“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
This quote is commonly attributed to Einstein, and while there’s no real evidence he ever said it, it’s nonetheless a thought-provoking metaphor highlighting how incredibly complex the world of education is.
As a teacher in higher education, you’ve made it your mission to grant the next generation of academics and professionals the skills and knowledge to get started and blossom. However, the odds are, every student in your class has a different learning preference, which can make your mission more challenging.
The Unexpected Silver Lining of the Pandemic
The pandemic compelled universities and institutions to rethink their approach to online learning – a shift that provided a valuable opportunity for innovation and creativity. From lecture videos to online discussions, the pandemic motivated many institutions to embrace a new way of teaching that is not only more inclusive but also appealing to students with non-traditional learning styles. And as universities have returned to the pre-pandemic world, positive lessons can be drawn from what happened to complement and enhance student experience.
92% of respondents to a Birkbeck student survey indicated that they would prefer online or a combination of online and in-person examinations in the future. The College is currently reviewing its assessment approaches in light of its positive experience of online and remote examinations in the 2020–21 year.Birkbeck, University of London
More Than One Way to Climb the Tree
Such students having a positive experience of the varied virtual teaching methods put in place during the pandemic only highlights the value of incorporating different media and content into your teaching plan to accommodate different learning styles.
Various new approaches that challenge the antiquated one-size-fits-all approach diversify the teaching-learning process and, in turn, allow students the opportunity to enhance their unique skills and fulfil their potential.
So how do you meet the needs of the varying types of learners you teach? Read on as we outline the different styles and how this information can practically be applied.
The Different Learner Types and How to Spot Them
Unsurprisingly, visual learners learn and retain information best via visual media. Also referred to as ‘spatial’ learners, these are the students who thrive off of doodling, list making and taking notes.
These learners soak up what they hear, and with around 30% of the general population being auditory learners, it’s likely you’ve encountered several!
Auditory learners are generally stimulated through discussion and group chat and often use their own voices to reinforce new concepts and ideas.
Ever spotted a student shuffle and fidget when you’re presenting information in a traditional way? These are likely your kinaesthetic learners. These high-energy folks stay engaged by learning through experiencing or doing things.
Bite-sized learners thrive off of short and focused nuggets of information. These students may typically experience information overload when faced with traditional educational content and much prefer snackable content that can be savoured.
Reading/writing learners prefer learning through written words and are drawn to expression through, you’ve guessed it, reading and writing. Of all of the learning styles, this is the one that is still widely used and the learning style that traditional educational content is best catered towards. However, there is a whole host of other learning styles and a whole host of learners that thrive through non-traditional methods. The common thread linking this diverse group of learners? They all want to learn – and they deserve to do so in a way that leverages their strengths and helps them to succeed.
Create Compelling Video and Audio Content to Accommodate the Variety
Learning through audio and video is a multi-sensory experience that leaves no student behind. On-screen text, animations, images and podcasts are all elements that can be combined to create an excellent learning tool that will keep all students engaged. Every teacher knows that each student has their own pace of learning, and audio and video is a form that offers unparalleled flexibility. Unlike a traditional lecture, content can be paused, stopped, or rewatched, and the learning timeline can be manipulated to suit the individual. The best part? Research has shown that video increases information retention and understanding.
What’s more, once your media content has been created, you can use it repeatedly, so the investment pays with time.
Engage Visual Learners with Animation
Unravelling the enigmatic Riemann hypothesis would not make for light reading, but this video produced for Quanta Magazine is a masterclass in using engaging animation to make a complex subject digestible.
When you hear the word ‘animation’, do you think of movies and cartoons? While these qualify, they aren’t the only type of animation out there. Many savvy educators have found that transforming their own teachings into animation can offer more comprehensibility than solely text-based explanations or audio content.
Stanford University’s Robert E. Horn, explains the power of utilising animation within higher education:
“When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new, and we augment our communal intelligence … visual language has the potential for increasing ‘human bandwidth’—the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.”
Absorb Auditory Learners with Engaging Podcasts
Get inspired by the podcast from Bloomsbury Academic and turn lectures and university-published books into podcasts that students can download and listen to time and time again.
Engaging podcasts, audio versions of lectures and university-published books can help your students digest and assimilate information easily. But that’s not all – it can also be used to pose questions that are answered through post-listening discussions. As these learners thrive off group discussion, audio content is a key tool to spark informative conversations about a subject.
Engross Kinaesthetic Learners with Immersive Video
Produced for the BBC by Immersive VR Education, 1943 Berlin Blitz in 360 uses real footage from a raid of Nazi Germany to help students understand what it was like to live through a significant historical event.
Immersive videos using Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) or gamification are ideal for creating powerful learning experiences – especially for kinesthetic learners. This hands-on content can turn difficult and abstract concepts into immersive and interactive experiences, enabling students to get stuck in and engage in activities within novel contexts – something which simply cannot be supported by traditional classrooms.
Captivate Bite-Sized Learners with Short Videos
While BBC Bitesize is aimed at younger learners, it’s a brilliant example of using short, snackable content to get information to stick. With an incredible 3.8 million visitors per week on average, it’s clear that there’s a real hunger for this type of learning!
Grouping content into manageable segments through short and sharp videos can aid recall in bite-sized learners. According to research, a person’s working memory has the capacity to store only a small amount of information at any given time, so short, snackable videos may be beneficial to all students, not just this particular learner type!
Keeping Remote Students Engaged Through Cohort-Based Learning
Cohort-based learning platforms such as Maven are taking the world of education by storm. With an emphasis on collaboration and group discussion, cohort-based online courses are a powerful tool for remote learning.
Remote learning does not come without its challenges. Online learning that allows students to consume content at their own pace, like a traditional MOOC program, has shown declining competition rates. This trend shows that many students crave peer engagement. The solution? Cohort-based learning. Cohort-based learning platforms like Maven are designed to make learning feel social and increase interaction and accountability. This community-driven approach guides learners through the curriculum with a group of other students – the idea is that it mimics the best parts of a classroom-style environment – you come for the content, but you stay for the community.
Listen & Respond
Seeking feedback from your students is critical in reassuring them that their voice matters and is an important opportunity for students to take active steps to advance their own learning. Be guided by your students and what content they’re most receptive to so that you can improve and revise resources to enhance their learning experience.
Getting to the Top
And so, there is indeed more than one way to climb a tree – and it’s essential that your students have all the tools and support they need to flourish and get to the top. Naturally, it can be difficult for one teacher to accommodate the needs of every student within a class, but video and audio learning is a form that is compatible with and accessible to almost every student and their individual styles.
Need a hand creating video content that recognises the different learning needs of your students? We’re just the people to speak to.
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Written in collaboration with Naomi Couper