My Experience

When it comes to myself, I tend to be a visual or kinesthetic learner. When I can be hands-on, it allows for my brain to make a connection through touch. Similar to learning to swim for the first time. It was not until I was thrown in the deep end of the pool that I fully grasped how to tread water. As my oxygen quickly ran out or seemed to with twelve feet of water below me, I felt a natural instinct to move my limbs as much as possible to reach the surface. With the safety of my parents nearby, I was able to experience the exhilaration of learning in the moment within reasonable bounds. I believe that a formal environment incorporated with informal learning techniques is what best suits my learning styles. I need the structure of formal, but also the space to be creative and not feel constrained.

When I am in a large classroom with multiple students, it is easy to feel intimidated. If the prison-like white brick walls and symmetrical columns and rows of seating were not intimidating enough, then the know-it-all student at the front of the classroom would be. Raising my hand to ask or answer a question was never an option in this setting out of the fear of being embarrassed or judged by what I had to say. Growing up, I’ve had teachers tell me, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question!” while others say just the opposite, but better to be safe than sorry, right? When I asked Rowan if he found the formal environment intimidating, he told me, “Yes, intimidation is a big factor for me in any social situation, even more so in a learning environment where the fear of failure is very real.”

I have taken multiple courses where the different learning styles have been neglected in formal education. However, I understand that it can be hard for instructors to cater to every learning type when they are teaching a mass of students. Fortunately, there are systems already trying to tailor their teaching to younger students. Shreve Island Elementary is, for example, is a school that strives “to build and nurture a community of leaders who respect differences, value academics, and strive for personal excellence” (https://www.shreveislandelementary.com/welcome). In addition, they state, “We pride ourselves on meeting the needs of diverse learners in a family-like atmosphere.” The implementation of informal techniques will ultimately help these students find academic achievement.

Overall, while students can benefit from each system separately, based on my own experiences, the experience of students I’ve interviewed, and the research I’ve done, the value of a dual system incorporating both formal and informal techniques would be immeasurable. 

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Interviews

The second student I interviewed was Rowan Sewell and he is a first-year student at Bossier Parish Community College. During our interview I asked him what type of learner he was as well. He responded with, “I consider myself to be a reading/writing and kinesthetic learner.” I found this interesting because his learning styles combine the structure of a formal system and the physical aspect of informal. Despite this, he informed me that, “The traditional classroom setting makes me think of a strict environment that is not conducive to creativity or growth. This is in part because of my negative experience as a young child going through the school system with learning disabilities and anxiety disorders.” Rowan then went on to tell me that he struggles with dyslexia. Often, disabilities like this are considered through grade school, however, they are usually forgotten or abandoned by college. As a student myself, I can say throughout life young people are constantly being groomed for college, so I understand at this point we should no longer be coddled. Some may view the extra accommodations that dyslexic students need as a soft cushion to fall back on. However, being aware of one’s weaknesses does not make them weak, but strong for understanding the different and usually more difficult path they must take when compared to students who lack learning disabilities. By incorporating a more informal style of learning it welcomes creativity and makes for a more satisfying experience for not one but all students. 

It was E.M. Forster that said, “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” We become machines when we are forced to memorize formulas like Pythagorean theorem and the dates of European rulers. To some the formal system is too confined and restricting, similar to a prison, but there are others that prefer the efficient and regulated system. 

In my first interview with Harper I asked her if she thought the formal setting was distracting or easy to focus in. She replied with, “I focus best when I am listening to a lecture and taking notes, opposed to working on my own. I also enjoy working in groups because we share a common goal.” Because Harper is partly an aural learner, it is most fitting that lectures suit her. 

A benefit of formal education is that it presents students with a reliable source. An article called “Modern Education System. The Pro’s and Con’s” notes that “We and our children are getting taught by professionals of their field. Presently our education is based on making us the best in our area of interest, to help us reach our goals more easily” (https://bupinder21.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/modern-education-system-the-pros-and-cons/). Sure, YouTube tutorials on photography and your father teaching you how to replace a tire are spectacular ways of learning through visuals and experience, but they do not compare to the information an experienced instructor can provide.

Although Harper thrives best in the formal system, she told me, “Formal education should strive to have a more liberal arts focus to teach more critical thinking skills.” The article mentioned before also states, “We are being fed with facts and knowledge. Not art, not books, but life itself is the true basis of teaching and learning.” In addition, Harper says instructors can work to “make the world your classroom.” While she likes the order of the formal system, she believes informal activities should be intertwined so that students are not just filling their brain with facts, but they are understanding through experience as well. 

Learning Types

Students have been learning through the formal education institutions from the beginning of grade school and all the way through college. However, is this considered the best environment for learning? Especially if it is only limited to a class that consists of lecturing and note-taking? Fortunately, there are other systems that break the traditional structure of learning that go against the status quo. Opposing the formal system is an informal education system. This system often varies in location and is structured differently from the typical classroom setting. An article from the “Today Parenting Team” states, “Informal education is anything learned more independently…It can be things that are self-taught by researching or reading, or through things that are experienced” (http://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/formal-vs-informal-education). Informal education systems can mean anything from an online course to getting hands-on in an experiment with other students for a project outside of the classroom. When regarding the informal environment, I will be looking at how it can be incorporated into formal education systems and its benefits, instead of outside education like learning through family or personal experiences. Formal and informal systems tend to have their pros and cons and are preferred based on the type of learner a student is. 

There are seven different types of learning styles that individuals adhere to. These include visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary. Based on these styles, students may thrive more in either a formal or informal education environment. An article from “Lifehack” explains that verbal learners “prefer using words, both in speech and writing” and visual learners “prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding” (https://www.lifehack.org/572775/find-your-own-learning-style-make-learning-more-easy-and-effective). These individuals might do better in a classroom where there is more structure and an organized way of learning. They find success when they can listen to a teacher lecture and use PowerPoints for visuals. The article also states that some students are physical learners that “prefer using their body, hands” or they are social learners who “prefer to learn in groups or with other people.” These are just a few traits of learners that would most likely find informal environments to be more helpful because of their ability to be hands-on and social. To dive further into this topic, I conducted interviews with students in the Shreveport/Bossier area to note the variety of learners and their preferences when it comes to the modern-day education system. When I asked student Harper McKnight, from Louisiana State University Shreveport, what type of learner she was, she said, “I found out recently that I am primarily an aural and kinesthetic learner after I took a quiz on thevark.com suggested by one of my professors. Once I knew this, the ways that I’ve noticed through trial and error that seem to help me retain more information made a lot more sense.” McKnight continued by explaining, “I also have noticed I prefer teachers who ask questions during their lectures or open the floor for discussion. That feels hands-on to me because I can participate, whereas I think most people associate hands-on learning with technical classes or lab work.”On a website I stumbled upon called “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” an anonymous student writes about their experience in the formal education and states “Perhaps one of the problems is that most of the classes I have taken seem to be structured around materials provided by the publishers of the books – which is EXACTLY how all of my elementary, middle, and high school classes were structured. It is all about rote memorization.” To make their experience more fulfilling, it probably would have been beneficial if the instructor would have incorporated more interactive ways of learning to break up some of the monotony of the books. This might have worked for some students, but everyone learns in different environments, at different paces, and, as mentioned before, in multiple ways.