During the last 20 years, scientists and researchers have sought to understand how people absorb, organize, process and retain information.
As a result, several different types of learning styles have been introduced, most of which feature four basic categories: visual, auditory, verbal or reading/writing, and kinesthetic.
Jacqueline Landis Ferber, who works with a variety of athletes, including swimmers, gymnasts, track teams, professional triathletes, runners and tennis players and teaches at the Florida School of Massage, admits that massage school students have preferred ways of learning, but often their best way is not what they think it is.
For the most part, Ferber views the established theories on learning as a toolbox from which students can pull, depending on what they are trying to learn. It’s important not to get locked into one particular learning style since extenuating factors influence the way students learn, she noted.
“In the past three or four years a lot of those philosophies are going out the window. Neurological theory has been debunked,” she said.
Contributing Factors to Massage School Success
Individual characteristics as well as lifestyle, family/personal situation, age, educational background, organizational skills and experience have some bearing on how a student learns. For instance, Ferber presented a scenario in which a recent high school graduate and a 60-year-old starting a second career might be classmates at massage school.
“The way they learn is so different. The person just out of school is used to studying and might have an organized system,” she said. “On the other hand, the older person has to relearn how to study and might have challenges with organization.”
A massage school student’s personal life is another factor that contributes to the ability to learn. What is life outside massage school like? Do they have a family? When will they study? Will they go to a job after class?
“The learning style gets forced and accommodated according to lifestyle and age,” Ferber said.
Massage school students who have family commitments might find learning a challenge. Ferber suggested taking advantage of small windows of time. For instance, listening to a recording of anatomy words on the drive to and from school and/or watching relevant videos while preparing dinner can become brief study sessions.
Ferber pointed out that anatomy and physiology is basically a new language, as many words are derived from Latin and Greek. She explained that babies learn language from listening to their parents and other adults; this method can be effective when learning massage terminology.
Also, Ferber pointed out that factors such as the temperature in the room can have an effect on the ability to learn, so be cognizant of the classroom environment.
Ferber noted that the Florida School of Massage provides training that breaks the day into classroom sessions and hands-on work. This format utilizes linear learning, incorporating kinesthetic, auditory, communication skills and business courses.
“Our coursework is integrated, not just didactic,” she said. “Ours is evidence-based education. Students take quizzes and retrieve information. Teachers then know where the students stand. It’s part of the learning process.”
Ferber added, “I use a lot of activities and hit a lot of different learning styles in my classes. I lecture, use PowerPoint presentations and 3D models for anatomy.”
Daniel T. Willingham, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychology and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Virginia, acknowledges that people have “…different abilities, talents, goals, life experiences and motivations — including better working memory or persistence — and these play a key role in learning.”
Willingham has conducted research and finds that students identify what they believe is their best learning style and then try “…to act on it.” In the long run, their perception doesn’t make a difference. “I don’t think evidence of learning style impacts learning,” he said, asserting that scientists promote the idea of learning styles as a useful way to categorize people. “[Scientists] are trying to find a way to describe people to the instructors to make it easier to learn. No one has come up with a category scheme to bear up this theory.”
Students all learn at different paces and in different ways, according to Willingham. “Some students catch on to new ideas faster and some take longer. Some are better with words and some are better with numbers,” he said.
Willingham does admit there are some learning modalities that work best in certain situations. “In one way it’s obvious there has to be limits. If you are trying to learn a Spanish accent, you have to listen. The match between content and delivery matters,” Willingham said.
Willingham talks with teachers who believe that learning style is a “thing.” However, most teachers don’t worry about teaching to a learning style. “The truth is teachers say they don’t do much about it,” he said.
Instead of teaching each student individually in their perceived best style, Willingham encourages educators to employ different teaching methods “in their best modality.”
Bring it All Together
Cognitive psychologist Harold Pashler summed up the concept of learning styles when he noted that educators should apply teaching to the subject without inhibiting students’ ability to learn. He said, “…it makes disciplinary sense to include kinesthetic activities in sculpture and anatomy courses, reading/writing activities in literature and history courses, visual activities in geography and engineering courses, and auditory activities in music, foreign language and speech courses.
In his work, Willingham is trying to broadly help educators use basic science more effectively in practice. “I study the mind and bring more attention to how people think and learn,” he said.
Ferber firmly believes massage school educators should go beyond the basics and improve themselves by learning about evidence-based strategies. “We have a responsibility to massage students to continue to improve,” she said.
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage.