Dennis B. Kottler, MD
Westlake Village, CA
Return to Homepage
"Styles of Learning"
People will often say:
"I learn best by hearing something." or
"I learn best by reading something." or
"I learn best when you draw me a picture." or
"I learn best when I physically manipulate things.
These different learning styles, better described as learning "needs," result from individual differences in brain function.
Unfortunately, there is usually little choice in how academic "material" is served up, especially in classrooms, where it's "one size fits all." Many successful students learn to reformulate classroom material by, for example, drawing diagrams, or finding the classroom material in the textbook, or if available, reading a transcript of the lecture.
"Pretenders" vs. "Comprehenders"
Many successful students are great pretenders. They have just enough grasp of a subject to pass a test; a few months later almost all is forgotten. It is not important to this group if the material was truly understood.
"Comprehenders," however, have the need to really understand a concept. Understanding takes time, more time than is often available in the course curriculum. Understanding often requires that the concept be manipulated, looked at from many angles, until it makes "intuitive sense." At this point of "intuitive" grasp, the concept is owned in a way that it is usually not forgotten.
However, for a "comprehender," until the concept is truly understood there is rejection. The concept does not "register," it's like "Greek." Unfortunately, time and patience are not found in most classroom settings. Hence, many students, those who require "complete understanding," never "get" it. They hit the "wall."
AN EXAMPLE: Many successful future psychologists muddle through STATISTICS. They never really understand "tests for statistical significance" or even "standard deviation." But they are content to have a half-knowledge that is adequate enough to pass this necessary hurdle. Unless these students become experimental psychologists or perhaps, psychometricians, they will not have to "understand" these concepts anyway.
Enter the "comprehender." The first pass through statistics is likely to feel like learning "Greek." Nothing seems to make much intuitive sense. And this is only statistics, not to mention the inscrutability of CALCULUS as it is generally taught. This person with the need for "comprehension" will usually just give up.
PREMISE: Most people of AVERAGE intelligence or above, which is most people, can understand most academic subjects. Such myths as the "math block" represent a failing of the system to present the material in a form that makes it comprehensible to those are require true understanding, the "comprehenders." The lucky (?) pretenders manage to barely clear the hurdle and move on, never looking back. "Statistics, yeah I remember that, a real bore."
What is needed here is a fresh approach to teaching. Please see: "Good Teachers Are Not Taut."
Note: "Comprehenders" have the most trouble with subjects involving abstraction or symbolic representation of a concept, e.g. mathematics. "Comprehenders" seem unwilling (or unable) to take a concept on "faith," rather they need to really understand it, otherwise they mentally rebel and the material is rejected. At this point, not realizing that the problem is in the presentation, these "comprehenders" decide they are just not bright enough to master the subject. This negative self-perception leads to avoidance of important academic subjects. These subjects are often prerequisites for future careers, which become off limits.
Return to Top
Return to Homepage