Knowledge of Learning Styles and Family Communication – literature review

Having a favorable family environment has been associated with positive values and enhanced social competencies of children especially during their youth stages (Hillaker, Brophy-Herb, Villarruel & Haas, 2008). In their study Hillaker et al. (2008) assessed how parenting processes of “promoting positive family communication, [enhancing] positive family relationships and maintaining standards” were associated with enhanced social competencies and positive values in the youths (p. 592). The study used a sample of 9,707 youth participants with representative proportions of youths in the sixth grade (n = 1453), seventh grade (n = 3732) and eight grade (n = 4474). The sample was drawn from a population (n = 20872) of high- and middle school Michigan students who had previously filled out a student life profile survey conducted in 1998/1999 academic year that assessed attitudes and behaviors (PSL-AB). PSL-AB comprises a 152-item survey that assesses “24 risk behaviors, 40 developmental assets (both external and internal to the child), and 8 thriving indicators” (Hillaker, et al., 2008, p. 594).

From the 152 items, 37 that were relevant to what the study sought to assess were isolated and used to develop independent and dependent variables. Twelve items of the 37 isolated ones were used to create the three independent variables – “maintaining standards, positive communication, and supportive family relationships” (Hillaker, et al., 2008, p. 594).  Seven items, after one was dropped for lack of ordinal response items, were used to identify social competence of the youths (one of the dependent variables) while 13 items used to indentify positive values (the other dependent variable). The remainder four items were used as covariates and reflected demographic characteristics of the parent/ family and the youth. Of the 12 independent variables, three were used for positive family communication, four for supportive family relationships, and five for maintaining standards.

With the exception of covariate items whose measures varied, the measures in other variables were organized into a 5-response likert scales, varying from point of little agreement with the statement (1) to point of strong agreement with the statement (5). Analysis of the data aimed at evaluating association of the dependent and independent variables revealed that the three parenting processes were significant contributors to youth outcomes as independent constructs and in interacting with each other. One of the factors that would better the parenting processes is knowledge of their children’s learning styles (Maxwell, 2007). Through such knowledge the parents can encourage children with various learning styles to participate in the family matters thus improving their self esteem and confidence (Maxwell, 2007). The importance of this study is that it demonstrates the positive effects of enhanced family communication both at the family and society levels.

With regard to learning styles, most of the studies have explored in the context of education outcomes. Moenikia and Zahed-Babelan (2010) for instance evaluated the role that learning styles play in second language learning among high school distance education students. From a statistical population of 457 students taking English in 2008-2009 academic year at Payame Noor University Ardabil center, Iran; the study randomly sampled 112 students comprised of 40 male and 72 female. Seven types of learning styles – visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary – were assessed using a 70 items-learning style questionnaire whose reliability as adjudged by Cronbach’s alpha was 0.81. The second language learning was evaluated via participants’ scores in TOEFL exam that is comprised of listening, writing, structure and reading aspects of language. The results of the study indicated that students who had different learning styles had varying proficiency in the four skills – listening, writing, structure and reading – that the test (TOEFL) assessed. For instance students with verbal learning styles showed better progress in writing than other students, whereas students with visual style had better progress in structure than the other groups (Moenikia & Zahed-Babelan, 2010, p. 1171). The study also found gender differences in learning styles with female respondents mainly being aural (31.9 %) but rarely solitary (1.4%), whereas the highest percentage of male respondents was solitary (27.5%) with physical/tactile learning style having the least male incidence – 2.5% (Moenikia & Zahed-Babelan, 2010, p. 1171). The implications of the study are that structuring learning programs to meet different learning styles in the classroom could better learning outcomes for individual learners. For family communication, understanding members learning styles would help to better understand the expression of their feelings thus enhance understanding and unity in the family.

