By Margaret F. Williamson and Roberta L. Watson
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
In this article, Williamson and Watson consider the importance of learning styles and how each teacher can create learning environments that fit a classroom of children with a variety of personalities and learning styles.
This article examines the important connections between how well students learn new information in response to the classroom environment and social interaction among learners and teachers. Educational research in the field of learning style theory has demonstrated significant improvement in learning achievement when students are taught according to their learning style. Professors and Christian educators can respond to the needs of their students’ differing learning styles by incorporating various teaching methods in their classrooms. A biblical basis for incorporating learning style theory into the Christian education environment can be seen by briefly considering some ways in which Jesus demonstrated mastery of these instructional methods as He taught individuals, small groups, and large crowds.
Excerpts from the “Teaching of Jesus”
What significance does this information have for Christian educators? Should the teaching methodology of Christian educators reflect learning styles theory in their classroom setting? The answer to these questions can be found in considering the teaching example of Jesus.
Jesus demonstrated a variety of methods in His teaching. He used stories and illustrations, parables, questions, discussion, lecture, object lessons, and debates to communicate His message in a way that connected to His learners. “There is nothing stereotypical about the patterns of Christ’s teaching. It’s difficult to find Jesus ever doing the same thing in the same way” (Gangel & Hendricks, 1988, p. 25). Why was He willing to use a variety of methods in order to communicate His message? When Jesus’ teaching is considered, four characteristics can be identified.
- First, Jesus adapted His teaching style to fit the specific situation. For example, when teaching the multitude on a mountainside, He addressed His learners using lecture (Matt 5–7). However, when He was alone with the disciples, He used object lessons, such as the washing of their feet to demonstrate servant leadership (John 13:5–20). He demonstrated that the number of learners in a teaching situation should determine the choice of teaching methodology.
- Second, Jesus matched His teaching method with the message He needed to communicate. For example, in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, He used questions to lead her to explore the truth of His message (John 4:7–30). When He wanted to help the disciples visualize His teaching, He led them to experience the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:17–20).
- Third, Jesus led His learners in moving from concrete experiences to abstract principles. For example, He used stories to connect common life events to spiritual truths. In the story of the Good Samaritan, He taught His learners what it meant to be a good neighbor (Luke 10:30–37). In the Parable of the Sower, He demonstrated how the kingdom of God would develop (Matthew 13:3–23).
- Fourth, Jesus taught to transform lives rather than to impart information. For example, He used mentoring assignments to teach His disciples how to share their faith (Luke 10:1–20). Furthermore, He never became anxious about trying to cover too much information in His short 3-year ministry. Often, “teachers are interested in how much a student can cram into his head and then regurgitate onto a piece of paper. . . . That’s not education” (Hendricks, 1987, p. 38). Instead, Jesus understood that receiving information was not as important as seeing lives changed (see John 16:12–13).
Ultimately, Jesus was concerned with the needs of His learners. He understood their culture, their traditions, and their life needs. All of these elements were taken into consideration in His teaching process. Christian educators should be no less concerned with teaching the total person the truths of God’s Word.
Suggestions for Teaching
- First, educators can recognize the influence of the learning environment on the students. Professors can evaluate their classrooms for effective lighting, sound, and room arrangement to determine if the environment supports the learning process. In addition, the environment can be modified periodically to support a variety of teaching activities.
- Second, educators can evaluate their own teaching methodology to determine how effectively students become participants in the learning process. Educators who create learning activities that involve students can strengthen even a lecture-based session.
- Third, during the length of a course, an educator can use different types of learning groups in order to build on the sociological needs of the learners. Since learners respond differently to the size of learning groups (small, medium, or large), offering a variety of learning group activities will involve the largest number of learners over the duration of the course.
- Fourth, the educator needs to recognize his own learning style since this style will impact his preferred teaching methods. Additionally, an educator needs to identify the learning preferences of his students. The bringing together of these two styles can help create an effective atmosphere for transformation learning.
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About The Authors:
Margaret F. Williamson (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Education and Director of Training and Communication of the Extension Center System for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Roberta L. Watson (M.A.C.E., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Research Assistant at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Funding for the research project this article was developed from came from the Lilly Endowment, Religious Division.
Learning Styles Research: Understanding How Teaching Should Be Impacted by the Way Learners Learn is taken from the Christian Education Journal, CEJ: Series 3, Vol. 3, No. 1. Copyright 2006; p 27-42. All rights reserved. Permission granted by Christian Education Journal.
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