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Upon completion of this module, you should be able to:
 Define what individual differences
 Describe learning traits
 Explain how different learning style influences learning
 Differentiate between FI and FD learners
 Differentiate between the four types of learners according to Kolb
 Assess the role of personality in affecting learning
 Differentiate between the different taxonomies of learning
My Two Dogs
I have two dogs, Astro and Dino who are sisters born at the same time from
the same parents. Physically, Astro is white and fat while Dino is black and
thin. Besides
physically different, they behave differently. The
following are some examples of their behaviour:
 Dino will bark non-stop at strangers nearing the house while Astro will
bark a few times and stop.
 Each morning a slice of bread is given to each dog. Astro will eat the
bread immediately while Dino will eat it much later and this behaviour
is repeated every morning.
 If the bread is not given on time, Astro will bark demanding to be to
given the bread while Dino remains quietly.
 When the dogs hear the sound of fire-crackers, Dino will quietly
creep into the house while Astro remains outside and appears less
 Each night, when they are given their food, Astro will not eat until
Dino eats first, despite the former being bigger in size.
 When anyone in the house screams in pain or raises their voice, it is
Dino who comes immediately to investigate while Astro will follow
rather grudgingly.



If two dogs can behave differently, imagine the differences in a class of 40 students. Each student brings to the classroom his or her own knowledge, skills and values which may account for differences in attitudes, interests, aptitudes, abilities and knowledge about a certain subject area. Plato stated more than 2000 years ago; “No two persons are born exactly alike, but each differs from the other in natural endowments, one being suited for one occupation and the other for another”. As educators, we often wonder:

Why some students find it difficult to learn whereas others find it easy?

Why some students are better equipped to learn some skills but not others?

Why can’t all students learn equally well?

Psychologists have identified two main factors that may explain individual differences; namely the learning traits that a student brings when confronted with a learning task, and the thinking and learning skills that are activated as demanded by the task (Jonassen and Grabowksi, 1993). See Figure 8.1.

LEARNING TRAITS that the Learner brings to the Task LEARNING TASKS to be performed
that the
brings to the
to be

Learning style




Figure 8.1 A Learner Approaching a Learning Task

1. LEARNING TRAITS refer to aptitudes for learning, willingness to learn, styles of learning, preferences for learning and the prior knowledge of the student. These traits impact the learning process and determine how well an individual is able to learn.

2. LEARNING TASKS determine the thinking and learning skills demanded. For example, if the task requires the learner to go beyond the information given in the text, than the student will have to make or draw inferences.



When the learner approaches a situation where he or she has to learn something such as listening to the teacher or writing an essay or reading a chapter from a book; he or she comes with a broad range of LEARNING TRAITS. In biology a trait is a distinguishing character that is a genetically inherited by an organism. For example, hair colour, facial features and so forth. In psychology a trait is a characteristic way in which an individual perceives feels, believes acts, behaves or approaches a task. For example, an introvert is usually pretty shy and loves privacy. In this chapter, we will focus on three kinds of learning traits that explain individual differences in learning, namely; Learning Styles, Personality and Prior Knowledge (see Figure 8.2).

1. Learning style relate to the preferences for different types of learning and instructional activities. These styles are generally measured by self-report techniques (paper and pencil tests) that ask individuals how they prefer to learn. For example, ‘Do you prefer to learn alone or in groups?’ The learning style of Student A may be different from the learning style of Student B which may explain the differences in the way the two individuals learn.

2. Personality describes how an individual interacts with his or her environment and especially with other people. Personality is the mental disposition to behave in certain ways or inclination to behave in certain ways. In this chapter, we will focus on those personality types that more directly affect learning.

3. Prior Knowledge refers to what the learner already knows and how what is known is organised. Besides the facts and concept of a particular body of knowledge, it also includes the skills and learning abilities that individuals have previously acquired.







Figure 8.2 Components of Learning Traits

SELF-CHECK a) What is the difference between learning traits and learning tasks? b) Identify the


a) What is the difference between learning traits and learning tasks?

b) Identify the types of individual differences you have observed among students in your class.

