Teaching Responsibilities & Teaching and Learning Styles

Last update: 25 April 2000

I am currently responsible for teaching BUS 370 Integrated Communication in Business. Since coming to WMU in September 1975, however, I have taught a wide variety of courses, including the following:



Teaching and Learning

This section presents general information about teaching and learning and is directed primarily at students in the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University. Much of the material here, however, will apply (at least generally) regardless of the location, even if the procedures used to accomplish an objective vary slightly based on technology available and other circumstances specific to a location.

This section provides information on teaching and learning styles, course communication, and solving academic problems.

Teaching Styles, Learning Styles

Over the past years, numerous articles have been written about teaching and learning. In general, I concur with William Blake, who said that everything possible to be believed is part of the truth. From Jean Piaget to B. F. Skinner, from Myers-Briggs to Kolb, various writers and researchers have recommended a variety of approaches to teaching and learning. Most of these methods help some people some of the time.

In all of this, the strategies that I have found help most of the people most of the time are based on the literature of Neurolingusitic Programming. Neurolinguistic Programming is an unwieldy term, so I will follow the common practice of referring to it simply as NLP. For more information about the use of NLP in communication see my Philosophical Observations

In brief, NLP postulates that people have preferences for the sensory system they rely on to process information. Whether these preferences are genetic or learned is not important for our purposes here. When people have all their sensory systems in reasonably good working order, they use all three, and they can develop increased skill with each of them.

Visual Learners

People who prefer the visual system pay more attention to the information they receive through that system—what they see—than they do to information they receive auditorily or kinesthetically. They can also remember what they have seen better than they remember what they have heard. They learn best when they can see or make visual images of material.

Auditory Learners

People who prefer the auditory system pay more attention to the information they receive through language—what they hear—than they do to information received through other system. They are good listeners, and they are often good readers.

Although it uses the eyes, reading a phonetic alphabet(English, for example, uses a phonetic alphabet) is an auditory activity because the meanings of words are encapsulated by their sounds rather than their appearance, as they are in an iconic alphabet (such as Japanese Kanji).

Auditory learners learn best when they can use language to describe the material to be learned. The educational system in the United States (and in much of the rest of the world) is typically designed by and for auditory learners.

Kinesthetic Learners

People who prefer the kinesthetic system pay more attention to information they receive experientially based on their senses of touch, taste, and smell and on they quality and nature of their (emotional) response to it. For more information about the ways in which the senses of touch, taste, and smell work together to form the kinesthetic sensory modality see my philosophical observations.

Kinesthetic learners learn best when they can participate in an activity. The term “muscle memory” is especially applicable to kinesthetic learners.

Course Communication

Most people who become academics prefer auditory processing. We learned well from those who presented information auditorily (the ubiquitous lecture-discussion format), and as instructors we naturally tend to present information auditorily as well.

Instructors, like all people, tend to believe that ALL people process information the same way. Just as cats think that people can see in the dark as well as they can, and just as dogs expect people to be able to hear as well as they do, we all tend to think that others perceive the environment and create meaning the same way as we do. For more information about this subject, see my philosophical observations.

This problem is exacerbated by the academic environment. Most college instructors prefer auditory processing. They tend to associate with other college instructors who also prefer auditory processing, so their tendency to believe that everyone prefers auditory processing is reinforced.

How to Spot An Auditory Instructor

Words.  Auditory instructors like to talk. Talking is, of course, one of those things that instructors are supposed to do. Some obviously enjoy it more than others, however. When the instructor asks a question, for example, does he or she wait for an answer, or does he or she immediately fill the silence with a fully developed, obviously rehearsed answer? Does he or she promise a discussion on a topic, but then he or she is the only discussant?

Visual Aids. Auditory instructors who are making an effort to communicate with all their students will use visual aids. An auditory instructor, however, thinks of lists of words as a good visual aid. He or she may use Persuasion, PowerPoint, or similar program to develop overhead transparencies, but 90 percent of the overheads will consist of words only--something that does provide a focus for visual attention but still requires auditory processing.

Handouts.  When an auditory instructor prepares handouts, he or she is typically more concerned with what it says than how it looks. What do the instructor’s handouts look like? Do they have visual appeal? Are they nicely laid out? Do they contain any graphics? Or do they look as though the instructor had no clue about what can be done to give a page more visual appeal?

Using All Three Major Sensory Systems

Teaching. Instructors need to be aware that not all students process information the same way. Students who are primarily visual need to be able to see graphic or iconic images of the material to recall it easily. Students who are primarily auditory need to hear important concepts in ways that allow them to remember what they have heard. Mnemonic devices (such as HOMES for the names of the Great Lakes) are especially useful for auditories. Students who are primarily kinesthetic need to experience the material in a way that allows them to develop a feeling for it.

