Learning styles of ite students
LEARNING STYLES OF ITE STUDENTS
Puah Keng Hai
This paper presents a study on the relationship between learning styles and GPA (Grade Point
Average). Accordingly to Kolb’s Model, students’ learning styles can be classified as
Accommodating, Converging, Diverging and Assimilating. This study on a group of 291 ITE
students revealed that those who employed the Converging learning style had higher GPA
scores across courses irrespective of gender and ethnic group. With knowledge of the different
learning styles of their students, teachers can be more sensitive to the difference students bring
to the classroom. The teachers would also be able to modify the way they teach their students
and this would lead to improved instructional effectiveness. ITE may also help students improve
performance through modification of learning style.
Keywords: Learning Styles, Kolb, GPA, ITE’s students.
Learning Styles of ITE Students
Following the speech by the then Prime Minister of Singapore (Goh, 1997) on “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” (TSLN), a committee was formed to look at how best it can shape the future of the educational system to meet the challenges of the new age. The concept of learning styles (MOE, 2001) was identified as one of the ways that would help teachers to be more aware of their students’ strengths. The TSLN recommendations highlighted that “the current education system may not be fulfilling the objective of developing to the maximum the talents and ability of every student because the system does not cater to differences in individuals’ learning styles.” According to the recommendations, customizing education and instruction according to the students’ learning styles is seen to be an effective way in helping every student develop his or her ability to the fullest. With this in mind there is a need for ITE to understand the learning styles of her students. One of the expected training outcomes of ITE is to produce graduates who remain lifelong learners for lifelong employability (ITE, 2005). In line with the need to achieve this outcome, ITE’s teachers would need to be able to effectively impart the knowledge and skills to the students. A teacher can present knowledge to students, but it is the students who form their understanding of what the teacher presents. The understanding each student forms is largely a product of the knowledge the students already possesses (Perkinson, 1993, pp. 18). Myint & Yeap (2005, pp. 40) mentioned that to guide students on how to learn, we need to have a good knowledge based on learning style which will give us control over learning style information. Therefore, to help the students learn more effectively, teachers will need to understand the different learning styles of the students. It must be emphasized at this point that there is no right or wrong learning style, it is just another way that people are different (Fuller, 2004, pp. 17). Information about learning styles can help teachers become more sensitive to the differences students bring to the classroom. It can also serve as a guide in designing learning experiences that match or mismatch students’ styles, depending on the teacher’s purpose (Chandrama, 2002). Other researchers alerted teachers that their students learn differently and should be
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taught differently (Yeap & Low, 2002). With the understanding of the variable learning styles of
the ITE students, the teachers would be able to adjust the way they teach their students and this
would lead to improved instructional effectiveness. Similarly, if the students were conscious of
their own prevailing learning styles, they would be able to understand why they have not done
well in some of the modules that they took. Some study skills need to be taught to some of these
students to help them do better in their study. As suggested by DePorter et al. (1999, pp. 19),
educators have the choice to make the next class just another class or an outstanding
experience of discovery. By understanding the students learning styles, the schools can
reorganize training and instruction to suit students’ learning styles. This can be seen to be an
effective way in helping every student develop his or her ability to the fullest (Loo, 2002; Smith,
2000). Ultimately we want our students to succeed as every student matters. The Study
In April 2004, the author conducted a survey with 291 responses from ITE graduating students
with age ranging from 18 to 22 years old from Higher Nitec in Mechanical & Electrical
Engineering & Design (MEED), Nitec in Building Drafting (BD) and Nitec in Building Servicing
Technology (BST). Generally, they represented students with different abilities who had passed
GCE “O” level (MEED), GCE “N” level with credit in Mathematics (BD) and those who had
completed GCE “N” level (BST) respectively. Table I shows that ethnic composition of the
subjects. The Kolb Learning Style Inventory (Kolb, 1999) was used to measure the student’s
overall learning style. The Kolb’s Learning Styles concept is explained in Appendix A.
Note: Students of both sexes from other ethnic groups were excluded from the survey as their population in ITE was small.
Analysis of the survey data suggests the following conclusions:
There was no significant difference in learning styles among the three different ability groups. However, students who adopted the Converging learning style had highest GPA scores.
There was not significant difference between Chinese and Malay students in learning styles. Chinese students were significantly better than the Malay students in GPA scores.
There was no significant difference in learning styles between the male and female students. Female students had significantly higher GPA than the male students.
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Matching Learning Styles
More than 65% of the students from the three ability groups were classified as either having
Diverging or Assimilating learning style. This did not support Kolb’s (1984) study where those in
the technical studies have predominantly Converging learning style. However, Kolb’s samples
were taken from people who were already placed as engineers or at managerial level. According
to Kolb (1984, pp. 77), people who have Converging learning style have their greatest strength in
problem solving, decision-making, and the practical application of ideas. These people prefer
dealing with technical tasks and problems rather than social and interpersonal issues. The
respondents were ITE students who were just at the start of the journey to be a technical staff or
engineering assistants and they definitely have not mastered or accustomed to what the
engineers or technical managers train of thought or learning style.
