This past weekend, I attended the Brain Development and Learning Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Per my previous blog, my main reason for attendance was to listen to and learn from Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I felt so privileged to sit in one of his seminars and then later have an opportunity to talk to him one-on-one about his theory of Flow and its relationship to my dissertation. He provided a wealth of guidance and gave me an even greater degree of motivation to complete my study.
But, the excitement of the event did not end with meeting Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. Among the other seminars I attended, I sat in Dr. Robert Bjork’s “Optimizing Instruction for Learning & Memory”. It appeared initially that his research contradicted everything I had discovered about learning styles and learning strategies. My understanding was it was essential for students to become aware of their learning strengths and develop strategies that cater to those strengths. The consistency in the use of those strategies will create not only a love of lifelong learning but will also promote academic excellence. In contrast, Dr. Bjork’s research-based recommendation was that students vary their studying patterns. Inconsistency, rather, was consistent with success in the classroom. The same held true for teaching: Teachers who spread out the subject material, did not present it in a chronological format or in a consistent style found their students were more successful learners. Dr. Bjork’s intent with this seminar was to present the difference of performance and learning, where students who demonstrate performance are not necesarilly learning and students who have successfully learned something might not immediately be able to demonstrate performance. He was successful in that intent, but my reflection on my own understanding of learning styles and learning strategies was significantly brought into question. I had dealt with contrary research in the past and explained it as researcher bias, or student variation, or a missing element of the study, but this was the first time when I stood back and asked myself — what if there was nothing missing from his research? Hypothetically could learning strategy awareness and variation in learning both be measures for academic competence? While I haven’t done any research in the matter as of yet, I am willing to suppose the following: Could it be that learning strategy/learning style awareness and variation in learning represent different levels of critical thinking? I hope to revisit this idea once I complete my dissertation and look into how I might prove or disprove the correlation of critical thinking to such learning theories.
And, finally, I think I may have found my “niche” in research. Of course, I am most interested in studying learning theory specific to learning styles, learning strategies, and student responsibility. But in this case, I suppose, the niche is referring to the methodology. I have come to realize that every research idea I have considered requires a span of time. It’s not that I don’t enjoy immediate gratification, but the studies I have considered from the time I started my doctoral program have all been longitudinal designs. And, I think if I want to be an expert in any one area, I feel I can best do so in the lead, collaboration, and assistance in longitudinal studies.