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Today’s Teaching for Today’s Students

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Courtney Haun
September 28, 2018

Gone are the days of teaching from nuanced PowerPoint slides with blank stares darting back from students. Those days still exist and lead to classrooms with a lack of innovation. As educators in the 21st century, there is an undying duty to provide the best learning experience possible for students. But, how can this be accomplished without knowing the learning styles of today’s students? For starters, today and in the past, not all students learn in the same way. If this is the case, then perhaps instructors should include various teaching strategies to match students’ learning styles.

Student Learning Styles

To easily understand the differing learning styles, they have been broken down into a system called VAK. This term stands for Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Simply put, visual learners learn through seeing. Auditory learners acquire knowledge prominently through listening. And, kinesthetic (or tactile) learners prefer learning through moving, doing and touching. Of course, students do not have a singular learning style exclusively. However, they do have preferences, and those preferences can change over time (or over a semester). According to Shah et al., students have a higher preference towards multimodal learning. These learners do not have a particular preference towards any single method of learning, but, instead, learn from two or more styles. However, not all students fall into this category.

Teaching Strategies

If today’s students enjoy and prefer learning through multiple methods, then teaching with various strategies may reap higher success for students. The following are a few strategies to consider implementing in the classroom.

Utilizing technology in the classroom

Part of today’s students is the unsurpassable fact that technology is an ever-present mainstay. Because of this, incorporating technology in the classroom can help to facilitate learning. When it comes to learning styles and depending on the technology that is being used, all styles of learning can be included. For example, the use of cell phones for an interactive quiz could use visuals, audio and the kinesthetic of touching to choose an answer for quiz questions. Based on a personal search for new teaching technology, I came across the interactive quizzing software called Kahoot. Through the Kahoot website, you have the ability to create quizzes for the students. Then, they can log onto Kahoot and enter the game portal with the provided access code. The class can then answer the questions together on their phones, tablets or laptops. The game includes music, keeps score of the players and can be personalized to fit the course.

Flipping the classroom

Breaking away from the PowerPoint presentation teaching modality, students also tend to prefer the interactive classroom environment. The rise of the flipped classroom allows for a blended learning style that engages students to actively learn while inside the classroom. Examples include student guided lectures and group activities. According to Bishop and Verleger, student’s learning outcomes can be improved by utilizing the flipped classroom in comparison to the traditional classroom. Again, this teaching strategy can include visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, reaching broader student inclusion for learning.

Encouraging cognitive growth

In a recent book by Nilson, encouraging cognitive growth is essential for today’s students. One way to do so it by keeping students connected to their personal learning experiences. This includes helping students to see that whatever is being taught matters to them. What does mean for the dynamics of VAC? To show the importance of a lesson, an instructor can collaborate with their students to tailor a particular lesson in the way in which they like to learn best. The course is the student’s education endeavor, but the one who is teaching. Therefore, allowing choice in their learning may lead students to enjoy the class more and learning more along the way. Encouragement in this sense also gives the opportunity for instructors to better understand their students and the optimal way they can grow professionally.

Final Thoughts

Fostering a productive learning atmosphere for college students can be a daunting task. However, by understanding that today’s students learning styles are multimodal, integrating multiple teaching strategies, can and will lead to students that are more interested, focused, and produce higher learning outcomes. There is an apparent need to emphasize and promote 21st-century teaching methods that cultivate a broader, more applicable set of learning styles for today’s students.


Author: Courtney Haun, MPH, Ph.D. Student, Auburn University [email protected]

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