Apart from gender differences in learning styles, other studies have evaluated the differences in learning styles according to other traits such as age and nationality (country of origin). Lincoln and Rademacher (2006) carried out one such study by evaluating the learning styles among immigrant “adult English as a Second Language (ASL) students in Northwest Arkansas” and their differences according to proficiency level, gender and country of origin (p. 490). The study involved 69 ESL students from 17 countries with majority of the participants – 54 – being Latin Americans, 14 Asians and 1 Iranian (p.490). The participants varied in age from late teenage to late 40s and attended seven ESL sites around Northwest Arkansas that were  any of:  beginning class, intermediate class, intermediate-advanced class, advanced-level, and citizenship class. A 13 items questionnaire (VARK questionnaire) was used to test participants’ perceptual-learning styles and visual/tactile mode with each participant receiving four scores between 0 and 13 as an indication of “the relative dominance of their visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and read/write perceptual-learning styles” (p. 493). The results showed that learning styles differed with proficiency, nationality and gender. Males and females for instance showed significant differences in the choice of aural learning while, in relation to proficiency levels, beginners favored aural styles more than advanced learners. Nationality also influenced preferred learning styles with instructional mode at the country of origin presumed to account for some of the differences noted – e.g. note taking preference among the Latin American participants. In the family communications aspects, the findings of this study could have implications for developing unity and understanding in families that are comprised of members of different races e.g. resulting from adoption. Change of learning style with proficiency also indicates that some learning styles could be learned traits hence presents opportunities for members to inculcate customs that foster understanding in the family.

In a separate study Naimie, Siraj, Piaw, Shagholi & Abuzaid (2010) evaluated how preferences of lecturers teaching style and students’ learning styles, and the match or mismatch between these styles impacted on the learning outcomes. The study was conducted in Azad University in Iran using a survey questionnaire (Learning Styles Index – LSI – survey instrument) as the main data collection method aided by observations and interviews. The sample size was 310 learners at the center who were randomly selected from courses where the instruction language was English. Four lecturers were also engaged based on their willingness to participate. To evaluate effect of match or mismatch of teaching and learning styles on achievement, comparison between matched teaching-leaning styles with the mismatched ones was made based on all the four dimensions of LSI – active/reflective, sensing/intuition, visual/verbal and global/sequential – based on the five groups of matches developed. Where learning styles matched the teaching styles in all the four LSI dimensions, the learner was grouped into match 4; whereas where the matches were in three dimensions the match category was 3. Complete mismatched learning-teaching styles students were placed in group 0. With respect to learning styles, the study found out that dominant learning styles in the sample were active, sensing, visual and global respectively. Analysis of the results through one-way ANOVA showed significant differences existed in the achievement scores of the match groups formulated. Further comparisons using Tukey HSD tests showed that performances in group 3 and 4 significantly differed from performances in the other groups but not with respect to one another. Differences in achievement scores were also not significant for groups 0, 1, and 2. The results indicated that groups 3 and 4, groups with higher level of matching outperformed the other groups thus implying that structuring teaching methodologies to match learners; learning styles could better their performance. In family communication such findings buttress the role that understanding other members learning styles and trying to accommodate differences in the learning styles could have in improving the effectiveness of communication.

Based on the identified differences in the learning styles Honigsfeld and Dunn (2009) purpose to propose a new instruction strategy that would better learning outcomes for “at-risk students” who do not perform well when taught via the traditional “chalk and talk” lectures. The authors first differentiates between learners officially regarded to be at risk such as those “diagnosed or misdiagnosed as learning disabled, grow up in isolated communities and do not begin learning English until they enter school, [and] do not speak English because they have recently arrived from another country” and; a group not recognized to be at-risk but are typically performing learners produced by the instruction systems that exist at school (pp. 220-221). After this demarcation a case for introduction of tactual and kinesthetic strategies for instruction is made by reviewing aspects such as characteristics of tactual and kinesthetic learners, tactual and kinesthetic activities relevant to the classroom environment and effectiveness of the tactual and kinesthetic resources in enhancing learning outcomes. The study’s importance to family communication is in demonstrating how the knowledge of individual members’ learning styles can help encourage their participation in family matters bettering their experience. go to conclusion here.

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