1. LEARNING STYLE Learning style refers to the preferred ways in which a student processes information. The key word is “preferred” which describes a person’s typical mode of paying attention, organising information in the mind, and then retrieving or recalling it. Learning style (or preference) should not be confused with ‘cognitive ability’. Simply put, cognitive ability refers to a person’s ability to solve problems and use logic (mathematical ability), the ability to visualise manipulation of shapes (spatial ability), the ability to understand and use language (language ability), and the ability to recall things (memory ability). A person’s ability can be enhanced if information is presented in a way that matches with the person’s preference or learning style. Hence, preference or learning style and ability are related. In other words, it is good if there is a match between teaching and learning. Why is learning style important? It is important because teaching in most schools tends to be focussed toward the learning style of the majority of learners. This results in a minority of learners being left out and unable to cope. While it may be small in percentage but translated into numbers, it can be quite sizable. These are students who will be housed in the 10 th class and given names like ‘mawar’ or ‘anggerik’ or ‘kejujuran’ and so forth. Whatever name we give them, we all know that they are the weakest group of students. Unconsciously, there seems to be an in-built match between the learning style of the majority of students and the teaching methods used.

an in-built match between the learning style of the majority of students and the teaching methods

Imagine you have just arrived at a foreign country whose language you neither speak nor read. You are at the airport and your contact person is not there to meet you. To make matters worse, one of your bags is missing. It’s 2 A.M. and there are few airport staff, and those that are present don’t speak English. What will you do? Your response to this situation will depend largely on the “cognitive styles” you happen to bring to bear. Cognitive style is your general disposition toward processing new information or challenges in a particular way. For instance, if you are “ambiguity tolerant”, you will not get easily flustered by your unfortunate circumstances. If you are “reflective”, you will exercise patience. If you are “field independent”, you will be able to focus on the relevant details and not be distracted by unnecessary detail.

[source: R. Wyss. 2002. Field Independent/Dependent Learning Styles and L2 Acquisition. ELT Newsletter, Article. 102. June]

The way we learn things in general and the particular approach we adopt when dealing with problems is said to depend on somewhat mysterious link between personality and cognition; this link is referred to as cognitive style. When cognitive style is applied to an educational setting, it is generally referred to as “learning style” which is made up of the cognitive, affective (feelings & emotions) and physiological traits that are relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with and respond to the learning environment. Educators have always been reminded to adjust teaching methods toward the learning styles of learners, but little has been achieved. How is learning style related to learning? In theory, there exist as many learning styles as there are learners but we will examine three well-known explanations of learning style and how they are related to learning. They are: Field Independence & Field Dependence and Kolb’s Learning Style.

a) Field Independence and Field Dependence Field independence and field dependence (FI/FD) has been most extensively researched learning style. FI/FD describes the extent to which a person is affected by the surrounding environment. FD persons are global meaning that they are highly influenced by the environment. They see the forest rather than the trees. On the other hand, FI are more analytical and are more interested in details and more inclined towards spotting discrepancies; i.e. the trees rather than the forest.

Field Independent (FI)

Field Dependent (FD)


Global or Holistic

Generates structure & ideas

Accepts structure & ideas as presented

Internally directed

Externally directed

Individualistic & Intrapersonal

Sociable & Interpersonal

Conceptually oriented

Factually oriented

Table 8.1 Differences between FI/FD Students

This may explain why FI student tend to be better in mathematics, especially for concept and application (Vaidya & Chansky, 1980). In a given learning situation,

the FI student is more likely to reorganise and restructure information to suit his or her need or conception. The FD student tends to accept the given information as it is presented without reorganisation or restructuring. He or she is happy with the presented information. The FI student will make an effort to generate new ideas or create new models in an attempt to understand the given information. The FD student tends not to generate new ideas and accepts the ideas given. The FI student is internally directed and is more individualistic, aloof and reserved. On the other hand, the FD student who is externally directed needs friendship, prefers to work in groups and is more sensitive towards others. The FD student focuses more on factual information while the FI student tends to extract the concepts.

Field IndependentField Dependent: Implications for Teaching and Learning The differences in learning styles between FI and FD learners have distinct implications for instructional strategies. According to Anderson and Adams (1992), an initial approach is for teachers to understand the expectations of FI and FD students and instructors bring into the classroom. Based on extensive research conducted on FI and FS, Musser (2000) concluded that:

FD learners are more likely to excel at learning tasks:


that are group-oriented and involve collaborative work where individuals need to be sensitive to social cues from others


which situations where students must follow a standardised pattern of performance

o which include tests requiring learners to recall information in the form that was presented. To maximise learning for FD students, teachers are encouraged to provide an social learning environment (work with others), provide support that will enhance understanding such as the use of advance organisers, outlines and others, give clear and explicit directions to students, provide extensive feedback, give a lot of examples and illustrations, materials should well-structured Lessons should be student-centred emphasising positive reinforcement and extensive use of the discussion method of teaching over the lecture method of teaching.

