Learn More About Your Own Theory of Learning

Comprehending Various Learning Styles Using a Framework


I immersed myself in the education field, delving into individual learning and cognitive neuroscience, which led me to discover the “Leaders of Learning” edX course by Professor Richard Elmore of Harvard Graduate School of Education. This online course enabled me to enhance my comprehension of the learning process and uncover creative teaching strategies that I could implement in my classroom. The following article illuminates my acquired knowledge and my current outlook on the topic of education.

What is the aim of Education?

To survive and flourish in this ever-changing world, constant evolution is indispensable. Maintaining the status quo or achieving equilibrium results in a stalemate that ultimately leads to decline. Learning is the only means of remaining dynamic over time, as change is the sole constant in living beings. Our brains are inherently designed for learning, and the process persists throughout our lifetime. Studies have shown that tailoring education to one’s interests and goals can enhance memory and retention.

In The Book of Learning and Forgetting (1998), Professor of Education Frank Smith expounds on his theory of learning as a continuous, effortless, and imperceptible process that is unaffected by rewards and punishments. Smith asserts that learning is limitless, spontaneous, and reliant on one’s self-perception. He also states that learning is transferable, indelible, impeded by testing, and a communal effort that fosters development (Smith, 1998, pp. 1–2).

Diverse Approaches to Teaching

Professor Elmore’s Modes of Learning framework provides a valuable means for individuals to identify their personal learning theory. This enables us to challenge established views of education and motivates students to play an active role in determining their learning approach. The framework categorises educational methods based on hierarchy (horizontal axis) and the relationship between individuals and the group (vertical axis), resulting in four learning quadrants. Recognising and comprehending our personal beliefs about education enables us to make informed decisions regarding our approach to learning, which is a vital step in shaping the future of education.

The learning styles inventory is useful for ascertaining the current and desired locations on the four-point learning continuum.

Paving the Way for the Future of Education

Wil Richardson identifies five transformative ways in which education is evolving. These include:

  • Information is ubiquitous: The advent of digital media has made numerous information sources readily available.
  • Teachers are all around us; the critical aspect is identifying who possesses the expertise to support our education.
  • Personalised education empowers students to concentrate on their preferred subjects and adjust to their individual requirements.
  • Education’s future is in networks, where teachers and students can connect based on shared interests and complementary proficiencies.
  • In the future, educational opportunities will be omnipresent, rendering learning management unnecessary. To realise this, teaching will occur increasingly in smaller groups, such as coffee shops, book clubs, and other similar settings.

This transformation is exemplified by the transition from centralised to decentralised, and from solitary to group learning.

  1. Individual Hierarchy (Q1)

    The Hierarchical Learning Environment prioritises individual achievement, as measured by specific objectives, within educational institutions that foster this type of learning. This concept assumes that information can be structured and delivered in a organised manner, and that each learner is evaluated and monitored as they progress through a designated and measured syllabus. Students must take accountability and ownership of their academic advancement, while teachers must ensure instructional efficacy to guarantee their students achieve their full potential.

    Teachers bear the responsibility of imparting knowledge and skills necessary for their students’ success, and learners must own their education. Hence, it is critical for teachers to provide effective coaching that equips students with necessary skills. Moreover, it is vital to consider how we evaluate student growth since it offers an insight into what society believes students should learn. If you are interested in this subject, Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychology professor, explains her idea of “Grit” in her six-minute TED Talk.
  2. Collaborative Hierarchy (Q2)

    The Hierarchical Collective approach to learning operates on the premise that knowledge follows a sequential path, but now it’s perceived as a collaborative endeavour rather than an individual pursuit. The primary objective of education is to foster both cognitive and social development. Those who prefer a hierarchical learning approach excel in activities such as public speaking and engaging in meaningful dialogue. Moreover, success criteria are clearly defined in this mode of learning, grounded in the collective’s key principles and objectives.

    If you’re interested in this learning style, watch Professor Rob Reich of the Stanford Graduate School of Education discuss the Socratic Method.
  3. Distributed Individuals (Q3)

    Individuals in the Distributed Individual Learning category aim to explore their personal interests in their preferred way. Those familiar with online education will find this approach comfortable. This theory is based on the belief that people have an innate desire to learn and are capable of determining which information is most valuable and engaging to them. However, to evaluate if they have accomplished their self-set objectives, learners must analyse and assess various and sometimes contradictory sources of information, skill, and experience.

    If you find this type of learning compelling, I highly recommend watching the TED Talk by 13-year-old Logan LaPlante.
  4. Distributed Collective (Q4)

    In the Distributed Collective domain, students collaborate and explore shared interests. This environment has supplanted the conventional lecture hall, enabling learners to have diverse experiences to share. Each participant brings distinct capabilities and knowledge to the table, contributing to the collective learning environment. The success of the group is hinged on the interests and priorities of its members.

My View of Learning at Present

Enrolling in the Leaders of Learning course presents a “Modes of Learning Assessment” that can be advantageous in evaluating one’s present learning approach. By finishing the assessment, learners can gain insights into their educational methods, and the final score can provide a useful indication of their effectiveness.

I was not taken aback to learn that I am a distributed individual learner. For instance, I’ve always found attending lectures and traditional classroom training uninviting. During my college years, I frequently skipped classes and had no inclination to learn about topics that did not attract my attention, even if it could aid me in my assessments. However, once I set my mind on learning something, I take a persistent approach and don’t quit until I’ve achieved mastery.

To my surprise, the conclusions on the “Collective” axis differed from my assumptions. I had assumed I would excel in questions where I could learn alongside people who share my interests. As I’m convinced that “distributed collective” learning is education’s future, I’m now making a deliberate attempt to engage in learning communities and networks and comparing them to my usual solitary learning style.


Professor Elmore has argued that the “Modes of Learning” exam can reveal an individual’s learning inclination. He also suggests that by taking the time to comprehend the distinct modes, one may realise that some of their initial suppositions are no longer relevant and they are more inclined towards one of the four quadrants. To learn more about different teaching strategies, I’d suggest enrolling in the “Leaders of Learning” course on edX.

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