Book Review: Ways of Learning: Learning Theories and Learning Styles in the Classroom

Ways of Learning: Learning Theories and Learning Styles in the Classroom.

Alan Pritchard. Routledge, 2009.

ways of learning book cover image
Librarians are educators. Whether working in circulation, cataloging, or in a formal classroom setting, we all contribute in some way to the education of our patrons. Despite this, many librarians have little or no training in education. Many librarians have had training in the countless ways of delivering content to our patrons, but how many have studied how this content is consumed? Not just in terms of usage statistics, but how do our patrons learn and internalize the information that we deliver?

Ways of Learning: Learning Theories and Learning Styles in the Classroom is not a book about libraries. Yet, it is a book for librarians. This book explores the ways in which people learn, both in formal and informal settings. While the focus is on implications for a more formal classroom environment, the learning theories and styles presented here can have a great impact on reference services, web design, library programming, and other services.

In this second edition, author Alan Pritchard presents basic theories on learning, followed by the two major schools of psychology that have dealt with learning: behaviorism and constructivism. While many are familiar with the concepts of behaviorism, definitions and examples of constructivism have been more elusive for many reasons. Pritchard clearly outlines different schools of thought within the field of constructivism and gives concrete examples of how learners construct their own knowledge. This will be particularly helpful for instruction librarians who are looking for ways to help students build their own concepts and mental models of how research is conducted.

The author goes on to outline Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory. Many of us have been told that we are visual or logical learners without really understanding what this means. Multiple intelligences often focus on the preferred method(s) of learning and receiving information. This can be especially important when planning activities for the library, such as story hours or young adult events. By examining the various ways in which learners consume and process information, programs can be developed that will appeal to a wider audience. Chapter 5 deals with learning styles, which is a controversial subject with many schools of thought. But, just like the theory of multiple intelligences, it’s not necessary to fully accept the theories to benefit from them. Just reading the examples provided will help librarians to think of different ways in which content can be delivered to patrons who learn in different ways, ultimately resulting in a more engaging library experience.

Chapter 6 deals with learning difficulties and breaks them down into difficulties with input, integration, memory, and output. Each area presents a set of unique problems and librarians will be better prepared to help patrons in many situations by familiarizing themselves with the major types of difficulties presented here. Communication strategies are suggested that could prove very useful in reference or circulation transactions. For librarians with no formal training in special education and learning disorders, this chapter is a must-read.

The author goes on to discuss brain-based learning to better explain the cognitive processes that are involved during different activities. The mental processes discussed here are an integral part of human-computer interaction, so librarians involved in web design and electronic resources will want to take these processes into consideration while designing services and resources for patrons. The last chapter is devoted to relating theory to practice, which will help clarify some of the more abstract theories presented earlier in the book.

Essentially, Alan Pritchard has created a crash course in learning theories and learning styles. It’s not as thorough as a textbook or scholarly article, but it is also nowhere near as dry and meandering as many more scholarly publications on the subject. This book is enjoyable, concise, and, most importantly, very informative. Librarians with backgrounds in educational theory or cognitive science may be familiar with most information presented here, but for the rest of us, this is an excellent introduction to a field of study that has a great impact on all aspects of our profession.

Reviewed by: Bill McMillin. Bill is a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Milner Library, Illinois State University.