Journal of Nursing Education

Preferred Learning Styles and Study Strategies in a Linguistically Diverse Baccalaureate Nursing Student Population

Mary Keane, DrPH, RN

Abstract

ABSTRACT

This study examined learning styles, learning and study strategies, and specific background variables (primary language, ethnic background, and length of time in the United States) in a multicultural and linguistically diverse baccalaureate nursing student population. Results revealed positive associations between English as a primary language and the learning strategy of self-study and negative associations with high anxiety levels. Length of time in the United States was positively correlated with the learning strategy of information-processing. Lower GPA scores reflected lower mean ratings on the composite scales of the Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) and Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI). The main predictor variables for GPA were English as a primary language, the learning strategies of information-processing and selecting main ideas, and the learning style of group study.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

This study examined learning styles, learning and study strategies, and specific background variables (primary language, ethnic background, and length of time in the United States) in a multicultural and linguistically diverse baccalaureate nursing student population. Results revealed positive associations between English as a primary language and the learning strategy of self-study and negative associations with high anxiety levels. Length of time in the United States was positively correlated with the learning strategy of information-processing. Lower GPA scores reflected lower mean ratings on the composite scales of the Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) and Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI). The main predictor variables for GPA were English as a primary language, the learning strategies of information-processing and selecting main ideas, and the learning style of group study.

Introduction

In response to the knowledge explosion in health care delivery and to the recent increasing demand for nursing services in hospitals and long-term care facilities, faculty need to develop more creative educational strategies to enhance students' ability to learn complex information more efficiently and effectively. Large numbers of nontraditional students are now entering schools of nursing with varying percentages of these students using English as a second language (ESL). Consequently, different linguistic and cultural modes of thinking that accommodate less traditional patterns of learning and of processing information have been recognized.

In a recent study conducted by Johnston ( 1989), findings revealed that in one baccalaureate school of nursing with an extremely ethnically and linguistically diverse student population, language was the major variable predictive of success on the NCLEX-RN. Furthermore, Johnston reports that states with higher percentages of ethnic and linguistic minority students tended to have composite lower mean scores on the licensing exam than composite scores from states in which students are primarily speakers of standard English. In addition, longitudinal data on students who were not educated in member board jurisdictions showed that they scored lower on the NCLEX-RN than the mean, even when the primary language was English. It appears, then, that cultural differences, especially language, may influence success or failure on the NCLEX-RN for individual students. In view of this trend, Johnston states that nursing faculty must develop and implement educational strategies to increase retention of culturally and linguistically diverse students to improve academic achievement and to enhance success rates on the licensing exam.

Within the past decade research has shown that correct identification of students' learning preferences and appropriate instructional methods matched to their styles, combined with increasing the students' knowledge of their own learning and study strategies, can positively affect students' ability to process information and enhance academic achievement. Assessment of cognitive style preferences and the use of learning and study strategies are approaches that can be measured. Outcomes can then be incorporated into curriculum planning for promoting student retention and for increasing the numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse nursing students graduating from schools of nursing.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between preferred learning styles and selection of learning and study strategies that influence successful learning in culturally and linguistically diverse nursing students. A second purpose of the study was to explore the relationships of specific background factors (language, length of time in the United States, and GPA) and preferred learning styles and selection of learning and study strategies.

Learning Styles

Learning style has been defined as characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment. Keefe, 1979; Hyman & Rosofi; 1984). Although research in learning is in its embryonic stage, a number of theorists have cited the importance of assessing learning styles in students as well as measuring thought processes and behaviors associated with successful learning in improving academic performances (Garger & Guild, 1984; Ostmoe, Van Hoozer, Scheffel, & Cromwell, 1984; Weinstein, Palmer, & Schulte, 1987.) These theorists have also reported that only recently have learning strategies and other attributes of the learner received the attention they deserve.

Assessment

Assessing learning styles and selection of learning and study strategies provides a method for examining differences as to how learners undertake learning activities rather than focusing on their abilities and instructional content. Davis (1988) reports that students who are encouraged to use their imagination as well as reasoning and mathematics abilities tend to process information more efficiently and effectively. According to Cronbach and Snow (1977), Dunn, DeBellow, Brennan, Kromsky, and Murrain (1981), and Decker (1983), students who were taught according to their learning style preferences had more favorable attitudes toward subject matter, toward learning, and toward school. Armstrong (1987), Dunn (1988), and de Tornyay and Russell (1978) focused on methods for accommodating all learning styles and suggested exposing the student to a variety of learning styles to promote the development of greater flexibility in learning and problem-solving.

