Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 13, Issue 2, Article 4 (Dec., 2012)
A review on learning styles and critically thinking disposition of pre-service science teachers in terms of miscellaneous variables

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Recently, how students think and how they learn have been among the discussed topics in the educational system. Especially, in our modern age of “Information Society”, the opinion that individuals should be able to know and implement several thinking methods such as ability to conduct research, to solve problem, creative thinking, and critical thinking, and should be active in process of learning has brought the subjects of how thinking and learning would be performed into prominence (Güven and Kürüm, 2006). Renzulli and Dai (2001) determined that the individual’s knowing how to learn made the first step to learn better or to be active in the process of learning. In this regard, an individual knowing how to learn might be defined as one who knows his own features, or in other words, his own “learning style”. When this is reviewed in terms of thinking, how the individual should think gains importance rather than what he will think and this view reveals the concept of critical thinking.

One of the most important concepts expressing individual difference is the concept of learning style. Kolb (1981) defined the learning style as the individually most preferred way in gaining and processing information. Having many studies on learning style, Dunn and Dunn (1993) viewed the learning style as a way beginning with an individual concentrating on new and challenging information and continuing with the process of gaining the information and allocating it in the memory. Furthermore, each individual has own learning style just like he has a distinct fingerprint. According to Keefe (1979), learning style is defined as a pattern of cognitive, auditory and physiological features indicating how individuals perceive, how they interact with, and how they react to their learning environment.

Considering the above definitions, one can briefly say that learning style is a concept indicating tendencies of the individual to learn or his preferences. Numberless studies have been conducted on the concept of learning style which emerged in 1940s and many models of learning style have been developed. According to Gregorc’s model of learning style (1998; in Ekici 2003), individuals’ ideas on nature of learning begin with their life philosophy. Fundamental objective of the life is an individual’s to perform and understand basic humanity features, spirituality and individuality. Capacities to perceive, arrange, take over and make associations being helpful in an individual’s learning are the most skills in his learning. Thus, learning styles are divided into four categories as concrete consecutive, abstract random, concrete random and abstract consecutive. Model of learning styles developed by Dunn and Dunn (1992) was built on the theory that each individual was distinct in his biological and developmental features and emphasized four learning styles. These learning styles may include environmental factors (noise, light, heat and sitting position), emotional factors (motivation, determinateness, responsibility, structure), sociological factors (working alone or with groups of several sizes, working with peers or an authority), and physical factors (auditory, visual, tactile or kinesthetic perceptional preferences, requirements for food and drinks, energy level, requirement for change).

Kolb’s learning style, or so-called experiential learning model is based on learning model put forward by Jung 1923. Being aspired by Jung’s learning model, Kolb put forward experiential learning model (In Mutlu and Aydogdu, 2003). Developed by Kolb (1984), the “Experiential Learning Model” was built on the view that experiences had a significant role in learning process and the information was formed by form changes in the experiences. Experience has been defined as individual’s objective and subjective interaction with his environment. According to this theory, the ideas are not constant and non-changing factors and they may be formed again for several times by experiences. In developing his theory, Kolb was aspired by learning theory of Lewin and Piaget and considered experiences, perception, cognition and behaviors as critical factors in learning process.

According to Kolb, effective learning consists of four stages. These include an individual’s encountering concrete experiences (Concrete experience) (CE), making observations about these experiences and process of reflecting them (Reflective observation) (RG), then developing abstract concepts from these reflections (Abstract conceptualization) (AC), and lastly, transferring evaluations and generalizations on these concepts to his active experiences (Active Experimentation) (AE). Askar and Akkoyunlu (1993) noted that learning ways symbolizing each learning style were different from each other, and explained that these were “by feeling” for concrete experience, “by observing” for reflective observation, “by thinking” for abstract conceptualization, and “by doing” for active experience, respectively.

According to the experiential learning theory, learning is a cycle and it is inevitable for an individual to pass through this cycle for many occasions in his learning process. Learning style of each individual is a product of these four learning styles. Coupled points reveals an individual’s different preferences ranging from abstract to concrete and from active to reflective. Components of these two groups of different learning styles form basis for Kolb’s two-dimensionla learning style. Coupled points indicates in which category of learning style an individual is. These learning styles are as follows: Product of learning styles of Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation, Divergent; Product of learning styles of Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualizaiton, Assimilator; Product of learning styles of Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experience, Convergent; and Product of learning styles of Concrete Experience and Abstract Experience, Accommodating.

Individuals adopting divergent learning style are very successful in viewing concrete situations from many perspectives, prefer making observations rather than taking action for the events, and enjoy concentrating on situations in which different ideas are generated and communicating people. They are patient, objective and careful in learning process, like group works and taking individual feedbacks but they don’t prefer discussing on the topic and activities toward implementation. They are also skillful in focusing on ideas and linking several ideas such as in brain-storm. They consider their own feelings and ideas in forming the ides. Descriptive question for these individuals preferring individual working in learning activities is “Why”. Such students explain lesson materials and experiences by linking them with their interests and future occupation (Kolb 1984; Jonassen and Grabowski 1993; Felder 1996; Riding and Rayner, 1998).

