The ILS learning style model considers learner preferences across four scales, each with two extremes (active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, sequential/global). of these, four extremes would prima facie appear to offer the best mix for online learning:
- Reflective - those who prefer to think more than interact.
- Intuitive - prefer discovery rather than facts.
- Verbal - those who get more from words than visual presentations.
- Global - 'big picture' rather than linear learners.
The results of the study do, in fact, demonstrate that reflective types have the advantage - but this is the case for both collaborative and self-directed course designs. Active learners perform better in collaborative courses. Sequential learners are also advantaged, particularly in self-directed courses (though a different study has found that global learners are better off).
So, what do we make of this? Well, reflective learners are clearly more suited to forms of online learning - be it collaborative or self-directed. They are very adaptable! This, no doubt, must echo other studies performed on higher education in general. While the conclusions of this paper suggest that a collaborative version of a course is preferable to giving students a preference-based choice for self-directed or collaborative, there are factors beyond student learning-style preference that ought to drive pedagogical decisions. It would be very interesting to be able to probe the differences between the self-directed and collaborative versions of the communications course itself, to get a better feel for the differences. Still, this study does indicate that self-directed instruction in isolation does not maximise a distance education experience. Collaboration in online learning can be to the advantage of all.