Learner-Centered Course Design


The interdependent world we live in is increasingly reflected in the interdisciplinary nature of our professions. As professors, we are frequently required to teach students from various disciplines in our courses and to engage in interdisciplinary research and teaching efforts. This is perhaps even more the case when teaching at a polytechnic university. While it is indisputable that such endeavors enrich our understanding of complex issues and benefit the learning experience of students and faculty alike, they also bring with them new challenges that need to be met. One such challenge is the diversity of learning styles that students bring to the classroom.

Many of us are well aware of the vast literature on students’ learning styles (e.g. Myers, 1962; Schroder et. al., 1967; Paivio, 1971; Kolb, 1976; Messick, 1976; Dunn & Dunn, 1978; Keefe, 1979; Riding & Sadler-Smith, 1992; Larsen, 1992; Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993; Biggs, 1993; Vermunt, 1996). Far less research has been done on the distribution of learning styles across the disciplines and how they affect the learning behavior of students in different majors and their response to various teaching and assessment strategies. In order to derive the maximum benefit from interdisciplinary teaching, it is essential that we understand such differences. In a collaborative project that involves scholars from five different disciplines, we are asking the following research questions:

1) How are learning styles distributed across different majors?
2) Is there a tendency for students to self-select into different majors based on their learning styles, or are certain learning styles influenced by departmental and cultural pressures?
3) How do students in different majors perform in different learning environments?
4) Is there a correlation between students’ learning styles and how they respond to various assessment techniques?

At the conference, we present preliminary findings from the survey that offers insight into the research questions listed above. In order to answer these questions, we will conduct a survey that measures learning styles and various aspects of learning and assessment both across learning styles and across disciplines. The survey will be administered to majors from architecture, engineering, political science, the social sciences, and urban planning. In order to fully answer our questions, we plan to conduct a four-year panel study that will allow us to observe students in a diversity of majors throughout their career at Cal Poly.