This instruction might employ a mixture of sensory learning modalities, such as integration of psychomotor, visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli (Gilhooley, 1990; Reid, 1987), as well as opportunities for creativity and logical thought (Davis, 1988). However, Smith (1963) reported that the determining factor in the teacher's behavior is not the understanding of the students' cognitive style but in the comprehension of the subject matter.

Language and Ethnicity

Research by Witkin (1976) and Lesser (1976) have reported different modes of processing information as characteristic of different cultures. Decker (1983) states that certain cultural groups may not learn efficiently with cognitive style learning because of their field-sensitive nature. These learners may require frequent teacherstudent interaction, emotional support, and experiences in group situations that are collaborative. Reid (1987) reported that ESL students strongly preferred kinesthetic and tactile learning styles and showed a negative response to group learning, while Gilhooley (1990) reports that language learners and native speakers should be involved together in learning activities that provide more opportunity for problem-solving and decision-making along with oral and written projects. ESL (English as a second language) is the teaching of standard English to speakers of nonstandard forms of English usually for academic purposes.

Teaching and Instructional Methods

It is believed that certain teaching and instructional methods can be improved by understanding the cognitive and study processes of learners in educational settings (Wittrock, 1985). Several authors have indicated that people can learn more, and at a faster rate, than was previously thought when specific learning strategies are aimed at enhancing memory storage, recall, and cognition (Estes, 1983; Murphy & Smith, 1982). Other theorists have reported that it is important to determine the variation of how information is processed in students in order to enhance educational effectiveness (Armstrong, 1987; Dunn et al., 1981; Weinstein, Zimmerman, & Palmer, 1988). Consistent with this theme are the reports of Davis (1988), who states that the motivational dimensions that play a part in the learning process should include understanding of cultural differences and emotional attributes.

Anxiety and Cognition

One of the most predominant factors that interferes with the educational process is anxiety. According to Beck (1976), perceptions related to external stimuli produce consequent thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In other words, students who predict failure on a test and who view their academic performance negatively may experience increased anxiety leading to decreased test performance. According to Keane and Morgan (1991), "the college experience can create varying levels of anxiety, particularly for those linguistically diverse students who must not only adjust to the pressures of a new environment, but who may have to process information in another language while learning to speak more fluently the language of the dominant culture" (p. 291). The ability to persist despite adversity is necessary for the survival and ultimate achievement of these culturally and linguistically diverse students; that ability should be encouraged and supported.

Table

TABLE 1Characteristics of the Sample

TABLE 1

Characteristics of the Sample

Methodology

Data were collected from four classes of a convenience sample of upper sophomore baccalaureate nursing students from September 1988 through September 1991 while taking a Professional Communications course. Upon completion of data collection, 112 of 120 sets of questionnaires were usable. Students were given the opportunity to refuse participation in the study. Students were informed that an evaluation of their learning styles and use of study strategies would not only contribute to the development of alternative teaching methods for an innovative curriculum plan, but assist them in monitoring their own learning in a variety of contexts.

Sample

Table 1 reveals that approximately 64% (N =69) of the nursing student respondents identified with African roots. Included were students from Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia), the Caribbean (Jamaica, Haiti, and Barbados), and students born in the United States. Those identifying with the Hispanic/Latino community comprised 22% (N= 24) of the population from such diverse areas as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Columbia, Peru, and Nicaragua. Students from Asian communities (10%, N= 11) identified such countries as Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China as their country of origin.

Relative to language, 55% (JV= 61) reported English as their primary language; 45% (JV=Sl) were ESL students. Linguistic groups that included less than 12 students were combined into the other category because of the difficulty in studying small sample sizes. However, most of these students spoke a language that was representative of an Asian country. Of the total number of respondents (N= 112) only 29% (JV= 33) were born in the United States.

Instruments

Three questionnaires, the Learning Styles Inventory (LSI), the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI), and a demographic data form were distributed to the nursing students.

