Unit 2: Learning characteristics of students with developmental disabilities

2.1         Concept and meaning of learning characteristics

2.2         Varied types of learners e.g., visual learners, auditory learners, Tactile/kinesthetic Learners

2.3         Basic principles in identifying the learning styles for planning instructional programs

2.4         Learning characteristics and the concept of multiple intelligences

2.5         Role of learning styles in evaluation of students with developmental disabilities.

















2.1         Concept and meaning of learning characteristics


From the nature and characteristics of learning, we can guess about the importance of learning in education. Learning makes us human beings different from animals who are trained and not taught. Parents enroll their children in school to learn. They want their child to have a good education. Sometimes words education and learning are used interchangeably. Learning develops the cognitive ability of the learner. With learning learner becomes knowledgable, develops skills, and also develops the attitude. Learning helps in all Round Development of personality. Learning affects all the aspects of behavior, which includes skills, knowledge, attitudes, personality, motivation, etc.

Psychologists in general define Learning as relatively permanent behavioural modifications which take place as a result of experience. This definition of learning stresses on three important elements of learning:

John B Watson is one amongst the first thinkers who has proven that behavioural changes occur as a result of learning. Watson is believed to be the founder of Behavioural school of thought, which gained its prominence or acceptability around the first half of the 20th century. Gales defined Learning as the behavioural modification which occurs as a result of experience as well as training. Crow and Crow defined learning as the process of acquisition of knowledge, habits and attitudes. According to E.A, Peel, Learning can be described as a change in the individual which takes place as a result of the environmental change. H.J. Klausmeir described Learning as a process which leads to some behavioural change as a result of some experience, training, observation, activity, etc.

The key characteristics of the learning process are:

1.     When described in the simplest possible manner, learning is described as an experience acquisition process.

2.     In the complex form, learning can be described as process of acquisition, retention and modification of experience.

3.     It re-establishes the relationship between a stimulus and response.

4.     It is a method of problem solving and is concerned about making adjustments with the environment.

5.     It involves all those gamut of activities which may have a relatively permanent effect on the individual.

6.     The process of learning is concerned about experience acquisition, retention of experiences, and experience development in a step by step manner, synthesis of both old and new experiences for creating a new pattern.

7.     Learning is concerned about cognitive, conative and affective aspects. Knowledge acquisition process is cognitive, any change in the emotions is affective and conative is acquisition of new habits or skills.

8.     Learner characteristics is a concept that revolves around how the student learning experience is influenced by personal, social, cognitive, and academic elements. It’s presumed that these aspects play a pivotal role in both how and what students learn. Through a series of studies, educators can determine what characteristics impact students the most. The findings of this research are passed on to instructional designers so that they can develop tailored instructions for specific groups.

9.     An understanding of learner characteristics enables students to be more efficient and effective in their learning. It also encourages educators to be more precise in their teachings. Learner characteristics are so diverse that they range from personal to academic. The former refers to traits like gender, language, age, and cultural background. Meanwhile, academic characteristics consist of logic, objectivity, intellect, insight, and practical applications. These combined qualities contribute significantly to the student learning process.


Types of Learning

Motor Learning: Our day to day activities like walking, running, driving, etc, must be learnt for ensuring a good life. These activities to a great extent involve muscular coordination.

Verbal Learning: It is related with the language which we use to communicate and various other forms of verbal communication such as symbols, words, languages, sounds, figures and signs.

Concept Learning: This form of learning is associated with higher order cognitive processes like intelligence, thinking, reasoning, etc, which we learn right from our childhood. Concept learning involves the processes of abstraction and generalization, which is very useful for identifying or recognizing things.

Discrimination Learning: Learning which distinguishes between various stimuli with its appropriate and different responses is regarded as discrimination stimuli.

Learning of Principles: Learning which is based on principles helps in managing the work most effectively. Principles based learning explains the relationship between various concepts.

Attitude Learning: Attitude shapes our behaviour to a very great extent, as our positive or negative behaviour is based on our attitudinal predisposition.

