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    Transformational Learning and Classroom Styles

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    This research paper tackles the styles of not only the learner but the teacher. Delving into learning styles we study three areas of learning – a) cognitive, b) affective, and c) physiological as outlined by Cornett (1983). To look at teaching styles, we look at three different ways to approach teaching – a) direct instruction, b) facilitation, and c) blended learning. At the end of this paper, it will be noted that addressing both learning style and teaching style and giving each style equal weight is key to student success.

    Classroom Styles

    Hattie & Zierer (2018), suggest that teachers can make a significant impact in students’ lives through fostering students in guiding their own learning and leading students to see their own efforts and successes. Students can learn and benefit more from the way a teacher thinks and promotes learning and growth, rather than teachers simply teaching (p.101). In order to achieve impact in their classrooms, teachers need to understand learning styles and teaching styles. The research outlined in this paper will describe these styles and illustrate how each style can support learning.

    Learning Styles

    In education, the goal is to meet the needs of all learners. Rakow (2007) says “meeting the needs of all learners mean all including those who learn rapidly or are inherently curious about the world, eating up everything we offer – books history, geometry proofs, science experiments” (p 10). Cornett (1983) describes three types of learning styles: cognitive, affective, and physiological.

    Cognitive. The cognitive method uses the “ways we decode, encode, process, store, and retrieve information” (Cornett, 1983, p 9). This system of the brain which uses organization to understand learning. Much of the learning done cognitively is very systematic and can be described as analytic. Mezirow (1991) also describes this system of learning as instrumental which involves careful study of cause-effect relationships and learning happens through “task-oriented problem solving” (p73).

    According to More (1993), there are two dimensions that enable students to learn in the cognitive method – global-analytic and concrete-abstract. Global learners learn best when material is presented as a whole and broken into pieces, but analytic learners learn best when pieces are presented and built into a whole.

    More (1993) explains that concrete learners rely on clear examples and directions. The rules will be set and learners can predict what happens next. This is a fundamental part of Mezirow’s (1991) instrumental learning. Instrumental learning uses concrete relationships and learns through task-oriented problem solving. Opposite of concrete learning is abstract learning. Students learn better when given a concept that is abstract and not as concrete as an explicit example. If students are given a direct concrete example, students sometimes will fixate on the example and not be able to see past that one concept to see the whole idea being presented (Moore, 1993, p 10).

    Affective. The second type of learning style, according to Cornett (1983) is affective aspects. This type of learning includes emotional and personality characteristics. These characteristics can include “motivation, attention, locus of control, interests, willingness to take risks, persistence, responsibility, and sociability” (p 10). Although people who learn affectively may gain reward intrinsically, many people need outside reinforcement of ideas. This is part of what Mezirow (1991) calls communicative learning. Communicative learning is the process of understanding what others mean and validating our own thoughts.

    More (1983) describes two dimensions of learning that fall under Cornett’s affective aspects – verbal-imaginal and trial/error/feedback-reflective. Verbal learners learn best when using communication. This communication comes in all types of forms, from verbal to written. The imaginal learner learns best through images, whether it is a diagram or a play. This may be best described again by Mezirow, who explains the communicative learning domain by saying we attempt to share thoughts and ideas with others through multiple facets, such as: speaking, writing, plays, movies, television, and multiple forms of arts and expression Mezirow, 1991, p 75).

    Trial/error/feedback students will take risks to try new learning and then seek validation from the teacher. This is akin to Cornett’s (1983) affective aspects. The rewards the student receives in this domain is always attained from an outside source. The opposite of this is reflective. The reflective domain sees students thinking and processing new topics before putting them to use (More, 1983, p 10). This is what Mezirow (1991) refers to as reflective action, which is “making decisions or taking other action predicated upon the insights resulting from reflection” (p 108).

    Physiological. The third learning style Cornett (1983) describes is the physiological aspect. This includes sensory perceptions and environmental characteristics. Visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning is a part of this learning type. Mezirow (1991) explains that “meaning is constructed both pre-linguistically, through cues and symbolic models, and through language” (p 4) thus we make meaning out of things we say and things we experience. More (1983) calls this the modality dimension. This is when we use our senses to learn. Some students use sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. Each student will use the sense that is more useful.

    No matter what learning style is used, studies show that learning can happen. We can learn anything as long as we practice effectively or create a habit. Kaufman (2013) believes you can learn anything in 20 hours if you follow four steps: a) Deconstruct the skill or decide what you want to do then break the skill into small steps, b) learn enough about the skill to self-correct, c) remove practice barriers, and d) practice for at least 20 hours. Kaufman (2013) explains that you may feel stupid when you are first learning so the major barrier is not of the mind but of the emotion.