Individuals with assimilator learning style are very skillful in understanding wide variety of information and building theoretical models by unifying them. They prefer focusing on abstract ideas and concepts rather than people, and thus they focus on logic validity of such a theory instead of its practical value in learning style. They like lessons in which straight explaining is utilized, prefer that they are given enough time to assimilate the topic and don’t like the exams they are not used to. However, among the most important features of the individuals adopting assimilator learning style are ability to think, and awareness on values and meanings. Such individuals focus on abstract concepts and ideas when they learn something. Descriptive question for such individuals is “What”. Information presented to such individuals should be ranked, logical and detailed. They prefer visual and auditory presentations and lesson narrations (Kolb 1984; Jonassen and Grabowski 1993; Felder 1996).

Implementing the ideas and theories is privileged for the individuals adopting convergent learning style. Furthermore, such individuals are very successful in problem solving, decision making, logical analyze of the ideas and systematical planning. Such people are more successful in the situations in which only one correct answer exists or only one way exist for solving a particular problem. The individuals adopting this learning style should focus on understanding emotions, ideas and values of others by playing more role in the activities they participate. They prefer simulation, laboratory experiments and practice in learning process instead of group working and activities of discussing type.

Problem solving, decision making, logical and systematical analysis of the ideas are main features of the individuals with diverging learning style. Diverging people pay importance to the details and try to comprehend the whole from the parts. They follow the steps in the learning activities by order. Descriptive question for such individuals is “How” (Kolb, 1984; Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993; Felder, 1996; Riding and Rayner, 1998).

Individuals with accommodative learning style have ability to learn the information by doing and experiencing. They enjoy planning, conducting experiments and participating in new experiences. They are more courageous in taking risk than individuals adopting other learning styles. In the process of problem solving, they like to produce solution ways by considering others’ ideas rather than making some types of technical analyses. In the learning process, they prefer working with others, making field studies and testing different approaches in completing a project and conducting duties and projects in which they can take their own initiative. Additionally planning, implementing the decisions and participating in new experiences are obvious characteristics of the individuals with accommodative learning style. They enjoy learning by searching, exploring something. In other words, they prefer a learning style based on implementation and exploration. Descriptive question for such individuals is “What will be if ….” (Kolb, 1984; Jonassen ve Grabowski, 1993; Felder, 1996).

According to Kolb (1985), preferences of an individual in learning process causes that individual to adopt a particular learning style in long-term. For an individual, having a learning style that he adopted and in which he feels comfortable doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t be successful in other learning styles. In contrast, a student who is more flexible in passing from a learning style suitable for his own structure and features to another one can more efficiently utilize his learning potential than another student restricted himself with a particular thinking and learning style. Kolb states that the model he proposed could be effectively used in class-room education, group activities, project preparing and planning the exams.

Reviewing the studies using Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory, one can see that many experimental and relational studies have been carried out. Experimental studies on this topic rather looked at whether educational situation were arranged based on learning styles and had impact on academic success. The relational studies looked at relationships between learning styles and several variables (Yoon, 2000; Ergür, 2000; Fowler, 2002; Kiliç, 2002; Loo, 2002; Mutlu and Aydogdu, 2003; Kiliç and Karadeniz, 2004; Kaf Hasirci, 2006; Demirbas and Demirkan, 2007; Joy and Kolb, 2009; Ertekin, Dilmaç and Yazici, 2009; Pehlivan, 2010). For example, the study by Bahar and Sülün (2011) examined learning style of the pre-service science teachers based on their sex and academic success. The study found that 39.7% of the students had divergent learning style, 34.2% had assimilator learning style, 15.2% had convergent and 10.9% had accommodative learning style. It was found that there was no relationship between sex and learning style. In their search on students of Education Faculty Bahar, Özen and Gülacti (2009) concluded that learning style of the students didn’t vary significantly depending on sex. It was also found that most of the pre-service teachers (43.6%) had divergent learning style followed by assimilator learning style.

Another important concept expected from the individuals to gain and being as important as the learning styles is “critical thinking” requiring high level of cognitive skills and defined as complicated and comprehensive process.

Presseisen (1985) considers the thinking skills in four stages as “basic operations, problem solving, decision making, critical thinking and creative thinking”. Skills of critical thinking, which are one of these stages, is briefly summarized as solving the expressions, noticing un-expressed thoughts, noticing the feelings and seeking different ways to express the ideas. According to Facione (1998), critical thinking is a solution and thinking system in which an individual would use in understanding he encounters in his environment, in identifying and trying to solve the problems he experiences, in decision making, and in evaluating the events. Kökdemir (2003) defines critical thinking as an effective, organized and functional cognitive process we perform in order to improve our ability to better understand our own and others’ ideas and to explain them. Ennis (1986) notes that the individuals who are able to think critically should have skills of flexibility, patience, acting by thinking, good intentions, autonomy, and independence. These skills make basis of training of critical thinking as well. Critical thinking and the skills required by it are emphasized in many studies on education and even among the objectives of education (MEB, 2006).

