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Cognitive Styles and Learning Styles

Cognitive Styles and Learning Styles

Cognitive styles describe how the individual acquires knowledge (cognition) and processes information (conceptualization). Cog- nitive styles are related to mental behaviors which individuals ap- ply habitually when they are solving problems. In general, they affect the way in which information is obtained, sorted, and uti- lized. Cognitive style is usually described as a stable and persis- tent personality dimension which influences attitudes, values, and social interaction. It is a characteristic of cognitive process- ing which is particular to a certain individual or class of individu- als.

to a certain individual or class of individu- als. Before the 1970s, individual differences were synonymous

Before the 1970s, individual differences were synonymous with differences in ability, at least in the field of learning theory. Nevertheless, many psychologists in the 1950s and 1960s be- came increasingly concerned about the narrowness of abilities measured by standard intelli- gence tests. Emphasis on abstract logical reasoning seemed to restrict intelligence to “conver- gent thinking” towards pre-determined answers but excluded the type of "divergent thinking" which leads to imaginative or creative innovation. Guilford (1965) introduced a model of the structure of the intellect which differentiated between a number of cognitive operations, in- cluding convergent and divergent thinking. Divergent thought soon became equated with cre- ativity, but although his concepts of fluency, flexibility, and originality are still widely used, the value of his contributions to the understanding of creative thinking is now thought to be questionable.

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2 To date, as many as 19 different ways of de- scribing cognitive styles have been

To date, as many as 19 different ways of de- scribing cognitive styles have been identified, all of which consist of bi-polar distinctions (Entwistle, 1988).

It was Witkin who introduced the term “cognitive style” to describe the concept that individu- als consistently exhibit stylistic preferences for the ways in which they organize stimuli and construct meanings for themselves out of their experiences. Cognitive styles include variables

within a single dichotomy such as global-holistic vs. focused-detailed, field-dependent vs. field-independent. Indeed, one of the most cited cognitive styles is the field-dependence-field- independence construct, which has become a sort of general theory of perception, intellect, and personality. According to Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, and Cox's (1977) definition, field independence is "the extent to which a person perceives part of a field as discrete from the

surrounding field as a whole, rather than embedded in the field; or

person perceives analytically". These researchers found that bodily and visual cues usually coincide with each other, but when they do not, people tend to rely on either one of these two standards. Witkin (1977) developed the Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT) to examine field dependence and field independence. The GEFT involves having someone find simple graphical figures which are embedded within more complex backgrounds.

the extent to which the

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3 Witkin described individuals who tended to rely on external cues and were less able to

Witkin described individuals who tended to rely on external cues and were less able to identi-

fy an embedded figure in an organized field as being field dependent and those who tended to

rely on internal cues and were more able to identify an embedded figure in an organized field

as being field independent. The central feature of this style is the "extent of autonomous functioning" (Witkin, Goodde-

nough, & Otman, 1979). This means that the key dimension individuals can be placed on is

whether they characteristically rely on the external environment as a given rather than working

on it. As the name suggests, those who tend to accept or rely on the external environment are

relatively more Field Dependent (FD), while those who tend to work on it are relatively more

Field Independent (FI). Witkin (1969, p. 294) argues that "the style of functioning we first

picked up in perception … manifests itself as well in intellectual activity". Field dependence

or field independence are the perceptual components of a particular cognitive style. Thus "at

one extreme there is a tendency for experience to be diffuse and global; the organisation of a

field as a whole dictates the way in which its parts are experienced. At the other extreme the

tendency is for experience to be delineated and structured; parts of a field are experienced as

discrete and the field as a whole is structured." The construct FD-FI has become very broad over the years and encompasses not only cogni-

tive and metacognitive elements but also the socio-affective side of the learner. However, we

will not work out this aspect in more detail at this point but rather refer to a more limited ver-

sion of the FD-FI dichotomy which was developed with special reference to education and

which has special significance for an individual’s choice of learning strategies. This is Pask’s

(1969) distinction between serialist and holist styles of learning.

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A holist style involves a preference for seeing the task in the broadest possible perspective and

gaining an overview of the area of study in order to contextualize the details (Entwistle 1988). This has implications for metacognitive strategies such as previewing, organizational plan- ning, and directed and selective attention. Previewing will tend to come naturally but may be rather indiscriminate. It is perhaps more difficult for holists to extract the organizing principle from a text without explicit cues. Holists may also have more difficulty in attending to a task or deciding what is essential in the early stages. In performing writing tasks, they are more likely to discover what they want to say through a global strategy of drafting and redrafting rather than by filling in an initial outline, and their approach tends to be "idiosyncratic and personalised" (Entwistle, 1988, p. 62). They may also have difficulties evaluating form.

p. 62). They may also have difficulties evaluating form. Holists use visual imagery and personal experience