The LSI, developed by Brown and Cooper (1983) has been used in many different settings, such as secondary schools and college classrooms. It is designed to assess a student's preferred method or style of receiving and expressing information. This self-reported inventory is composed of 45 items in statement form related to nine learning style sub-areas under the broad categories of cognitive, social, and expressive style. The student responds to a four-point Likert-type scale ranging from (1) least like me to (4) most like me. The computerized version provides a learning styles graph that shows students' preferences on each of the subscales as well as prescriptive information that gives suggested teaching techniques and activities relating to the students' learning styles. In a study of high school students (JV- 166), Babich and Randol (1977) provided data for establishing reliability of items for the LSI. The bi-serial correlation coefficient was reported for each item and the corrected odd-even correlation coefficient was reported for each construct. Reliabilities for six out of nine subscales ranged from .71 to. 95. Six of nine subscales were selected for the present study. The reliabilities for the current sample ranged from .50 to .80. Three subscales were omitted due to low reliabilities. Relative to validity, Johnston (1989) has reported that the LSI is an effective adjunct in counseling high-risk nursing students.

Table

TABLE 2Learning Styles Inventory

TABLE 2

Learning Styles Inventory

The LASSI is a 100-item self-reported assessment tool developed by Weinstein, Palmer, and Schulte (1987). It is composed of 10 scales designed to measure students' use of learning and study strategies, the methods related to successful learning, and those that can be altered through educational interventions. In previous studies, coefficient alphas for the scales ranged from a low of .68 to a high of .86, and test-retest correlation coefficients ranged from a low of .72 to a high of .85, demonstrating a high degree of stability for the scale scores (Weinstein et al., 1987). Relative to validity, the scale scores have been compared, where possible, to other tests or subscales measuring similar factors. For example, scores on the informationprocessing scale of the LASSI have been correlated with scores on the elaborative processing scale of Schmeck's Inventory of Learning Processes (R = .60) (Weinstein et al., 1988). Several of the scales have been validated against performance measures. For example, scores on the selecting main ideas scale have been compared to students' scores on selecting main ideas from texts and other readings (ß = .40) (Weinstein et al., 1988). The LASSI has also been subjected to repeated tests of user validity by professors, advisers, developmental educators, counselors, and learning center specialists at more than 30 colleges and universities with success (Weinstein et al., 1987, 1988). The reliabilities for six of the 10 scales selected for this study ranged from .68 to .81. Four subscales were omitted because of low reliabilities.

Results

Relationships between learning styles and learning and study strategies

Pearson's r revealed significant positive associations (p^.05) between the learning strategies of informationprocessing (INP) and the learning styles of written expressiveness (WE) (r- .19), oral expressiveness (OE) (.21), visual language (VL) (.21), and visual numeric (VN) (.16). This suggests that expressing oneself effectively, both verbally and in written form via presentations, essay reports, and examinations, as well as reading with understanding and using workbooks as adjuncts to learning, helps students to master concepts and to apply conceptual thinking to problem-solving. There were positive correlations between the learning style of social group (SG) and the learning strategy of study aids (STA) (.20), selecting main ideas (SMI) (.22), test-taking strategies (TST) (.24), and anxiety (ANX) (.20). This suggests that belonging to a study group helps students focus attention on academic tasks, identify major points in difficult content, understand the meaning of test questions, and control anxiety about academic performance and examinations.

Table

TABLE 3FD Learning and Study Strategies Inventory

TABLE 3

FD Learning and Study Strategies Inventory

Relationships between selected variables and learning styles and learning and study strategies

The learning strategy of self-study (SFT) correlated with having English as a primary language (.19), and years in United States (.18). On the other hand, SFT was negatively correlated with Spanish ( - .19) and French/ Creole ( - .03) as a primary language. This suggests that nursing students whose primary language is English understand difficult content more easily and take better lecture notes than the ESL students who speak their primary language at home.

It appears that students who were born in United States, or who have lived in the United States for at least 10 years, tend to master concepts and study relationships among ideas better than those who have been in this country less than five years. The latter group appears to spend more hours preparing for exams, i.e, years in United States was positively correlated with INP (.20) and TST (.22). High levels of anxiety was negatively correlated with primary speakers of English ( - .28) and positively correlated with French/Creole speakers (.25). Students whose primary language is English appeared to have lower levels of anxiety relative to their academic performance and taking tests.