Some material more naturally lends itself to presentation in one form or another. Chemistry and physics, for example, both require visualization. A person has to be comfortable with making mental pictures of physical objects and their relationships to one another to fully appreciate the physical sciences.

The best spellers also use a visual strategy. In spite of the fact that English uses a phonetic alphabet (one that conveys meaning by sound rather than by appearance or image), many English words cannot be spelled phonetically (phonics/fonix, caught/cot, rough/ruff, through/threw, etc.)

Other material naturally lends itself to auditory learning and recall: dates and events, principles of law, communication strategies, and so on. Still other material is best learned in conjunction with direct physical experience.

Effective instruction attempts to present the same information in all three major sensory systems as much as possible. When possible, show a picture, discuss it in words, and allow students to experience it directly through an activity.

Because the areas of the brain that process information are tied closely together, people can and will “map” across from one area to another: a visual image will often create a verbal meaning which will be associated with a particular feeling or behavior. Instructors can help their students become better learners by helping them map across from one sensory system to another during the learning process.

Learning.Those of you who are students doubtless recognize that not all your instructors present information in a way that allows you to use the sensory system through which you learn best. If you recognize that you learn visual material best, you can convert auditory information to visual by creating a mnemonic device and connecting it to an iconic representation (HOMES superimposed on a visual image of a map of the Great Lakes).

Visuals can also construct tables of key concepts and key questions about the concepts using a spreadsheet. Put the concepts in the rows in the A column and the key questions in Row 1 in the remaining columns. Put abbreviated answers to the questions in the cells where the concept and question intersect. Print the table, and commit it to visual memory. Practice visualizing the table of concepts, questions, and brief answers before the test.

Auditories benefit by repeating concepts. Highlight important passages in your text, and review the highlighted material on a regular basis. (Note that if you highlight everything, it is the same as highlighting nothing.) Read material you need to know into a tape recorder and then listen to the tape at spaced intervals, perhaps while commuting to and from school. Use mnemonic devices.

Kinesthetics benefit from making models, copying class notes and important passages from the text, and working through solutions to problems. Because the vast majority of academic subjects require either visual or auditory processing (or both), students who are primarily kinesthetic need to work the hardest at learning how to take better advantage of their visual and auditory skills.

All students benefit from working to improve their skills with all three sensory systems. Read the material more than once. What can you recall simply by making a visual image of where you saw the information? What can you recall simply in response to an auditory question? Because much of the material presented in college classes is abstract, those who are primarily kinesthetic in the way they process information especially need to improve their ability to recall information visually and auditorily.

Solving Academic Problems

While I can’t begin to catalog the kinds of problems that might influence a student’s academic performance, I can tell you that most of your instructors want you to do well and will help you solve your academic problems if you give them a chance to do so.

Asking for Help

Most college instructors have, of course, heard a variety of poor excuses for bad performance over the years, and you may have some genuine skepticism to overcome before an instructor will be willing to help. If you are in trouble in a class, ask for help early, and ask specifically. Students often delay asking for the help they need until insufficient time remains in a semester for the requisite help to be provided.

Remember, too, that it is a lot easier for an instructor to believe that you deserve help if you have been present and awake in class. If you are habitually absent, or if you attend but demonstrate a bad attitude (sitting in the back and sleeping or otherwise not participating), your instructor is likely to believe that you deserve the grade you are earning.

If you have had to miss classes for a legitimate reason (accident, illness, serious illness or other problems in your family, or something else of equal importance), let your instructors know right away. Whatever the cause of your problem, discuss it with your instructors before it is too late in the term for them to do anything to help.

If you need to ask for help, take advantage of your instructor’s office hours. Send him or her e-mail. Telephone. Take some action to let him or her know that you are willing to do what is required for you to understand the material and do well in the class. Also, keep the following points in mind:


The principal problem of most students is procrastination. Most students procrastinate completing assignments, and most students procrastinate when it comes to reporting problems they may be having with course materials. I did the same thing when I was a student, and I can tell you from my own experience as well as that of hundreds of my students since that procrastination is not a good idea in either case.

If you are behind in your work, your instructor will not have much sympathy. The best time to ask questions about an assignment is when the assignment is first explained. The second best time to ask about it is when it is returned. Most courses are arranged so that assignments are essentially sequential: understanding the first facilitates understanding the second, and so on.

Plan your activities so that you can attend class and complete assignments on time. Planning will make a difference in how well you do, not only now but also throughout your college and professional career.

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