Three Types of Behavioural Learning

The Behavioural School of Thought which was founded by John B Watson which was highlighted in his seminal work, “Psychology as the Behaviorist View It”, stressed on the fact that Psychology is an objective science, hence mere emphasis on the mental processes should not be considered as such processes cannot be objectively measured or observed.

Watson tried to prove his theory with the help of his famous Little Albert Experiment, by way of which he conditioned a small kid to be scared of a white rat. The behavioural psychology described three types of learning: Classical Conditioning, Observational Learning and Operant Conditioning.

Classical Conditioning: In case of Classical Conditioning, the process of learning is described as a Stimulus-Response connection or association. Classical Conditioning theory has been explained with the help of Pavlov’s Classic Experiment, in which the food was used as the natural stimulus which was paired with the previously neutral stimuli that’s a bell in this case. By establishing an association between the natural stimulus (food) and the neutral stimuli (sound of the bell), the desired response can be elicited. This theory will be discussed in detail in the next few articles.

Operant Conditioning: Propounded by scholars like Edward Thorndike firstly and later by B.F. Skinner, this theory stresses on the fact that the consequences of actions shape the behaviour. The theory explains that the intensity of a response is either increased or decreased as a result of punishment or reinforcement. Skinner explained how with the help of reinforcement one can strengthen behaviour and with punishment reduce or curb behaviour. It was also analyzed that the behavioural change strongly depends on the schedules of reinforcement with focus on timing and rate of reinforcement.

Observational Learning: The Observational Learning process was propounded by Albert Bandura in his Social Learning Theory, which focused on learning by imitation or observing people’s behaviour. For observational learning to take place effectively, four important elements will be essential: Motivation, Attention, Memory and Motor Skills.



2.2         Varied types of learners e.g., visual learners, auditory learners, Tactile/kinesthetic Learners


All the students have their style of learning that explains how they process information at their best and retain in memory for long. Every person has a combination of learning styles, but most of them have their preferences.

In schools & classrooms, teachers and professors also prepare various lesson plans to reach the information to all types of learners. This process helps teachers in addressing the needs of different students. Today, we’ll know about different types of learners & what learning style does each suit.

What are the different types of Learners?

To every learning style, there is a kind of learner who suits the learning the most. When some learn while listening to songs or musical beats, others love to read silently; some are addicted to reading & writing while others love sitting in big lecture halls, listening to teachers & professors.

1. Kinesthetic Learners

These are the most hands-on learning type of person who loves to learn through tangible ways. They learn best while performing things on their own. When they perform something, they learn the best. Sometimes they even get nervous if they have to study for hours. They can do their best when they participate in different activities & solve things on their own. Sometimes, knitting, hitting a ball or tossing a coin, etc. can do better for them in remembering things even if they are physically engaged in some work. Their minds retain things when they do something on their own.

Commonly called hands-on learners, kinesthetics prefer to physically engage with the materials of the subject matter. Some qualities associated with physical learners include:

·    Preference to ‘get their hands dirty’

·    Energetic, may drum fingers or shake legs

·    Action-orientated and outgoing

·    May de-prioritise reading and writing

2. Read/ Write Learners

These people are incredibly comfortable with written words as they love gaining information by reading text materials. They gain knowledge about the topic by going through various study materials. The old traditional method of learning through course books, revising & repeating the same process works well for this type of learning style.

Verbal learning includes both writing and speaking. Verbal learners might have a preference for reading and writing, word games and poems. Verbal learners know the meanings of a broad category of words, can use them effectively, and actively seek out new words to add to their repertoire.

Some qualities associated with verbal learners include:

·    Intellectual

·    Bookworm

·    Good story teller

3. Visual or Spatial Learners

This type of learner gains information when they visualize relationships & ideas. They take ideas from essays, charts, diagrams, maps, pictures & other drawings. Teachers in classrooms, professors in college halls or other educational instructors, illustrate their lectures on board, spatial learners find it easier to absorb & retain the information much better for a longer time.

When it comes to Geometry, Science practical, this learning style becomes the most visual approach of learning for all kids.

Visual learners like diagrams, drawing out concepts, charts and processes. They learn by looking at visual concepts, creating them, and watching other people create them. Visual learners might be organised or creative in their application, and find things like colours and shapes useful.