FI learners are more likely to excel at learning tasks:


that involve structure problem solving, especially mathematics


in which learners must figure out the underlying organisation of ideas, such as concept mapping or outlining


that involve the use of a lot of language such as information that is ambiguous or disorganised


that require predicting, generating metaphors and analogies


that require learners to evaluate information

To maximise learning for FI students, provision should be made for an independent learning environment using discovery and inquiry teaching methods. Students are provided with large amounts of reference and resource materials to sort through with minimal guidance and direction from the teacher.

Case Study:

Differences between FI and FD Learners in a Science Lesson

Topic: Metals and Heat

Field Independence Learner (FI Learner)

The student has a preference for detail, sometimes called “differentiation”. He or she prefers to start with details or particular and move to the general. This is called inductive reasoning which involves moving from the particular or specific to the general. Rather than being given the general rule which governs a phenomenon, students are presented with the particulars. EXAMPLE: What happens when you hold metal over a flame? Why do some metals bend and not others? The student finds the reasons, and pretty soon gets to the general rule that certain types of metals are more responsive to heat.

Field Dependent Learner (FD Learner)

The student prefers a global approach. He or she prefers that the rule or principles be given first followed by how metals react to heat. With this principle the students knows the limits of what is going to be taught and is comfortable with it. This is deductive reasoning and it moves form the general to the particular or specific.

Research Evidence

In a test on nutrition, FD students scored higher after using highly structured materials (presented in a logical order which provided written answers to convergent questions) whereas FI students scored higher using low-structured materials.

FI students learned the most in mathematics lessons when given minimum guidance and maximum opportunity for discovery, whereas FD students gained most from maximum guidance.

FI students learned more from an individualised, self-paced course than FD students.

FI students were more efficient at taking notes in outline format than FD students, which improved their performance over FD students.

ACTIVITY a) What do you understand by ‘learning style’? b) What are the main differences


a) What do you understand by ‘learning style’?

b) What are the main differences between a field-dependent learner and a field-independent learner?

c) Suggest how should teaching be organised to match FD and FI students?

b) Kolb’s Learning Style Kolb defines learning styles as one’s preferred method for perceiving and processing information. He identified 4 types of learning styles: divergers, assimilators, convergers and accommodators (see Figure 7.3).


Learners who are Divergers are:

Figure 8.3 Kolb’s Learning Styles


able to assimilate different pieces of information into an integrated whole


able to generate many ideas


imaginative and intuitive




able to relate to others

Learners who are Assimilators are:


logical and precise


are scientific and systematic


analytical and good at quantitative tasks


good at theory building


good organisers of information


good at inductive reasoning

Learners who are Convergers are:


good at problem solving especially technical tasks


good at deductive reasoning


able to apply ideas to practical situations


able to create new ways of thinking and doing


pragmatic and unemotional


able to influence others and situations


focussed and able to make decisions

Learners who are Accommodators are:


action and results oriented


opportunity seeking and seeking new experiences


risk takers and pragmatic


intuitive and artistic


open-minded and people oriented


personally involved in what they do able to adapt to new situations.

Kolb’s Learning Style: Implications for Teaching and Learning Kolb (1984) found that undergraduate business majors tended to be accommodators, engineering majors tended to be convergers and history, political science, psychology, economics and sociology majors tended to be assimilators. Physics majors were very abstract and tended to be either convergers or assimilators. Carrier, Williams and Dalgaard (1988) found that students with different learning styles showed distinctly different preferences for note-taking. Students who were accommodators and divergers did not practice note taking seriously. Students who were assimilators and convergers copied verbatim information from the teacher. Based on research and descriptions of Kolb’s learning styles, Jonassen and Grabowski (1993) concluded the following implications for teaching:

Divergers are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:


Gathering information in novel ways


Open-ended assignments


Individualised learning


Making sense of situations that are ambiguous


Sensitivity to values and feelings

Divergers are good at doing the following:

searching for information

evaluating information

generating examples and metaphors

imaging or illustrating knowledge

inferring causes

Assimilators are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:


Organising information


Testing theories and ideas


Designing experiments


Analysing quantitative data

Assimilators are good at doing the following:

selecting information sources

validating information sources

analysing key ideas

predicting outcomes

inferring causes

Convergers are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:


