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Beyond Learning Styles: Understanding The Learning Processes Of Engineering Students Through The Interactive Learning Model

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Writing and Communication I

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.254.1 - 9.254.10



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Paper Authors

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Roberta Harvey

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Beyond Learning Styles: Understanding the Learning Processes of Engineering Students through the Interactive Learning Model™ Roberta Harvey Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ

Abstract: Many engineering educators have noted that engineering students present some distinctive challenges in the classroom. In an effort to develop teaching strategies that more effectively reach these students, engineering educators have made use of the concept of learning styles. However, while useful, learning styles approaches are both limited and limiting. They are often personality based, and personality is known to change over time or in response to variations in context. These approaches also result in narrow characterizations of students as learners, usually identifying them as somewhere on a continuum between two binary definitions. Moreover, they offer students and teachers few options or strategies for situations where particular styles or talents cannot be accommodated. This paper discusses the expanded understanding of the learner available via the Interactive Learning Model™. The richer understanding available from this approach is explained, and applications of these insights to student learning in engineering courses are outlined. In particular, the paper focuses on how I have used the model in writing courses for engineering students.

The question of how students learn has become a focus for both research and pedagogy in engineering education. In 1988, in response to concerns about engineering students’ performance in the classroom, Richard Felder and Linda Silverman published “Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education.” In this article, Felder and Silverman diagnosed various student problems—inattentiveness in class, poor test results, discouragement, and poor retention in engineering or even in college—as an incompatibility of teaching styles and learning styles. Their concept of learning styles combines terminology from Jung, Kolb, and Myers- Briggs to describe several binaries corresponding to how students receive and process information: sensory vs. intuitive, visual vs. verbal, active vs. reflective, and sequential vs. global.1

This approach was, from the beginning, extremely influential within engineering education. Numerous other methods and instruments have arisen, and research into the impact of learning styles on student learning and the implications for teaching has burgeoned. (For an excellent overview and comprehensive links to resources, see the University of Michigan College of Engineering webpage on learning.2 See also Felder’s review of four commonly cited learning styles theories.3 An overview of several approaches and an annotated list of online instruments can be found on the University of Guelph Learning Styles page.4) Yet, for all the insights that can be gained by attention to learning styles and multiple intelligences, some shortcomings remain:

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Harvey, R. (2004, June), Beyond Learning Styles: Understanding The Learning Processes Of Engineering Students Through The Interactive Learning Model Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13084

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