Visual learners often possess the following qualities:

·    Habitual doodlers / drawers

·    Observant

·    Not easily distracted

·    Enjoys planning

·    Prefers visual instructions

4. Auditory Learners

People who learn best when the information is verbally spoken are termed as auditory or oral learners. These people like to listen to lectures & participate in discussions and debates to understand the information. These learners’ process data by conversing through things.

Auditory learners like to hear solutions and examples explained to them, and may gravitate towards music subjects and group learning as a way to understand information. Auditory learners often have a high aptitude for distinguishing notes and tones in music and speech.

Qualities often associated with auditory learners include:

·    Possessing a ‘good ear’ for music and tones

·    May be distractible

·    Likes to talk to self / others / hum / sing

Auditory learners might say words out loud or hum tones to better learn them. This strategy is key for keeping musical learners engaged in class lessons.



2.3         Basic principles in identifying the learning styles for planning instructional programs



The four core learning styles include visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic. Here’s an overview of all four leaning style types.

Visual - Visual learners are better able to retain information when it’s presented to them in a graphic depiction, such as arrows, charts, diagrams, symbols, and more. Similar to how designers use visual hierarchy to emphasize specific design elements, visual learners thrive with clear pictures of information hierarchy.

Auditory - Sometimes referred to as “aural” learners, auditory learners prefer listening to information that is presented to them vocally. These learners work well in group settings where vocal collaboration is present and may enjoy reading aloud to themselves, too.

Reading & Writing - Focusing on the written word, reading and writing learners succeed with written information on worksheets, presentations, and other text-heavy resources. These learners are note-takers and perform strongly when they can reference written text. 

Kinesthetic - Taking a physically active role, kinesthetic learners are hands-on and thrive when engaging all of their senses during course work. These learners tend to work well in scientific studies due to the hands-on lab component of the course. 


How to Identify This Learning Style Type: Visual Learners

Visual learners enjoy analyzing and observing things like pictures, diagrams, and charts that showcase clear information in order of importance. You can oftentimes find visual learners by paying attention to students who are doodling, list-making, or note-taking. 

How to Teach This Learning Style Type: Visual Learners

Whether you’re using a whiteboard, smartboard, or giving a presentation, make sure visual learners have enough time to process and absorb visual cues. When possible, visual learners should have access to supplementary handouts that detail subject matter through clear visuals whenever possible. Additionally, allow these learners to draw pictures, diagrams, or doodles of what they are learning to reinforce retention.

How to Find This Type of Learning Style: Auditory Learners

Auditory learners prefer learning subject matter that is presented through sound. You can find auditory learners by paying attention to students who are actively engaging with a lecture. You may find them nodding along or asking frequent questions rather than taking written notes. Additionally, these learners might read slowly, read aloud to themselves, or repeat things you tell them to help with retention. 

How to Teach This Type of Learning Style: Auditory Learners 

If you’re giving a lecture, make sure you are addressing your auditory learners directly to get them involved in the conversation. Have them do things like verbally detailing a new concept they just learned, and ask them follow-up questions while giving them the time they need to respond. Group discussions, engaging videos, and audio recordings are other great ways to engage auditory learners in your classroom. 

How to Locate This Learning Style in the Classroom: Reading & Writing Learners

Preferring written word, reading, and writing learners are drawn to textbooks, novels, articles, journals, and anything that is text-heavy. Similar to visual learners, you can find reading and writing learners by paying attention to students who take elaborate notes, reference the dictionary to learn new words, or use online search engines to find answers to their questions.

How to Teach This Learning Style Type: Reading & Writing Learners

Writing essays, performing in-depth research, reading textbooks, and more, reading, and writing learners prefer more traditional methods of subject matter delivery. However, make sure these learners have ample time to absorb written course material and give them every opportunity to get their ideas down on paper or a digital device.

How to Find This Type of Learning Style: Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners are “tactile” learners, meaning they prefer to physically act out events or use all of their senses while learning. These types of learners are easy to find, as they likely have a difficult time sitting still and might need frequent breaks during heavy studying periods. 