Creating new ways of thinking and doing


Experimenting with new ideas


Choosing the best solution


Setting goals


Making decisions

Converges are good at doing the following:

setting learning goals

validating authenticity of information

repeating material to be recalled

predicting outcomes


Accommodators are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:


Those that lack structure


Committing to objectives


Seeking and exploring opportunities


Influencing and leading others


Being personally involved and dealing with people

Converges are good at doing the following:

generating personal examples

providing concrete examples to apply information

using a concrete to abstract sequence

In this chapter we have only discussed two classification of learning styles; i.e. Field-Dependence and Field-Independence and Kolb’s learning styles. There are other classification of learning styles that you may want to explore. Among them are Dunn & Dunn Learning Styles conceived by R. Dunn and K. Dunn; Grasha-Riechmann Learning Styles by A. Grasha and S. Reichmann; Gregorc Learning Styes by A. Gregorc; and Hill’s Cognitive Style Mapping conceived by Joseph Hill,



a) What are the main differences between convergers, divergers, accommodators and assimilators?

b) How should teaching be organised to match students who convergers, divergers, accommodators and assimilators?

c) How would you describe yourself?

2. PERSONALITY AND LEARNING Personality has been described as another dimension accounting for individual differences. We often hear people comment on the personality of others based on the behaviours exhibited. For example, we describe a person as having a “pleasant personality” if he or she is gentle, kind and friendly. Alternatively, we describe a person as having an “aggressive personality” if he or she exhibits aggressive behaviour. Lately, we hear of the term “towering personality”! Personality has often been defined in terms of the characteristics of human behaviour or in terms of the inherited mental qualities. Both philosophers and psychologists agree that there are many different types of personality and have attempted to provide various classifications of personality. For example, early Greek philosophers classified human behaviour as consisting of 4 temperaments or personality types based on the amount of different “bodily fluids”:


Sanguine (people who are sociable, enthusiastic, contended),

2. Melancholic (people who are sad, anxious, worried, serious),

3. Choleric (people who irritable, hot-headed) and,

4. Phlegmatic (people who passive, calm, controlled).

More recently various psychologists have provided their own classification of personality types. For example, Digman (1990) identified 5 personality types (see Figure 7.4). Each of the five types are described as two extremes of a continuum. For example,

‘Surgency’ refers to people who on one end are ‘talkative’ and on the other end are ‘silent’.

With regards to Emotional Stability, people can be classified on a continuum from ‘calm’ to ‘anxious’.

The personality type ‘Intellect’ consists of people who range from being ‘imaginative’ to ‘simple’.

‘Conscientiousness’ is person who is dependable on the one extreme and irresponsible on the other hand; who preserves on the one hand and quits on the other hand.

‘Agreeableness’ is a person who is good natured on the one hand and irritable on the other hand.





 social – reclusive  adventurous – cautious Emotional Stability  calm – anxious  composed

Emotional Stability













good naturedirritable



Figure 8.4 The Five Personality Types Identified by Digman (1990)

Another well-known classification was proposed by Miller (1991) who identified 4 distinct personality types:

Reductionist are individuals who are scientific, impersonal, precise, value- free, realistic, controlled and sceptical.

Schematist are individuals who are as conceptual, theorist, imaginative, value-free, ambiguous and speculative.

Gnostic are individuals who are artistic, personal, value-based, non-rational, , involves, biased and have personal knowledge.

Romantic are individuals who are political, personal, value-based, uncertain, imaginative and speculative.

ACTIVITY “I am” exercise Write 10 honest statements beginning with “I am……… ” Share them


“I am” exercise Write 10 honest statements beginning with “I am……… ” Share them with someone. Does this sum your personality? Why or why not?

The personality types proposed by Greek philosophers, John Digman and Allan Miller are merely indictors that are descriptive of different types of individuals. These differences affect how individuals perceive themselves and the world. Research has shown that different personality types react differently to different types of learning and different instructional techniques. For purposes of this chapter THREE selected characteristics of personality are discussed in terms of their direct influence on learning. They are Anxiety, Locus of Control and Achievement Motivation.

a) Anxiety Anxiety is an emotional state that is characterised by feelings of tension, apprehension and nervousness. This emotional state can cause negative effects such as disrupting learning. Anxiety is manifested in sweating hands, increase heart rate, high blood pressure, distress, and even anger. Anxiety also has a positive side in that it enhances interest and excitement. It can help a person deal with a tense situation such as encouraging a student to study harder for an exam. Among the earliest research on anxiety was conducted by Mandler and Sarason (1952) who presented evidence that when anxiety becomes excessive it has a detrimental effect on test-taking and learning. Anxiety is best described as a continuum from High Anxiety to Low Anxiety (see Table 8.2).

