All students have distinct traits in terms of how they learn and what they do to ensure that they learn. These two vague categories of how a student learns and what they do to learn are known as learning styles and learning strategies.
Learning styles are consistent traits that are long-lasting over time. For example, the various learning styles identified by Howard Gardner such as auditory, kinesthetic, or musical learner. An auditory learner prefers to learn through hearing things.
Learning styles are also associated with personality. For example, introverts prefer quiet time and fewer social interaction when compared to extroverts. This personality trait of introversion my affect an introverts ability to learn while working in small groups but not necessarily.
Strategies are specific methods a student uses to master and apply information. Examples include asking friends for help, repeating information to one’s self, rephrasing, and or using context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words.
Strategies are much more unpredictable and flexible than styles are. Students can acquire styles through practice and exposure. In addition, it is common to use several strategies simultaneously to learn and use information.
Successful students understand what their style and strategies are. Furthermore, they can use these tendencies in learning and acquiring knowledge to achieve goals. For example, an introvert who knows they prefer to be alone and not work in groups will know when there are times when this natural tendency must be resisted.
The key to understanding one’s styles and strategies is self-awareness. A teacher can support a student in understanding what their style and strategies are through the use of the various informal checklist and psychological test.
A teacher can also support students in developing a balanced set of strategies through compensatory activities. These are activities that force students to use strategies they are weak. For example, having auditory learners learn through kinesthetic means. This helps students to acquire skills that may be highly beneficial in their learning in the future.
To help students to develop compensatory skills requires that the teacher know and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students. This naturally takes time and implies that compensatory activities should not take place at the beginning of a semester or should they be pre-planned into a unit plan before meeting students.
Strategies can play a powerful role in information processing. As such, students need to be aware of how they learn and what they do to learn. The teacher can provide support in this by helping students to figure out who they are as a learner.