The importance of learning effectively cannot be over-emphasised. People who learn effectively not only achieve great academic results, they also achieve great success in their personal and work life. It is therefore no surprise that much effort has been put into learning about how people learn and retain knowledge.
One of the methods we did much research on is ‘learning styles’. Learning styles theory proposes that each person has a preferred way of learning, and focusing on that preferred way is the most effective and efficient way of retaining knowledge. The most common learning styles theory is based on visual, auditory and kinesthetic/tactile learning. This school of thought says that people learn best when they can see the information (visual), hear the information (auditory), or when they can touch or do hands-on activities (kinesthetic/tactile).
However, research has increasingly shown that many people do not always have a dominant learning style. Learners learn best by using a blend of different learning styles. At the same time, the type of knowledge has an impact of what sort of learning style they prefer as well. In other words, we cannot just do a quiz to find our preferred learning style and base all our learning on that particular style.
What is effective and has been proven in our own lessons, is that the best results in learning comes from doing two things: a variety of learning activities that target different learning styles and providing cognitively challenging activities based on well defined learning objectives.
In other words, do not just focus on making your child complete repetitive written assignments or workbook after workbook. Instead, make them learn using a variety of different activities. These can include using videos, doing research, completing projects, playing games and other hands-on activities. All these different activities target different learning styles and will help your child in learning well.
At the same time, challenge your child cognitively by using increasingly difficult and varying types of thinking. What do we mean by difficult and varying types of thinking? There are basically a few different types of thinking. The easier ones include remember (memorising knowledge), understand (comprehending knowledge) and apply (using the knowledge). The difficult types of thinking include analyse (breaking down the knowledge to understand it), evaluate (judging the knowledge) and create (build new knowledge). As you can imagine, the more your child needs to think critically about the knowledge, the more likely he is able to learn.
Let’s use the learning of vocabulary as an example to illustrate how all these theories can be applied:
Traditionally, learning vocabulary typically involves writing down the word(s), checking the dictionary and writing down the definition. Sometimes, your child will construct a sentence. This basically makes him go through the process of remember, understand and then apply – the easy types of thinking. It also only targets the visual learning style (your child can see the word on his sheet of paper).
However, a parent can help to improve this rather boring and probably rather inefficient learning experience by using some of the strategies outlined below:
Encourage your child to think about the word and get him to illustrate the word or words. He should try to use different mediums, like writing on the glass doors, or using chalk or re-arranging magnetic letters on a whiteboard. By doing all of these, you are encouraging your child to analyse what is the meaning of the word(s) and then create a piece of art by drawing the word. At the same time, because your child is using different mediums to illustrate the word, he gets to learn it in a kinesthetic/tactile learning style as well as a visual one.
Additional activities your child can do is to get them to write lyrics or a rap about the vocabulary word(s). Your child can then insert them into their favourite song or melody and record it as a video. You can help put some images that are related to the word(s) in the video using a simple video editing tool. It might sound difficult, but it is actually not too hard, and you can actually view many examples of these type of videos on youtube. Again, this means that your child has to analyse the word(s) and create new information (the song or rap). The fact that the end result is on a video means that your child learns using the visual and auditory learning style.
Finally, you might also consider getting your child to think about how to explain the word to you in the form of a charade. This will really force your child to analyse the word(s) and think of how to express the word to you in physical manner. This definitely helps kinesthetic/tactile learners.
In summary, try to experiment with different activities to help your child learn. One reason why many students do not do well in school is because they have only been exposed to the traditional learning ways. But unfortunately, the traditional way is not the best way they learn. When we try to teach our students using alternate ways, variation of activities and cognitively challenging our students, we can see vast improvements.