instructor is all about.
Being a good teacher is a lot like being an all-pro athlete. The individual works very hard for several years before they make it to a professional sports career. These top caliber players have a deep understanding of how their body works through exercise, weightlifting, and conditioning. They also develop a brain for the game that they play. They understand every nuance. This assists them in achieving their all-pro career, but these personal development techniques aren’t the only factors. Working with the rest of their team, through practice and film studies, players also learn what each teammate is capable of, and this is the ultimate recipe for success. Knowing how others on the field or court will react to specific situations allows the individual to focus on their duties and fulfill their assigned role. Looking at professional sports in this way, it’s not hard to see how the most successful teams also tend to send the most individual players to storied careers and halls of fame.
As faculty, we need to challenge ourselves. First, we need to understand what our preferred learning style is. Then, we need to look at the current andragogy that we employ in our classes. And finally, ask ourselves one question: “Are all of my students comfortable learning this way?”