Mean ratings of learning and study strategies and learning styles by GPA scores

Tables 4 and 5 reveal that 30% of 112 students earned a GPA below 2.5. They also had lower mean ratings on five of six subscales of the LSI and on five of seven factors of the LASSI. This is in comparison to the two other groups of students who scored above 2.5 (N= 47) and above 3.0 (N=Sl), respectively, and who had higher mean ratings on these same subscales. These self-reported data are consistent with actual academic performance. Students with lower GPAs perceive themselves as lacking in critical-thinking skills and have more difficulty concentrating on school work.

GPA explained by three variables

Examination of the intercorrelations among the learning strategy composite scales showed that composite scales of IP and SMI were positively correlated with TST, raising the possibility that the latter could replace the former two in a regression model. Hierarchical regression analysis was then applied with respect to: (1) whether English was the primary language spoken at home; (2) the respondent's composite scores in relation to a single learning strategy (TST); and (3) the respondent's composite scores with respect to a preferred learning style of studying in groups. All three variables emerged as statistically significant and independent predictors of GPA.

These outcomes suggest that students whose primary language is English process information effectively and can select main ideas from extensive, difficult content, do better at test-taking, and have higher GPAs. Although there are many benefits to group learning, in this study social group was negatively correlated with GPA scores. It appears that the ESL students who study together may become confused as to the language of the nursing content, do not obtain the individual feedback that is necessary, and therefore, use group process as a study skill less productively.

Results further suggest that ESL students may need more experience in summarizing difficult content, both orally and in written form in their own words, in creating study questions relative to information learned, and in reviewing notes before class. Attending group review sessions conducted by faculty and/or qualified Englishspeaking peers are still other strategies that can be incorporated for successful learning.

Table

TABLE 4Average Rating of Learning Styles Composite Scales by GPA

TABLE 4

Average Rating of Learning Styles Composite Scales by GPA

Table

TABLE 5Average Rating of Learning Strategies Composite Scales by GPA

TABLE 5

Average Rating of Learning Strategies Composite Scales by GPA

Table

TABLE 6Multiple Regression: GPA Explained by Three Variables

TABLE 6

Multiple Regression: GPA Explained by Three Variables

Implications for Nursing Education

There are a number of nurse educators who have realized that traditional methods of teaching and learning may no longer be applicable for today's students. Watson (1988) has asserted that nurse educators have often functioned in the primary role of "information giver," and have failed to distinguish the types of learning that must take place in the educational curriculum of professional nurses.

ESL nursing students are not necessarily "remedial* students but need to be perceived and taught as foreignborn language students who have not quite mastered English. Nursing faculty need to become more sensitive to the educational needs of these students and incorporate creative teaching strategies into all levels of the nursing curriculum. As nursing programs become more sophisticated in the process of educating diverse nursing students, collaborative projects and small-group workshops may well serve to promote development of critical-thinking skills and interaction between linguistically diverse students and native speakers. This process should enable ESL students to become less fearful about making mistakes in groups, to retain meaningful information, and to communicate more effectively with others. Having students summarize main points from lectures and read assignments and/or vignettes, while ensuring that they understand the meaning of test questions, are additional classroom methods that may help them to manage the extensive and difficult nursing content.

High levels of anxiety seem to interfere with the learning process. Teaching anxiety-reduction techniques and the potential benefits of group process as a study skill should go a long way toward enhancing problem-solving skills and information-processing in ESL students. A continuing assessment of learning styles and learning and study strategies in educationally diverse settings can have far-reaching implications for both faculty and students in terms of establishing a positive, effective learning environment.

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TABLE 1

Characteristics of the Sample

TABLE 2

Learning Styles Inventory

TABLE 3

FD Learning and Study Strategies Inventory

TABLE 4

Average Rating of Learning Styles Composite Scales by GPA

TABLE 5

Average Rating of Learning Strategies Composite Scales by GPA

TABLE 6

Multiple Regression: GPA Explained by Three Variables

10.3928/0148-4834-19930501-07

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