Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences Term Paper

Pages: 7 (2097 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Teaching

Adult Learner in a Diabetic Education Center

At my previous place of employment I worked in a clinic that provided education to individuals who had just been diagnosed with Type II diabetes. While this condition is increasingly common among children in the United States as well as in other Western countries, the clinic at which I worked served only an adult population. While I believe that our patients were in general served well by the clinic, looking back from the perspective of using techniques for the adult learner I can see that a number of our strategies could have shifted to be even more helpful.

The population was split between Spanish and English speakers with clinicians assigned according to the speakers' native language. While many of the individuals were in fact bilingual, the language of instruction was in the first language. This is in fact one of the things that I would change about the clinic' work. One of the key elements of adult learning is that the learner must be allowed a sense of agency, a sense that s/he has some control over the process.

By selecting the language of instructor with little consultation with the clients, the staff created a situation in which there was a degree of hierarchy that was not appropriate. Adults learners must be treated first as adults. There are a number of other aspects of adult learning theory that have to be considered in establishing the most effective diabetic education system; however, they must all be based on the fact that adults must make a commitment to learning in a way that schoolchildren do not.

One of the assumptions that we made as educators was that because diabetes is such a serious disease then the clients that we were working with would automatically be as attentive as they could be and would therefore be able to integrate the information to which they were being exposed. This was not the case for a variety of reasons.

The first of these is that not all of the patients were equally committed to healthy habits. This was one of our tasks, in fact, to convince them of the importance of establishing new ways of living. However, this assumption, I now see, was based on a faulty premise that arose because we were using models of teaching and education that were more appropriate for younger learners than for adult learners. In a pre-algebra class, for example, the teacher can set a goal that all of the students will be able to solve correctly a certain number of problems in a specific period of time. No such uniformity is likely to exist in a group of adult learners, and certainly not in a group of adult learners who are setting their own goals for living with diabetes.

In other words, when one is teaching children, the teacher is allowed (and generally even required) to determine the goals of the teaching session. Because we were addressing a key element of healthy living for our patients, we assumed that it was our job to ensure that they each agreed with our assessments of what were the most important things to learn and the best ways in which each person should implement that new knowledge. However, this is simply not the case with such a wide range of adult learners. Not only were their physical conditions very different from each other, but they also came from a variety of communities. The cultural (and related medical) differences in these two communities require that instruction to these patients must be tailored to their differences.

If I were in a position to work with a similar population again teaching them comparable material and skills, I would alter the program in a number of ways to ensure that my methods of presenting the materials to meet the needs of adult learners with different learning styles. The basis for adult learning models (or at least one of the most important bases) is the four-stage learning model that was developed by the Swiss researcher Jean Piaget. Piaget's final learning module or stage took place in early adolescence. Arlin (1975) and Merriam and Caffarella (1999) argued that this fourth stage of "formal operations" be divided into two. The first would remain in the realm of childhood/adolescent learning and be designated as a problem-solving phase. The new final, or fifth, stage, should be a further stage of abstraction and sophistication would be understood as a "problem-solving stage." This concept has been debated and sometimes rejected but it is seen as a key development in the concept of adult learning practices.

While it might seem slightly odd at first to consider the discovery of problems to be a form of learning: After all, isn't learning what we do to solve problems? However, problem finding is in fact a key element of a number of human activities, including science, art, philosophy, and theology. As instructors in my clinic we were very much stuck at the problem-solving stage, and because we were stuck there, we were unable to help our clients move on to the problem-finding stage.

In our defense, I believe that this a problem throughout the medical field: Medical personnel, in part because of their greater expertise and training but also in part because of the culture of medicine, tend to act as if their own knowledge defined the universe of potential answers as well as questions. It should be pointed out that there is a lack of consensus among researchers and practitioners of exactly how to best serve adult learners.

There is even some question about whether there should be any consistent differences between the way in which children are taught and the ways in which adults are taught. I would not argue this, but I would argue that it is generally not useful to draw an educational line in the sand between strategies of teaching children and adults. The distinction should not be discrete but continuous, a question not of choose-A-or-B, but a question of what to emphasize.

For example, Knowles (1980) argued that the primary difference between childhood and adult education is the fact that adults tend to be more self-directed and more internally motivated to learn, and that they are aided in their desire to learn by their greater range of experiences in world (p. 270). The above makes intuitive sense, but did not match our experiences. Even when the patients' health (and in fact their lives) were at stake, they failed in general to summon internal motivation.

This is one of the changes that I would make. I believed that our patients would indeed have a very high level of internal motivation. However, this was based on the assumption that their fears and sense of being overwhelmed by everything in their lives would not substantially interfere with their ability to learn. This was a mistake. There are a range of types of adult learners, and we failed to be sufficiently sensitive to this.

There is a well-known model of learning styles or multiple intelligences. Gardner (1993, 1999), in the seminal work on this topic, posited that different individuals learn in different ways. Some learn best by reading through material, others through hands-on techniques. Some individuals are aided in learning through the inclusion of music while others are helped by the incorporation of movement. And some benefit from interpersonal situations and some learn better in an intrapersonal context.

We were aware of these different learning styles and generally incorporated them. However, in retrospect, I believe that this was more of a token than a sincere effort to make the classes truly useful for adult learners. Multiple intelligences is a model that is useful, but it applies to the teaching of children as well as adults. There is not anything in the concepts of multiple intelligences and different learning styles that is specific to the adult learners.

A better way of conceptualizing the best ways in which to educate adult learners, it seems to me, is to incorporate a transformational model of learning. This model (which, again, has its purpose in the realm of teaching children as well, although I believe that it should be emphasized to a larger degree with adult learners). Transformational learning models emphasize the organizational context in which adults are learners and this seems to me to be a key element in terms of the kind of clinical learning that I was involved in.

In any developed nation, individuals understand the nature of the educational process when it takes place within a school: In other words, individuals know how schools work and how children are supposed to learn in them. However, there are no similar models for how adults are supposed to learn. Thus part of what we should have been doing in our clinic was to teach our patients about how to learn.

Child and Heavens (2003) argued that "The learning capabilities of organizational members are, at least in part, socially constructed by… [END OF PREVIEW]

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