Noting that critical thinking is based on the skills and tendencies of effectively gaining and utilizing the information, Demirel (2002) states that critical thinking has 5 basic domains as “consistency, unifying, feasibility, adequacy and ability to communicate”. Consistency is related to awareness of an individual who can think critically on conflicts in the ideas and his ability to remove them whereas unifying domain is related to ability of an individual to make connections among different dimensions of the idea. Based on feasibility domain, an individual who can think critically must implement his ideas on a model. Adequacy means ability of an individual who can think critically to built his experiences and the outcomes he reached on realistic bases. In the domain of ability to communicate, an individual who can think critically should be able to share his ideas in an understandable way through an efficient communication.

Recently, the concept of critical thinking has taken part in skills in primary school curriculum and become topic of many studies with increasing interest paid to it. By the means of healthy communication in the community, it has become mandatory to put this concept in the educational curriculum because of importance of throw up individuals not accepting the events as they are and querying and searching them. Teaching this skill and throwing up qualified persons for the community is responsibility of the teachers. In order to throw up qualified people to accommodate the changing world, the teachers must be those individuals having such knowledge and skills. During their training period, the teachers are anticipated to have these skills to improve them. Thus, it becomes important to determine what level of skill the pre-service teachers have to provide the students with this skill of critical thinking.

When the studies in the literature is reviewed, it is usually seen that the studies are usually focused on measuring the disposition of the pre-service teachers to think critically and searching this skill in terms of several variables (Facione, Facione and Giancarlo, 2000; Giancarlo and Facione, 2001; Akbıyık, 2002; Rudd and Moore, 2003; Kökdemir, 2003; Phillips, Chesnut and Rospond, 2004; Hamurcu, Günay and Akamca Özyılmaz, 2005; Özdemir, 2005; Semerci, 2006; Kirişçioğlu, Başdaş and Başöncül, 2007; Tümkaya and Aybek, 2008; Genç, 2008; Saçlı and Demirhan, 2008; Korkmaz, 2009; Ekinci and Aybek, 2010). For example, in the study in which the university students’ disposition to think critically was examined, Özdemir (2005) concluded that pre-service teachers were at intermediate level in terms of critical thinking and their disposition to think critically didn’t show significant differences by sex. Genç (2008) concluded that disposition of pre-service teachers to think critically exhibited significant differences in domains of open-mindedness and curiousness by their sex. Exploring the differences between sexes in topic of disposition to think critically, Facione, Giancarlo, Facione and Gainen (1995) found that female students were predisposed to be open-minded and to be mature cognitively much more than male students whereas male students were more predisposed to think analytically than female students.

In terms of human qualifications aimed by the information society, it is known that learning and thinking are two concepts supporting and completing each other. In this regard, one could say that concepts of learning style and thinking critically are important in terms of being a student able to query and making causal relationships (Güven and Kürüm 2008). In fact, the studies carried out so far reveals that a relationship exists between learning styles and thinking critically (Campell and Davis, 1988; Torres and Cano, 1995; Colucciello, 1999; Myers and Dyer, 2006; Suliman, 2006; Güven and Kürüm, 2006; Güven and Kürüm, 2008; Tümkaya, 2011). For example, in a study by Toress and Cano (1995) on last grade university students, the relationship between thinking critically and age, sex, and academic success contributing thinking process apart from learning styles was examined. Based on results of the study, it was noted that there was a positive relationship between critically thinking and learning styles. Again Coluciello (1999), in a study on nursery students, aimed to determine whether a relationship exists between disposition to think critically and learning styles. In that study in which California Scale of Disposition to Critically Thinking and Kolb’s Inventory of Learning Styles, it was found that there was a relationship between learning styles and disposition to critically think. In another study carried out by Güven and Kürüm (2008) to determine the relationship between the pre-service teachers’ learning styles and disposition to think critically, California Scale of Disposition to Critically Thinking and Kolb’s Inventory of Learning Styles were used. Based on results of the study, it was determined that there was a relationship between the pre-service teachers’ learning styles and disposition to think critically. In a study to examine the science students’ learning styles and disposition to think critically, Tümkaya (2011) used California Scale of Disposition to Critically Thinking and Kolb’s Inventory of Learning Styles. The study concluded that total points of skills of critically thinking of the science students didn’t show significant differences by sex and grade. Additionally it was found that 52.6% of the students had assimilator learning style and 29.4% had divergent, 10.5% had convergent and 7.5% had accommodative learning style.


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