How to Teach This Type of Learning Style: Kinesthetic Learners

When possible, get kinesthetic learners up and moving. If you’re teaching Shakespeare, for example, have them act out a scene with a few of their kinesthetic-focused peers. You can also create learning games that encourage these types of learners to move about the classroom at different points in the lesson. 

The term “learning styles” speaks to the understanding that every student learns differently. Technically, an individual’s learning style refers to the preferential way in which the student absorbs, processes, comprehends and retains information. For example, when learning how to build a clock, some students understand the process by following verbal instructions, while others have to physically manipulate the clock themselves. This notion of individualized learning styles has gained widespread recognition in education theory and classroom management strategy. Individual learning styles depend on cognitive, emotional and environmental factors, as well as one’s prior experience. In other words: everyone’s different. It is important for educators to understand the differences in their students’ learning styles, so that they can implement best practice strategies into their daily activities, curriculum and assessments. 




2.4         Learning characteristics and the concept of multiple intelligences



Many educators have had the experience of not being able to reach some students until presenting the information in a completely different way or providing new options for student expression. Perhaps it was a student who struggled with writing until the teacher provided the option to create a graphic story, which blossomed into a beautiful and complex narrative. Or maybe it was a student who just couldn't seem to grasp fractions, until he created them by separating oranges into slices.

Because of these kinds of experiences, the theory of multiple intelligences resonates with many educators. It supports what we all know to be true: A one-size-fits-all approach to education will invariably leave some students behind. However, the theory is also often misunderstood, which can lead to it being used interchangeably with learning styles or applying it in ways that can limit student potential. While the theory of multiple intelligences is a powerful way to think about learning, it’s also important to understand the research that supports it.

Howard Gardner's Eight Intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences challenges the idea of a single IQ, where human beings have one central "computer" where intelligence is housed. Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor who originally proposed the theory, says that there are multiple types of human intelligence, each representing different ways of processing information:

·       Verbal-linguistic intelligence refers to an individual's ability to analyze information and produce work that involves oral and written language, such as speeches, books, and emails.

·       Logical-mathematical intelligence describes the ability to develop equations and proofs, make calculations, and solve abstract problems.

·       Visual-spatial intelligence allows people to comprehend maps and other types of graphical information.

·       Musical intelligence enables individuals to produce and make meaning of different types of sound.

·       Naturalistic intelligence refers to the ability to identify and distinguish among different types of plants, animals, and weather formations found in the natural world.

·       Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails using one's own body to create products or solve problems.

·       Interpersonal intelligence reflects an ability to recognize and understand other people's moods, desires, motivations, and intentions.

·       Intrapersonal intelligence refers to people's ability to recognize and assess those same characteristics within themselves.

The Difference Between Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

One common misconception about multiple intelligences is that it means the same thing as learning styles. Instead, multiple intelligences represents different intellectual abilities. Learning styles, according to Howard Gardner, are the ways in which an individual approaches a range of tasks. They have been categorized in a number of different ways -- visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, impulsive and reflective, right brain and left brain, etc. Gardner argues that the idea of learning styles does not contain clear criteria for how one would define a learning style, where the style comes, and how it can be recognized and assessed. He phrases the idea of learning styles as "a hypothesis of how an individual approaches a range of materials."

Everyone has all eight types of the intelligences listed above at varying levels of aptitude -- perhaps even more that are still undiscovered -- and all learning experiences do not have to relate to a person's strongest area of intelligence. For example, if someone is skilled at learning new languages, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they prefer to learn through lectures. Someone with high visual-spatial intelligence, such as a skilled painter, may still benefit from using rhymes to remember information. Learning is fluid and complex, and it’s important to avoid labeling students as one type of learner. As Gardner states, "When one has a thorough understanding of a topic, one can typically think of it in several ways."



2.5         Role of learning styles in evaluation of students with developmental disabilities.



Not everybody learns in the same way, we all have natural preferences and tendencies as to how we acquire and store the information. The cognitive development of students with disabilities is often starkly different then that of students without disabilities, however understanding how it differs from traditional child development is important to understanding how learning style identification can assist students with disabilities. Why and how does students create accommodations to account for disabilities and how students with similar disabilities make similar accommodations are threads that can weave a better understanding of how individuals learn.


