Not everyone learns in the same way. Yet small groups often use materials and lessons that are more or less structured in the same way: one or two introductory questions, read some verses, discuss them using questions, come to a conclusion, determine the ‘lesson of the day’, close. But what about the kids that don’t learn this way, how can we reach them?

The goal of small groups is to bring teens and students closer to God. We want them to grow in their relationship, to learn new truths and be able to apply them. But if the teens and students in our small groups have different learning styles, our materials and methods should reflect these, so we reach all of them.

Research has shown for instance that adapting the method of teaching to the preferred learning style of the students, resulted in better academic results for college students. Well, if it works for college students, why not see what difference it can make for our small group students? That’s the reasoning behind this series of posts on applying learning styles to small groups.

Do you adapt your small group teaching to the different learning styles of your students?

In this first post we will look at two different views on learning styles, David Kolb’s model and the VARK-model by Neil Fleming. There are many more ways of looking at learning styles, but a lot of them include factors we can’t influence, so that’s more of academic interest than of real practical help. These two models can inspire you to evaluate the methods you’ve been using and see if you can reach more of you small group members with different learning styles. In upcoming posts we will translate the knowledge about these learning styles into approaches for small group materials and methods.

Kolb’s learning styles

The best known way of looking at learning styles was developed by David Kolb (more info can also be found here and here). He differentiates between four different learning styles, all based on two things: the perception dimension and the processing dimension. Let’s see what that means.

The perception dimension has to do with how you look at things, how you perceive them. Some people look at things as they are, in a concrete way and see them in raw details. This is also called ‘feeling’, because they experience things as they are and react emotionally to them. Others look at things and form their own opinion, they use what they see as a starting point for their own point of view, an internal model. This is called ‘thinking’ because observation is followed by analyzing and interpreting.

The processing dimension is about what you do with what you’ve seen, how you process the information to determine what’s right. Active experimenters will try out what they think is right to prove that it works. This is called ‘doing’ for obvious reasons. Reflective observers will watch others to see if it works, before concluding it works. This style is called ‘watching’ because they will observe rather that do something.

Combining these dimensions results in four learning styles:

  1. Divergers: concrete thinkers and reflective observers (feeling – watching)
  2. Convergers: abstract thinkers and active experimenters (thinking – doing)
  3. Accomodaters: concrete thinkers and active experimenters (feeling – doing)
  4. Assimilators: abstract thinkers and reflective observers (thinking – watching)

VARK-model of learning styles

Another way of looking at learning styles is the VARK-model, developed by Neil Fleming. He also states there are four different learning styles, but in a different way than Kolb:

  1. Visual: ‘graphic’ would be a better word, because teens with this learning style prefer information to be presented in graphics: charts, diagrams, maps, etc. Note: this doesn’t include videos/movies!
  2. Auditory: students with this learning style prefer to listen to information in the form of sermons, lectures, group discussions, etc.
  3. Read/write: teens with this style love words in written form. When they want to learn, they’ll grab a book or look things up on the Internet.
  4. Kinesthetic: this learning style has to do with experiencing reality, in whatever way. These teens will want to see things as they are (demonstrations, pictures/photos, videos, movies), touch them, make them, etc.

I realize this is all still rather abstract and it certainly is a whole lotta info I’m dumping on you here, but we will delve deeper into this in upcoming posts and make it more practical then. Tomorrow we’ll find some practical applications for Kolb’s model and the day after that we’ll look at how you can use the VARK-model in your small group. So stay with me!