Learning Styles and the Online Student: Moving Beyond Reading

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

In his January 30, 2010 article, Reading Ability As a ‘New’ Challenge for Online Students, Jim Shimabukuro focused on the connection between reading skills and the online environment. As a teacher educator, this issue is one of my concerns about online education.  In today’s online environment those who communicate and process well by reading and writing are at a definite advantage, while students who learn and process in other ways may not adapt as easily. As Jim pointed out – reading is more than being able to decode and comprehend words. Therefore, if we want to meet the learning needs of all students, we have to take different ways of learning and processing into account, and use a variety of strategies and techniques to promote learning (see Howard Gardner’s webs site about Multiple Intelligences http://www.howardgardner.com/MI/mi.html or the Illinois Online Network’s page called Learning Styles and the Online Environment at http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/tutorials/id/learningStyles.asp )

Part of the answer is having technology that will handle audio and video, which can be a challenge. For example, this semester I am teaching a class online that I usually teach as a hybrid. There is a video clip that I usually show my students and after determining that I would not be infringing copyright, I enlisted the aid of our AV people to put the clip into a format that my online students could view. It works great if you are using one of the computers in their computer lab. However, for some reason that no one can pinpoint, the link will not work properly everywhere. On the computer in my office on campus, I get audio only. At home, I get nothing. My students are supposed to watch this clip next week and I have no idea how many of them will actually be able to view it, despite the best efforts of our AV people to make it available in a variety of formats.

On a more positive note, I did have success using Adobe Presenter to record audio onto the PowerPoint presentations that the students will view. In this way, those who prefer to listen can do that and those who prefer to read can read the notes that are part of the presentation. I also located some YouTube videos that I assigned instead of readings on a couple of topics.

However, I have not yet come up with a plan for the students’ being able to produce audio or video clips instead of writing. There are options, of course, but again access to technology can be an issue. I considered asking students to upload an audio or video file as one assignment, but rejected that idea because of the possible problems with technology. I want the students to spend time on the content, not on learning new technology. The best scenario, as far as I’m concerned, would be to have one or two synchronous online discussions using Skype, or similar technology so that students could talk to one another. Maybe next, I can develop something along that line.

To be most effective as a learning tool, online technology has to evolve to the point that students can readily use the skills they already have in addition to (perhaps, while learning) these new skills.

While I agree with Jim,  that “the reading tasks online are therefore a significant departure from the traditional, and they require a whole new set of skills,” I think we need to look at the issue from another direction, too. To be most effective as a learning tool, online technology has to evolve to the point that students can readily use the skills they already have in addition to (perhaps, while learning) these new skills. Otherwise, rather than being an educational equalizer, the online environment will be just another way that we sift and sort students. We will lose those who can’t adapt easily, and we will be educating only those who can.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this post, Lynn – among other things an authoritative confirmation of the risks for education of the proposed Italian bill on multimedia services, which would severely curtail multimedia use in general, which I posted about.

    End of self-reference. How many students are there in your class? Because on YouTube (YT), you can privately share a video with up to 25 people without violating copyright, and YT is accessible from most computers.

    Re asking your students to make their own videos, on YT again, you can directly record a video provided you have a webcam. A rather simple one, granted, but some people do manage to produce very effective communication this way.

    And if some of your students don’t have a webcam, or if they have a “mike block” that prevents them from easily recording themselves straight, without editing (my problem), there is slidecasting – i.e. a slideshow (powerpoint for Microsoft addicts) synchronized with an audio comment. Audio editing is far easier than video editing. It can be done e.g. with Audacity, which is a free and for free software that works on all computer platforms (MS, Mac, Linux).
    As to the synchronizing part, it can be done easily either on slideshare or on myPlick.

    A friend of mine who teaches French as a foreign language at high school gives her students assignments where they have to use two media from a list that comprises: narrative prose, poetry, comics, animation, video, audio. A nice solution, as it incites students to explore new media while still leaving them the choice of those they prefer. About resources for comics in education, see Stefanie Panke’s Picture the Story: E-Comics as Teaching Tool.

  2. Hi,

    I do link to a couple of YouTube videos, which was a solution to one of the issues.

    Part of the issue, of course, is that some of my students just do not have the technology capabilities or the technological savvy to do some of these other things. I do like your friend’s idea of giving them a list of things to choose from. That might be one way I can approach it, so that they can do what they are capable of, or what they are willing to devote the time to learning.

    I have been exploring some of the comics resources that Stephanie posted. I am already planning to incorporate information about those sites into a conference presentation about Internet resources that I am doing for teachers in a couple of weeks.

    Thanks. Lynn

  3. Lynn, to add to what Claude suggests . . . Students indeed have simple but effective video solutions at their disposal. iPhones and similar handheld communication devices have the ability to record videos. Small, simple-to-use video cameras (e.g., Flip) are also available at $150 or less. And the results can be edited in Windows Movie Maker (free in Vista) and uploaded to YouTube for embedding in online webpages.

    On another note, re my article . . . media, learning style, or equal access isn’t the issue. The student I’m concerned about is the one who, in your class, might say, “I read your announcements and looked at the schedule, but I didn’t know I had to view that video.”

    The point is that, regardless of media (text, video, audio, mixed), students still need to process (not decode) online information that’s accessible in a nonlinear format. They need to see how the info (whatever the media) in front of them is related to other info encountered in different places and different times.

    If they can’t do this, they’re lost and often require constant handholding. Once this dependence is in place, the burden for learning shifts to the instructor.

    My guess is that, in time, they’ll learn on their own how to process nonlinear online info, and after a few weeks or one or two online classes, they’ll adapt to the new learning environment. Those who don’t pick it up quickly, however, will face a steep learning curve.

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