Here are some ways to apply what you've learned ...

In the Classroom

Now that you know more about how people learn, share this information with your students and help them think about the lessons for your discipline.

Ask your students to take one or more of the following online learning styles surveys (download instructions to hand out to your students).

Once the students have completed their surveys engage in a discussion on the lessons learned.

    Do they understand their results? All of the surveys contain explanations but many students many need additional clarification.

    Were your students surprised by anything they learned?

It is important to help your students connect an understanding of their learning styles to how they will learn material in your discipline, your course and from your teaching style. This requires that you have thought this through in advance. Do you lecture during most of your course, appealing to students who like to listen and easily recall what they hear? Or, do you tend to use a great deal of imagery or hands-on applications? Don't let the students get caught up in the notion that they can only learn in one way. We can all learn in many ways and we can compensate for certain teaching styles where learning does not come easily. For example, a student who learns best in hands-on experiences may need to take notes (remain active) or set up simulations and experiments. Some students report that walking around their room associating pieces of furniture to things they must remember helps them embed information. Other students may find that they need to draw diagrams or make lists as they analyze new material. Many will find discussing material with a study partner reinforces learning.

You may wish to allow your students to ask you to adapt explanations of difficult concepts to more diverse learning preferences. Don't go overboard with this as part of community college teaching may include helping students to learn in traditional as well as enhanced academic environments. The key here is the intentionality and self-awareness everyone brings to the experience of teaching and learning.


In the Classroom

Another important aspect of learning is the motivation to learn. Research in the last decade reinforces what many faculty have always suspected: motivation is created by more than just the desire for rewards. Motivation is also shaped by expectancy (what we believe we can accomplish) and value (what we think is important). Expectancy is based on self-perception. Some students fear success while others fear failure. Success often leads to greater expectations (read responsibility) and failure may lead people to question their intelligence or self-worth. Those who are motivated to succeed will often respond well to tasks were they believe they have a 50% or better chance of success. While those who fear failure need a far higher guarantee of success. Those who fear failure may appear indifferent, choose extremely easy tasks, or even pick tasks that are so difficult that failure is ensured (in that situation they can blame the external challenge, rather than take personal responsibility). Youth culture often reinforces the view that it is better to appear lazy than stupid, further reducing the appearance of motivation.

Often students believe that their ability to succeed or fail in a task is fixed (I've never been good at math and I never will be). Faculty often assert that effort is the key to success. Others may attribute success to task difficulty or even luck. Yet, if students lack motivation (read the perception they are able to learn) and lack the ability (read sufficient information) to believe the learning is valuable their lack of motivation is not caused by some external factor, but instead by their belief system.

How can we help students understand their belief system and take joyful (or at least willing) responsibility for their learning?

Give an anonymous survey to learn more about your students. Ask them the following and give them time to think through their responses. Be sure they understand that you want information about their interests so that you will be able to help facilitate their learning. You might even wish to explain the notion of facilitating learning so they understand that both of you are engaged in their learning process.

  1. What do you value about this course?
  2. Aside from grades what will help you to feel a sense of accomplishment by the conclusion of this course?
  3. What about this subject do you most enjoy?
  4. How will this class help you to meet other goals you have?
  5. What are you sacrificing to make time for this course?

After reviewing the findings at your leisure, think about inserting comments into your course which will help to enhance student's confidence, sense of accomplishment, and value of learning the material.

For more on this topic see K. Patricia Cross, "Motivation: Er...Will That Be on the Test?" The Cross Papers, Number 5, League for Innovation in the Community Colleges, February 2001.


Building Campus Community

  • Plan a brown bag lunch meeting. Invite your psychology department to discuss the lastest research about learning and how the brain works. Discuss with your colleagues how this information may inform your teaching. Compare and contrast the challengings to facilitating learning faced by different disciplines.