Only a small percentage (MEED – 17.8%, BD – 14.6%, BST – 13.2%) of the students from the three ability groups had Converging learning style. These students have adapted well to the technical training provided at ITE. In fact, ITE students who preferred the Converging learning style had higher GPA scores than students who had other dominant learning styles. As reported by Tan (1999), there were only 16.7% of students (sample size, n = 138) in the third year Electronic Engineering course at Nanyang Polytechnic (NAP) who preferred Converging learning style. Similarly other local findings (Ong, 1999; Lee, 2003) also indicated low preference for Converging learning style. The low percentage of students with Converging learning style from ITE and other institutions just go on to indicate that majority of the students are still phrasing over to the learning style to suit the technical / engineering disciplines.
(Data taken from this study) – Final year students in technical courses
(Tan, A.C.L., 1999, pp. 114) – Electronic Engineering students at Nanyang Polytechnic
(Ong, A.C., 1999, pp. 105) – Third year students at Singapore Polytechnic
(Lee, C.H., 2003, pp. 41) – Both Normal and Express students
Table II: Percentage of students with various Learning Styles
Table II shows the cross-tabulation of the percentage of students with the various learning styles taken from various studies. It is noted that students at Secondary school, ITE and even at Polytechnic levels still have the Assimilating and Diverging learning styles as their dominant learning styles. It is understood that during the transition to the technical training in ITE or engineering course at the Polytechnics, the students have not fully integrated and adopted the Converging learning style. Another reason could be, that the training at the post-secondary institutions were not realistic enough and did not mirror the actual real-life technical / engineering aspects of the careers.
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Kolb (1984, pp. 93) mentioned that the forces that shape learning style is the specific task or problem the person is currently working on. Each task we face requires a corresponding set of skills for effective performance. The effective matching of task demands and personal skills result in an adaptive competence. That is, for people who are effective and adaptive to the environment, he or she can switch from one learning style to another to cope with the demands of the environment. In the study by Jones et al. (2003), the researchers demonstrated that the sample of USA college students were able to style-flex from one learning style to another. According to that study, more than 80% of the students were able to switch learning style to suit the modules they were taking. This finding suggests that learning styles are subject area sensitive, and that a majority of the students perceived different modules required for different learning styles and that they are able to adapt or style-flex to meet the requirement of the learning task. As reported by Lee C.H. (2003, pp. 15), researchers Clarina & Smith found that students’ learning style changed after four months of computer-aided learning towards the Accommodating learning style. This finding means that the students can be consciously taught to overcome the relative stability of their preferred learning styles and adopt appropriate learning styles to improve their performance in the area under study.
Since learning style can change over time if given the correct stimulations, do we want to guide ITE students to conform to the Converging learning style, bearing in mind that students who adopted the Converging learning style tend to score higher in GPA. By conforming the students to the Converging learning style, we are effectively frog-leaping the students to assume the role of the technical staff / engineering assistants. As a bonus, by adopting the Converging learning style, the students would score higher mean GPA scores and this could give the students greater credentials when they are embarking on their initial jobs search. By the fact that these students have chosen and enrolled in the technical courses, they should have intentions to continue in this area when they graduate from ITE.
But Kolb (1984) cautioned mismatches between learning styles and discipline demands are apt to affect a student’s social adoption to the institution. Any incongruence between a student learning style and the norms of his or her major might well undermine feelings of belonging and alienate him or her from the institution (pp. 178). When there is a mismatch between the field’s learning norms and the individual’s learning style, people may leave the field (pp. 88). In ITE’s case, this could mean that there would be higher attrition rate if students with the other three learning styles were forced to use Converging learning style in their learning. Students who have Diverging learning style enjoy situations that call for generation of wide range of ideas, are interested in broad cultural interests and sensitive to feelings, prefer to work in groups to gather information, listening with an open mind and receiving personalized feedback (Kolb, 1999, pp. 7). When students are forced to use the Converging learning style, like the students who are Diverging learning style lesser extent the remaining two learning styles, may not be able to adjust well to the Converging learning style. People who have Converging learning style can be unemotional, preferring to deal with things rather than people (Kolb, 2000, pp. 6). Researchers Yeap and Brandt, as mentioned by Lee C. H. (2003), would agree that accommodating different learning styles lead to better performance, attitudes, morale, self-confidence and self esteem. DePorter and Hernacki (2000) also supported the view that students taught in their preferred learning style have improved attitudes towards learning, increased tolerance for different ways of learning, and increased academic achievement (pp. 4). Reynolds (1997) questioned how this could be done given the need for the teachers to routinely change their teaching style to accommodate the different styles in each class. Loo (2004) and Pan (2002) recommended that educators use a variety of learning methods, and encourage students
1 People who have Diverging learning style are in diagonally opposite quadrant to people in Converging learning style as shown in Kolb’s Learning Style model. These two groups of people do not share any common learning mode. The Accommodating and Assimilating learners have Active Experimentation and Abstract Conceptualization learning modes respectively which are in common with people with Converging learning style.