on test-taking and learning. Anxiety is best described as a continuum from High Anxiety to Low

High Anxiety

Low Anxiety



Better performance on simple tasks

Better performance on complex tasks

Difficulty in communicating

Good communication skills



Negative self-image

Positive self-image





Lack of ambition




Hides emotions

Shows emotions

Tense posture

Relaxed posture

Table 8.2 Characteristic Differences in Anxiety

Anxiety: Implications for Teaching and Learning The large amount of research on anxiety has revealed that anxiety has an effect on learning. For example, Eysenck (1985) found that storage of information involving complex tasks was lower among high anxiety learner compared to low anxiety learners. High anxiety learners were less likely to explore unknown and unfamiliar situations. Testing procedures such open-book examinations helped high anxiety learners. Based on studies investigating the relationship between anxiety and learning, Jonassen and Gabrowski (1993) listed the following implications for teaching and learning:

High Anxiety Learners are more likely to do better at learning those:


tasks that are simple and less complex


tasks that are mechanical and structured


tasks that are repetitive


tasks that require shallow processing


task that are supported with visual aids

To help High Anxiety Learners, teaching should:


use more extensively audio-visual aids such as TV, multimedia.


use more frequently graphic organisers, overviews


use open book evaluation techniques


provide positive feedback and praise


provide for gradual transition from one chunk of information to another


break down information into smaller chunks


reduce the importance of test taking

ACTIVITY Do you have Mathematics Anxiety? (1) Disagree …… (5) Agree 1. I become afraid


Do you have Mathematics Anxiety?

(1) Disagree ……



1. I become afraid when it is the mathematics period. 1 2 3 4 5

2. I am scared to ask questions in the maths class. 1 2 3 4 5

3. I am always worried about being called to answer questions in class. 1 2 3 4 5

4. I fear maths test more than any other test. 1 2 3 4 5

5. I don’t know how to study for maths test. 1 2 3 4 5

6. I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up with the rest of the class. 1 2 3 4 5

7. It’s clear to me in class, but when I go home it’s like I was never there. 1 2 3 4 5

8. I tend to block out my mind in maths class. 1 2 3 4 5

9. I am uneasy about going to the blackboard in maths class. 1 2 3 4 5

10. I sometimes wonder why everyone has do such high level maths. 1 2 3 4 5

Rate your answers from 1 to 5, add them up and check your score below.



Sure thing, you have maths anxiety.


No doubt! You’re still fearful about mathematics


On the fence!


Wow! You sure are cool!


Ellen Freedman. 2006. http://www/]

b) Locus of Control The word ‘locus’ comes from the Latin word for ‘place’. Therefore, locus of control refers to an individual’ feelings about the placement of control over his or her life events, and who is responsible for those events. Locus of control describes an individual’s belief regarding the causes of his or her experiences, those factors to which an individual attributes his or her successes and failures. The person may attribute his or her success or failure to luck, chance, skill, competence, ability, effort and so forth. Locus of control in relation to teaching and learning is an affective learning style, specifically an expectancy or incentive style. Locus of control affects learning outcomes through the learner’s expectation of success and the motivation to perform. Like most personality characteristics, it is best represented as a continuum:

Internals and Externals. Learners classified as Internals tend to attribute the cause of success to themselves such as effort, ability or competence. Failure is attributed to the lack of these attributes. Externals, on the other hand, tend to attribute their successes and failures to external forces that control an individual’s performance such as luck, chance or competence. Failure is attributed to the lack of help, bad luck or because the

task was too difficult. See Figure 8.3 which presents individual differences related to locus of control.








Fear of failure



Negative self-image

Positive self-image





Risk takers





Visual /kinesthetic



Table 8.3 Characteristic Differences in Locus of Control

Locus of Control: Implications for Teaching and Learning In a review of 36 studies on locus of control and academic achievement, 31 studies showed that students with high internal locus of control achieved more because of their greater persistence, effort and better use of task relevant information. Also found is a significant relationship between students who had an internal locus of control and higher grade point average. Similarly, ‘internals’ has better study habits and more positive academic attitudes. ‘Internals had a better attitude toward mathematics and performed better.

