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Designing Training for Multicultural Learners
Part Three: The Role of Learning Styles

by: Dawn Zintel

In Part Two of this series, I described some Western values that influence the way we approach business and learning situations. So, I am going to assume that you understand the importance of developing a global mindset. Now, it's time to focus on the design of instruction for multicultural audiences. Specifically, in this article, I will provide some information on learning styles or the way people learn.

Learning Style: A Definition
What is learning style anyway? The National Task Force on Learning Style and Brain Behavior defines learning style as:

"...that consistent pattern of behavior and performance by which an individual approaches educational experiences. It is the composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiologic behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment. It is formed in the deep structure of neural organization and personality that is molded by human development and the cultural experiences of home, school and society."

The Ways People Learn
One model for the way people learn was developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, who was doing cognitive research at Harvard. According to Dr. Gardner, there are distinct ways by which people learn, solve problems and create. Through his cognitive research, he identified seven distinct "intelligences" or ways that people learn:

  1. Verbal/Linguistic - related to written words and spoken language.

  2. Logical/Mathematical - deals with inductive and deductive thinking/reasoning, numbers, and the recognition of abstract patterns.

  3. Visual/Spatial - relies on the sense of sight and being able to visualize an object, includes the ability to create internal mental images and pictures.

  4. Body/Kinesthetic - related to physical movement and the knowings/ wisdom of the body, including the brain's motor cortex, which controls bodily motion.

  5. Musical/Rhythmic - based on the recognition of tonal patterns, including various environmental sounds, and on a sensitivity to rhythm and beats.

  6. Interpersonal - operates primarily through person-to-person relationships and communication.

  7. Intrapersonal - relates to inner states of being, self-reflection, metacognition (i.e. thinking about thinking) and awareness of spiritual realities.

The matrix that follows depicts some of the preferred ways that certain cultural groups learn.

The challenge is to design learning experiences that tap preferred learning styles. For example, research conducted on Afro-American learning styles noted that Afro-American people tend to respond to things in terms of the whole picture instead of its parts. European-Americans, on the other hand, tend to believe that anything can be divided and sub-divided into pieces and that these pieces can add up to a whole. Imagine how learning can be enhanced by addressing the preferred learning style of the student, instead of treating our training audiences as though there is only one learning style.

"We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us"
One of the interesting facts about learning styles is that teachers tend to teach the way they learn best. The corollary to that statement may be that instructional designers tend to design instruction the way they learn best! To be competent designers of instruction for multicultural learners, it takes an understanding of the various learning styles and differences in cultures, a commitment to satisfy the individual differences of learners, and a conscious effort to address other learning styles. It means moving away from what we may be most familiar with, or most comfortable doing. In Part Four, I will continue to explore learning styles and how they can be addressed with the instructional strategies we select.

©1993, 1998, 2002, Dawn E. Zintel

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