There are three basic learning styles: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. Visual learners learn better by watching rather than listening and tend to remember details better that they can see. Auditory learners learn best by listening. They depend on hearing and speaking as their main way of learning. They may repeat back to themselves or others to sort through the information that is being conveyed. Kinesthetic learners learn best by using the hands-on approach, active movements, and through experience. They like to learn as they go and generally do not look at the instructions first. In addition, kinesthetic learners usually prefer group or team activities.

Like many people, individuals with developmental disabilities are visual learners and learn better with visual supports. When working with both adult and youth audiences, it is important to understand the visual learning style as well as how and why visual supports help individuals to be more successful in the learning environment. Visual supports can be helpful in managing behavior and reducing anxiety as individuals transition between activities, schedules, or settings.

Visual Learners

People with developmental disabilities are most often strong visual learners. They understand what they see better than what they hear. Visual supports, also called visual cues, are tools that assist learners in a variety of ways. They enhance learning by helping visual learners understand activities, tasks, directions, and discussions. Visual supports facilitate attention-getting; make ideas and concepts more concrete; aid in recall of verbal information; serve as effective prompts; cue appropriate behavior; and ultimately facilitate independence. The usage of visual supports or cues can enhance learning and engagement thus reducing the potential for problematic behavior.

What Are Visual Supports?

Visual support refers to using a picture or other visual item to communicate with an individual who has difficulty understanding or using language.

Research has shown that visual supports or cues work well as a way to communicate. Visual supports are things we SEE that enhance the communication process. Ranging from body movements to environmental cues, visual supports capitalize on a person's ability to gain information from the sense of sight. Visual supports include the following forms:

1.     Body language (facial expressions, movement of body)

2.     Natural environmental cues (printed material such as menus or directions on packages or machines)

3.     Traditional tools for organization and for giving information (schedules, maps, assembly instructions)

4.     Specially designed tools to meet specific needs (timers, task organizers)

Visual supports work for all ages and all skill levels and can be useful in the following ways: giving information; helping to remember and retain information; organize thinking; reduce anxiety; handle change; and teach routines. Some examples of visual supports are pictures, videos, photos or drawings, activity schedules, a timer, written instructions to accompany verbal directions, recipes, models, and worksheets. It is important to incorporate visual supports in the educational setting of the program to enhance learning and increase successful participation.

It is also helpful to visually display program expectations, ground rules, and objectives. The pictures or photos of people for your visual supports should reflect the characteristics of your audience.

Enhancing the Learning Environment Using Visual Supports

Visual supports allow individuals to do more on their own, thus providing opportunities for them to become more confident. Ensure that visual supports are clear, concise, and specific. Some ways to use visual prompts to enhance the learning environment include:

Using Visual Supports as Prompts

Prompts are instructions, gestures, demonstrations, touches, or other things that we arrange or do to increase the likelihood that individuals will make correct responses. Visual cues or supports can be used for prompting in addition to verbal prompts. Visual supports are very important in activities requiring sequencing.

A sequencing chart is one example of a visual support that prompts the learner to complete the steps in the correct order to complete the activity. There are two ways of displaying the sequence: numerically separated boxes or a more narrative style.

There are three learning styles: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Most individuals with developmental disabilities are visual learners and they understand what they can see better than what they hear. When working with individuals with developmental disabilities, it is recommended that you use visual supports or cues, such as a picture or model, and visual prompts to aid in communication and thus understanding.

The benefit of unlocking why specific learning style preferences exists is in the ability of educators to find a curriculum that works for students with disabilities using fewer trials and errors, and therefore minimizing the frustration of failure. “According to Dunn (1983) learning style assessment enables educators to avoid the ‘hit or miss’ approach in determining which instructional techniques are appropriate for each student” (Yong & McIntyre, p. 124, 1992).

The developmental nature of how and why specific learning styles develop in students with disabilities is significant for the future of education of students with disabilities. This knowledge can help researchers and educators to develop plans and curriculums that are designed to more effectively meet the needs of various learners. With this information it becomes possible to develop work programs that use learning modalities for job training programs for individuals with different ways of learning. This information can help students with disabilities become more integrated into their own communities and become a vital part of our society.