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to be receptive to different learning methods, rather than try to link specific learning methods to
specific learning styles.
Even if matching learning and teaching styles can improve performance, it will do nothing to help
prepare the students for subsequent learning tasks where the activity does not match the
individual’s preferred style. The duration of students’ stay with ITE is a short two years compared
to the time they will be out in the world of hard knock. Along their working career they may
choose to switch to other disciplines or professions, hence they need to master all possible
learning styles to effectively learn as they proceed in life. Kolb (1984, pp. 203) mentioned that the
educational objective is to allow a learner to focus on integrative development where the person
is highly developed in each of the four learning styles. Recommendations
What ITE’s lecturers need to do is to provide a host of learning strategies that would involve
using all four learning styles for their classes. Field trips, group projects, problem-based learning,
games, role-plays, lectures, study time alone, small group discussions, peer feedback and peer
teaching are some of the strategies that they can use. With the varieties of teaching strategies
used, there would be occasions where the strategies match students learning styles. The next
step that lecturers can take is to let their students know their own learning styles. Students will
become more motivated to learn by knowing more about their own strengths and weaknesses as
learners. In turn, if lecturers can respond to individual’s strength and weaknesses, then retention
and achievement in formal programmes are likely to rise and learning to learn skills may provide
a foundation for lifelong learning (Coffield et al, 2004). On the part of the students, they should
develop a repertoire of styles, so that an awareness of their own preferences and abilities should
not bar them from working to acquire those styles which they do not yet possess. With the
acquisition of more learning styles, the student would stand a better chance of getting a learning
style which is in congruence with the discipline he is pursuing and hence this would lead to better
scores in GPA. More importantly, armed with an array of learning styles the students would be
more confident in meeting the demands of the real world outside ITE.
ITE provides one of the best technical education in Singapore. The ITE 2004 Prospectus reads,
“Your training is carried out in modern and well equipped campuses using the latest curriculum
and pedagogic concepts…. Your education in ITE is supported by qualified and committed
teaching staff who are always enthusiastic and ready to give the extra help and care you may
need” (ITE, 2004). Once cast as the educator of low achievers, ITE now boasts a curriculum that
will churn out knowledge applicators and technology savvy graduates (Soh, 2004, July/August).
Training staff in ITE has the duty to let their students be aware that they are receiving the best
technical training in Singapore in terms of facilities and a variety of programmes to enhance their
employability. The students must see the merits of having technical qualifications. The students
must enjoy ITE training and take pride in being ITE students. It is only when the students
recognize such a need, then the motivation level would improve. The students could then
channel their energies into the training in ITE and this could lead to improvement in training
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Kolb’s Learning Styles
The Accommodating style’s dominant learning abilities are Active Experimentation (AE) and
Concrete Experience (CE). People with this style are most interested in doing things, in carrying
out plans and experiments, and involving themselves in new experiences. People with
Accommodating style tend to be risk takers and often excel in situations where one must adopt,
or accommodate oneself to specific, immediate circumstances. In situation where a theory or
plan does not fit the “facts”, the person with Accommodating style will most likely discard the
theory or plan. People with this style tend to solve problems in an intuitive, trail-and-error
manner, relying heavily on other people for information rather than on their own analytic ability.
People with the Accommodating style are at ease with people, but are sometimes seen as
impatient and pushy (Kolb, 2000).
The Converging style’s dominant learning abilities are Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and Active Experimentation (AE). People with this style seem to do best in situations such as conventional intelligence tests, where there is a single, correct answer or solution to a question or problem. For those with Converging style, knowledge is organized so that, through hypothetical-deductive reasoning, they can focus it on specific problems and converging on the correct solution. Research on this learning style shows that people with this Converging style can be unemotional, preferring to deal with things rather than people.
The Diverging style’s dominant learning abilities are Concrete Experience (CE) and Reflective Observation (RO). People with this style tend to diverge from conventional solutions, coming up with alternative possibilities. They perform better in situations that call for the generation of ideas, such as a “brainstorming” session. Research shows that people with Diverging style are interested in people, and tend to be imaginative and aware of their emotions. They have broad cultural interests and tend to specialize in the arts.
The Assimilating style’s dominant learning abilities are Reflective Observation (RO) and Abstract Conceptualization (AC). People with this style excel in inductive reasoning and assimilating disparate observations into an integrated explanation. Like those with Converging style, people with this style are less interested in people and more concerned with abstract concepts. For those with the Assimilating style it is more important that the theory be logically sound and precise. In a situation where a theory or plan does not fit the “fact”, they would be likely to disregard or re-examine the facts (Kolb, 2000).
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