To help students with an External Locus of Control do well:


instruction should be highly structured with clear goals and directions, work checked often and important information indicated to the learner


teaching material should be more visual and graphic and less verbal


instruction should incorporate movement and kinesthetic activities


teachers provide praise and rewards after learner responses, i.e. need for reinforcement


provide more individual attention; work under observation rather than in isolation


could introduce the ‘contract-for-grade’ plan


develop ‘learning to learn skills’ to increase internal locus of control


gradually reducing structure and cueing so that learners can proceed on their own with more difficult tasks

To develop further students with an Internal Locus of Control:


provide inductive experiences


ask students to provide their own structure for the information given


provide tasks that require analytical thinking


provide problem solving situations, especially where learners must select and apply relevant information


provide involves and complex tasks that require persistence



a) Would you classify yourself as a person with an internal locus of control or an external locus of control? Why?

b) Do you see evidence of internal and external locus of among students in your class or among your colleagues?

c) Extroversion-Introversion The classification of people as extroverts or introverts has been extensively researched and the results seem to be quite consistent. As the words imply, extroversion describes people whose thinking and behaviour are directed outward or to the surrounding environment while introversion describes people whose thinking and behaviour are directed inward or to oneself. As a personality trait, level of introversion and extroversion is relatively constant, although some studies have indicated that environment may influence thinking and behaviour. An individual may be extremely introverted, but in exceptional case, show extroverted behaviour. However, there are certain characteristics that are prevalent.



Look to the outside world

Look inward

Sociable and friendly

Quite and aloof

Desire excitement and takes chances

Contemplative and reflective


Nonimpulsive & plans ahead

Energetic and enthusiastic

Prone to fatigue

Easily distracted

Less distracted

Dislike complicated procedures

Concentrates longer on tasks

Task oriented

Conceptually oriented

Influenced by public opinion

Influenced by personal values

Skilled at short-term retention

Skilled at long-term retention

Tolerant of frustration

Intolerant of frustration

Good at physical activities

Prefer to read more

Table 8.4 Characteristic Differences between Extroverts & Introverts

There is also evidence to suggest that as people mature, they tend to become more introverted. In addition to describing and predicting social behaviour, this personality trait (extroversion-introversion) has shown to some extent predict learning and the way in which individuals’ process information (see Table 7.4). The extroversion-introversion personality trait has been explored by many people, but probably the individual most noted for his work in this area is H.J. Eysenck. He was

born in Berlin in 1916, studied at the University of London and developed an appreciation for the analysis of human behaviour through experimentation.

Extroversion-Introversion: Implications for Teaching and Learning Research on the relationship between extroversion-introversion and academic performance has been inconclusive. Introversion was strongly related to academic success across many different cultures. On the other hand, students high in extroversion had higher academic scores than others. Art and education and music education majors tended to be more extroverted. Creativity in the arts was positively related to introversion. Besides relating extroversion-introversion to academic performance, there are many studies that examined other characteristics of extroverts and introverts that may indirectly influence academic performance. Introverts had better study habits than extroverts. Extroverts selected places to study that were more stimulating compared to introverts who preferred quite places). Also, extroverts were more willing to communicate compared to introverts who preferred to listen. Despite the conflicting opinions, Jonassen and Grabowksi (1993) suggested that:

Extroverted Learners are more likely to excel at:


learning tasks that require rapid processing of information


tasks that present large amounts of information that are muliti-modal and multi-image


tasks that involve social and behavioural assessment (e.g. group participation are assessed)


tasks that are group-oriented involving collaborative activities


tasks that provide learners with examples, nonexamples, illustrations


tasks conducted in open-spaced classroom with discovery


information that is presented in small chunks


tasks that provide graphic cues, mind maps, outlines, concept maps, colours

Introverted Learners are more likely to excel at:


learning tasks that are visual, imaginal or involve spatial manipulation


tasks that require organising and structuring information for recall


learning tasks involving analysis for problem solving


tasks that require learners to evaluate information


tasks that require paraphrasing and summarising information


tasks that require imagining or illustrating knowledge


tasks that arouse learners with novelty, uncertainty or surprise

ACTIVITY a) Would you classify yourself as an extrovert or an introvert? Why? b) Do


a) Would you classify yourself as an extrovert or an introvert? Why?

b) Do you see evidence of extroversion and introversion

among students in your class or among your colleagues or friends? c) How do you get your best ideas? Do you like to talk about them with others

or think about them alone?

Do you usually "wear" your emotions or keep them to yourself?