Holists use visual imagery and personal experience to build up understanding. Drawing mind-

maps using imagery and color are useful memory strategies for holists. Creative elaboration (e.g., making up stories) and personal elaboration are also likely to appeal to holists. However, they may need to develop strategies that compensate for a natural tendency to overgeneralize and ignore important differences between ideas. Such attention-directing strategies are de- scribed by De Bono (1976) and include "thinking tools" such as listing other people’s points

of view, arguments for and against a proposal, etc.

points of view, arguments for and against a proposal, etc. In contrast, Pask (1969) describes a

In contrast, Pask (1969) describes a serialist style as step-by-step learning. The focus is nar- row, with the student concentrating on each step of the argument in order and in isolation. Se- rialists approach the study of new material by stringing a sequence of cognitive structures to- gether and thus tend to be very intolerant of redundant information because of the extra bur- den it places on memory. They are likely to use planning and selective attention strategies too

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early in an attempt to limit the amount of information they have to deal with. When perform- ing writing tasks, they may need to make a considerable effort to "brainstorm" for new ways of approaching a subject and are likely to have difficulty evaluating content which "tends to be carefully structured and clearly presented, but may be dull and humourless" (Entwistle, 1988, p. 63) and is "lacking in personal interpretation or independent conclusions." Unlike holists, serialists are good at noticing even trivial differences but are poor at noticing similarities. Thus they may need to use elaboration strategies that emphasize how different parts of new in- formation can be related to each other as well as to personal experience. A word of caution must be added here. As with the FI/FD dimension, of which the serialist-holist dichotomy forms a part, few people are totally serialist or holist in their approach. Pask found some stu- dents who were versatile: They were equally comfortable with either style and could use both as needed. Other students, however, showed a marked over-reliance on one or other of these styles which gave rise to characteristic learning pathologies (Entwistle, 1988, p. 62). These in- dividuals are likely to prove the most impervious to strategy training.

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Learning Styles

We each learn and process information in different ways. Many students don’t realize this be- cause most of them attended schools where teachers delivered instruction in one way and did not encourage students to learn their unique styles. What is the difference between learning styles and cognitive styles? – As stated above, cogni- tive styles are individual characteristics of cognitive processing which are particular to a cer- tain individual or class of individuals, whereas a learning style is the manner in which a learn- er perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment. Components of learn- ing styles are the cognitive, affective, and physiological elements, all of which may be strong- ly influenced by a person's cultural background. In general, there are many different ways to classify learning styles. These fall into general categories: perceptual modality, information processing, and personality patterns.

(See also:

http://www.learnativity.com/learningstyles.html,

Messick, S. (1994): The matter of style: Manifestations of personality in cognition, learning, and teaching. Educational Psychologist, 29(3), 121-136).

The categories represent ways to focus on the learner.

The categories represent ways to focus on the learner. Perceptual modalities define biologically based reactions

Perceptual modalities define biologically based reactions to our physical environment and represent the way we most efficiently adopt data. Learning our perception style helps us to seek out information in the format it can be processed in most directly. In accordance with this, we can distinguish between

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Ø visual learners (learning through seeing): These learners need to see the teacher's body language and facial expression to fully understand the content of a lesson. They tend to prefer sitting at the front of the classroom to avoid visual obstructions (e.g., people's heads). They may think in pictures and learn best from visual dis- plays, including diagrams, illustrated textbooks, overhead transparencies, videos, flipcharts, and handouts. During a lecture or classroom discussion, visual learners often prefer to take detailed notes to absorb the information.

prefer to take detailed notes to absorb the information. Ø Auditory learners (learning through listening): They

Ø Auditory learners (learning through listening): They learn best through verbal lec- tures, discussions, talking things through, and listening to what others have to say. Auditory learners interpret the underlying meanings of speech by listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed, and other nuances. Written information may have little meaning until it is heard. These learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder.

benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder. Ø Tactile or kinesthetic learners (

Ø Tactile or kinesthetic learners (learning by moving, doing, and touching

: They

learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration.

They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by

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Information processing distinguishes between the way we sense, think, solve problems, and remember information. Each of us has a preferred, consistent, distinct way of perceiv- ing, organizing, and retaining information. For example, forms of learning through work- shops, practical activities, or through informal methods may suit some people more than others. Sometimes, people feel they are not good at learning when it may just be that they don't know their own learning styles.

Personality patterns focus on attention, emotion, and values. Studying these differences allows us to predict the way we will react and feel about different situations.

the way we will react and feel about different situations. This is a very interesting website

This is a very interesting website for learning style resources:

http://www.support4learning.org.uk/education/lstyles.htm

For examples of learning styles go to:

http://www.metamath.com/lsweb/fourls.htm

Perceptual Learning-Style Preference Questionnaire:

http://lookingahead.heinle.com/filing/l-styles.htm