    Teaching Styles

    Just as learning styles vary, so do teaching styles. According to Cornett (1983), teaching styles will have more variation due to a higher number of experiences teachers have had, however, since learning styles has an effect on teachers, they tend to teach similarly to the way they learn (p 14). Although there may be some ways of doing the work set by administrators, “what educators don’t have are explicitly shared practices, which is what distinguishes educators from other professionals” (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2014, p 4). Nevertheless, there are still three main teaching styles teachers use – direct instruction, facilitation, and blended learning.

    Direct Instruction. Whole-group or direct instruction is used by teachers who feel that information should be given accurately and in an efficient manner. The elements of direct teaching are “organizing learning around teacher questions, teacher control of learning activities, having materials available and ready for use, providing a basic skills focus, establishing a goal-directed climate, and providing controlled practice and drill” (Zahorik & Kritek, 1980, p 5). Direct teaching is all about teacher control.

    Direct instruction is a straightforward and effcient way of teaching that is familiar to all teachers (Ornstein, 1995, p 104). The teacher can share the same information to many students at the same time. This approach may also be “favorable for skills that students find particularly challenging and/or confusing” (Maloney, Storr, Paynter, Morgan, & Ilic, 2013, p 79). Teachers and administrators can view the teacher as the basis of the classroom and the instruction happening within the learning environment. The curriculum and the learning revolves around the teacher, their style, and their delivery. (Larkin & Ellis, 1995, p 19) Therefore, teachers are expected to control the content, process, and product of each lesson.

    According to Hattie & Zierer, (2018) direct instruction can have great impact on student learning but is very misunderstood. In order to use direct instruction effectively, teachers must have a) a clear understanding of learning intentions, b) know the success criteria, c) present lessons using modeling, d) give guide practice opportunities, e) ensure each lesson has closure (help students make sense of what has just been taught), and f) give time for independent practice. Hattie & Zierer (2018) write “achieving clarity about the goals and content of the lesson” (p 109) helps teachers achieve success in their lessons.

    Facilitation. Facilitation, or activity/action style, “tries to encourage self-learning through peer-to-teacher learning” (Bohren, 2018). Facilitation helps students learn to ask questions and to find answers through exploration and challenges teachers to help students discover rather than just giving the answer (Gill, 2013). Teachers are still the “authority figure” but “learning is more meaningful if it is self-initiated by the learner” (Crow, 2004, p 66).

    According to Reeve (2006), students naturally “seek out and engage in their classroom surroundings” (p 226). Facilitation is the teacher’s ability to boost student initiative to marry their personal engagement with how they spend their time in class. It involves a teacher presenting a learning environment to students that supports student enquiry. Teachers as facilitators “provide students will clarity of what to do along with a freedom for choice, voice, and initiative” (p 232).

    A study conducted by Ciaburri (1975) showed that students, given independence to ask questions and discover answers, presented varied projects. The “great variety of subjects and types of projects shows the great depth added to the study of drama by the students” (p 36). When students were asked to describe their learning experience, words such as independence, interesting, and flexibility topped the list. This study concluded that student-oriented teaching is just as effective at direct instruction.

    Blended learning. Blended learning is a mixture of direct instruction and facilitation. It is “an integrated teaching style that incorporates personal preferences, individual personalities, and specific interests to their teaching” (Bohren, 2018). It is a mistake to think that blending learning is only “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction” (Kellerer et al., 2014, p 9). Teachers who participated in the study Kellerer et al. (2014) preformed, reported that technology was a tool used in blended learning but was not learning in its entirety. Rather, teachers reported that technology was just another way students were able to demonstrate their learning.

    Using blended learning can allow teachers to address personal learning styles and needs but it also benefits teachers. In the Kellerer et al. (2014) study, teachers felt a) “empowered to be facilitators of learning, adjusting opportunities to meet the needs of individual learners (p 17), b) that “students are more highly engaged in the blended learning classroom, creating their own pathways to demonstrate understanding” (p 17), and c) they can “move through curriculum at a pace that supports individual mastery” (p 17).


    Just as learning styles vary, so do teaching styles. According to Cornett (1983), teaching styles will have more variation due to a higher number of experiences teachers have had, however, since learning styles has an effect on teachers, they tend to “teach the way we learn” (p 14). Although there may be some ways of doing the work set by administrators, “what educators don’t have are explicitly shared practices, which is what distinguishes educators from other professionals” (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2014, p 4).


    Teachers understand that students come to their class with prior knowledge, but also know student need to add to that knowledge. The goal of teaching, according to Hattie & Zierer (2018), is to help “students exceed what they think is their potential. To see in students something they may not see in themselves and to imbue them with our passion for learning” (p 167). Learning is a dynamic process and can be self-guided, but success falls on the teachers as well (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2014, p 4). Teaching styles can help support students by acting as a model as in direct instruction, by acting as a support as in facilitation, or acting as a coach as in blended learning. When both the teacher and student are engaged in the teaching style and learning process, learning can reach new heights.


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