Make a list, draw, mindmap, talk to a partner, or write about a situation in your life where you think you show or feel your extrovert or introvert style.


d) Achievement Motivation Achievement motivation is a personality trait that describes an individual’s willingness to achieve. Defined broadly motivation is described as what energises or pushes us to action or do something. Why did you come to class even though you are sick? Achievement motivation has been described in many ways; however, in this chapter, achievement motivation is confined to the type most relevant to learning and teaching, that is, need achievement. Need is defined as a lack of something that by doing something the need can be fulfilled. Achievement motivation is the need to accomplish something difficult such as completing all the problems given in the mathematics class. It includes the desire to excel and surpass others. It is the determination to be the best and focus on winning. The person who is high on achievement motivation will make an attempt to overcome obstacles and enjoys competition.

Motive to Achieve Success

Motive to Avoid Failure

Success orientation

Failure orientation

Pride orientation

Shame orientation




Dependent on feedback and supervision

Energetic and enthusiastic

Prone to fatigue



Perceives failure as a lack of effort

Perceives failure as a lack of ability

Can handle long-term goals

Prefer short-term goals


Not ambitious

Table 8.5 Characteristic Differences between Motive to Achieving Success and Motive to Avoiding Failure

McClelland (1961) and Atkinson (1958) designated two contrasting types of personality traits with regards to achievement motivation: those with the motive (need) to succeed, and those who have a motive (need) to avoid failure (see Table 7.5). Those who have a need to achieve expect to succeed and feel proud, whereas those who fear failure expect to fail and feel shame as a result of it. Students with a high motive to success are more comfortable with tasks that have a 50-50 chance of success. These individuals have a realistic estimation of their ability and, therefore, would not select a task that has a high probability of failure nor tasks that are deemed too easy. Those with a need to avoid failure would be more comfortable with tasks that are easy so their chances of success are enhanced to avoid failure. For those tasks that are difficult, these students justify failure and avoid embarrassment by saying that that the task was too difficult. Students with high achievement motivation were able to sustain interest in a task even when interrupted or extended over a long period. Achievement motivation scores were positively correlated with grade point average among both male and female undergraduates. Academic performance correlated positively with success- oriented sixth graders. Those students with high achievement motivation selected study partners based on their competency rather than their friendliness. Based on the

extensive research and descriptions of achievement motivation, Jonassen and Grabowksi (1993) proposed that:

Students with the Motive to Achieve Success are more likely to excel at:


learning tasks that are very important


tasks that require their attention


long-term tasks


tasks that require independent though and action


tasks that allow them to assume leadership roles that capitalise on their desire to control


encourage more independent study


provide for active experimentation


use discovery learning


providing lessons in large chunks


using feedback as diagnostic information, especially success feedback

To help students with the Motive to Avoid Failure do well:


make available extra help


provide for immediate feedback


provide many opportunities for positive feedback


help students select realistic goals


provide opportunities for learners to experience success


using tests for diagnostics rather than comparison


inviting students to select their own goals and activities


dealing with failure privately (not to ridicule learners in front of others)


using a mastery approach

3. PRIOR KNOWLEDGE When you started with this course on Learning and Cognition, you have with you a massive amount of prior knowledge regarding how humans learn. Not only do you have a mass of knowledge and experiences; you also come equipped with many cognitive skills and abilities. With regards to knowledge, you know that “rewards encourage students to perform better”; with regards to abilities, “you are able to write an essay on “Critical Thinking” by referring to sources from books, journals and resources from the internet; with regards to skill “you are able to summarise information” for your essay. In other words, you approach a learning task with a substantial amount of prior knowledge. Prior knowledge consists of the knowledge, skills or abilities that the student bring to the learning environment (Jonssen and Grabowski, 1993). Knowledge refers to the prerequisite knowledge that is necessary to understand the new information. Students lacking this information would not significantly profit from instruction at all (Tobias, 1981). For example, if you had not studied or at least read about psychology, you it is likely that you will have difficulty with this course. ‘However, don’t panic!’ It is not the end. Psychologists have extended the definition of prior knowledge more broadly to include the total existence of knowledge and prior achievement that you bring to the learning environment which can and will be activated when you read the material in this learning package. In other words, your experiences (in your place of work and the home) and the knowledge you

have gained from various sources (books, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, movies, discussion with friends, colleagues, family members and so forth) may be directly or indirectly related to the content you are studying in this course. However, there is evidence to suggest that instead of helping you understand new information, prior knowledge (old information) can prevent the acquisition of new knowledge by forming a barrier or preconceived ideas, which must be overcome before learning can take place. The existence of prior knowledge will likely enhance any learning task but will be most helpful for:

problem solving and transfer of learning

comprehension of material to be learned

retention and recall of material

reasoning ability

integration of knowledge

paraphrasing and summarising

comparing new knowledge with existing knowledge, beliefs

generating metaphors and examples

elaboration of knowledge

ACTIVITY [Refer to Chapter 3 on Cognitive Theories, specifically Ausubel’s Theory of Meaningful Leaning and


[Refer to Chapter 3 on Cognitive Theories, specifically Ausubel’s Theory of Meaningful Leaning and Chapter 4 Information Processing Model. Examine how prior knowledge influences learning and creates differences between learners].


between learners]. 8.3 DIFFERENCES IN LEARNING TASKS So far we have examined the Learning Traits that

So far we have examined the Learning Traits that a student brings to the learning task. Learning traits includes the learning style of the student, the personality of the student and the prior knowledge of the student. These learning traits will come into contact and interact with the learning task creating further differences in the classroom (refer to Figure 8.1). For example, student A is given the task to ‘List the characteristics of the Malaysian rainforest’ while student B is given the task to ‘Give her opinion on how to conserve the Malaysian rainforest’. Different sets of learning traits might be used by the two students depending on the learning task. Student A is required to “list” while student B is required to give her “opinion”. Obviously, the mental processes required will vary between student A and student B. The types of learning or learning tasks that are required in schools and other educational settings have been conveniently described in terms of taxonomies of learning. Taxonomy is a classification scheme that arranges objects or phenomena hierarchically. That is, terms at the top of the taxonomy are more general

a) Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives

The Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives or Outcomes by Benjamin Bloom (1956) is perhaps the best known. It describes the range of cognitive behaviours or intellectual abilities or skills desired when a person interacts with a body of knowledge (see Figure 8.5). A body of knowledge will have no meaning unless and until the learner interacts with the facts, concepts and principles of the body of knowledge. How the learner should interacts with the material will depend on what he or she is required to do or the objectives of the task or the outcomes desired.

Evaluation Synthesis Analysis Application Comprehension Knowledge

Figure 8.5 Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives or Outcomes

Knowledge: Learning at the knowledge level involves only the recall of facts, terminology and methodology. The learner is required to merely recall and state without interpreting or elaborating.

Comprehension: It involves elementary understanding and use of knowledge, such as translation and interpretation.

Application: It requires the abstraction of a rule or generalisation from a body of knowledge. The learner then applied it to solve a related problem.

Analysis: It involves investigating a body of knowledge, breaking it down and identifying its component elements and the relationship between those elements. Analysis requires determining the structure or organisation of a set of ideas.

Synthesis: Knowledge that has been analysed is reassembled into a new form of communication such as devising a new plan from different elements.

Evaluation: The highest level of cognitive activity which involves making judgement about some content based on a set of criteria.

b) Gagne’s Taxonomy of Learning Cognitive Strategy Higher Order Rule Figure 8.6 Rule Gagne’s Learning
b) Gagne’s Taxonomy of Learning
Order Rule
Figure 8.6



Robert Gagne (1985) identified different levels of learning for the purpose of sequencing instruction. He believed that instruction should begin with the simplest skills and proceed hierarchically to greater levels of difficulty (see Figure 8.6).

Verbal Information: Verbal information is similar to Bloom’s knowledge level and it requires learners to only memorise and recall information without understanding or applying it.

Concrete Concepts: Concrete concepts are based on discrimination between members and nonmembers of a concept without extensive awareness of the basis of classification.

Defined Concepts: Defined concepts are understood though their definitions, i.e. through their defining characteristics. They are the basis for most understanding.

Rule: Rules are the statement of relationships between two or more concepts. Most often, they indicate cause-effect relationships. Using rules implies that learners apply those statements in a new situation.

Higher Order Rule: Higher order rules are more general statements of relationships, usually referred to as principles. The use of higher order rules is similar to problem solving. It requires the learner to select, interpret and apply appropriate rules.

Cognitive Strategy: Cognitive strategies or techniques for solving problems or for acquiring new information. Learning to learn is a cognitive strategy.

c) Merrill’s Component Display Theory Merrill (1973) developed his own taxonomy of learning through analysis of school-based learning outcomes. He concluded that almost all learning activities involve facts, procedures, concepts and principles.

Facts are arbitrary associations

Concepts are classes of objects or events

Principles are generalised explanations that relate two or more concepts and are used to predict, explain or infer.

The taxonomy of learning is classified as follows:


















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