Poster Session
Issue Date: July 2015
Published Online: July 01, 2015
Updated: April 30, 2020
Learning Styles as Predictors of Fieldwork Performance and Adaptability of Graduate Occupational Therapy Students
Author Affiliations
  • Barry University
  • Barry University
Article Information
Education of OTs and OTAs / Health Services Research and Education
Poster Session   |   July 01, 2015
Learning Styles as Predictors of Fieldwork Performance and Adaptability of Graduate Occupational Therapy Students
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911510139.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911510139.

Date Presented 4/17/2015

This retrospective, mixed-methods study assessed the learning styles, relationship to fieldwork performance, and learning adaptability of graduate, nontraditional occupational therapy students. Implication of findings for teaching, self-regulated learning, and fieldwork are discussed.

SIGNIFICANCE: Educators continuously seek to advance students’ learning experience and educational outcomes. For occupational therapy programs, students’ performance in fieldwork Level II experiences is a key educational outcome. Learning to reflect on one’s learning style and to adjust behaviors according to the contexts is important for students to solve problems more effectively and to enhance academic and clinical performance. The literature suggests that awareness about learning styles is valuable to educators in reaching diverse students and in more effectively conveying their subject matter and promoting lifelong learning. For students, awareness of their preferences for processing information and for applying it to everyday situations may increase metacognition, including personal knowledge of strengths and weaknesses as learners. In doing so, they can assume increased control over their learning and implement strategies that may improve their confidence and success in fieldwork experiences and practice.
INNOVATION: This study presents a novel approach to learning styles and its implications for students’ fieldwork performance and learning through a mixed-methods approach. It not only examine the characteristics of nontraditional graduate students that had not been examined in previous research but consider self-regulation in learning and adjustment strategies used for various contexts by examining the concept of adaptability.
METHOD: This study, used a retrospective, mixed-methods correlational design. Volunteer student participants enrolled in a nontraditional master’s program completed the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) prior to their first fieldwork Level II placement. Scores attained on the subsections of the Fieldwork Performance Evaluation (FWPE) for the first and second Level II fieldwork experiences were used as outcome measures as well as demographic data and qualitative information extracted from fieldwork reflection reports and select interviews.
Participants included 84 volunteer, nontraditional students enrolled in a master’s-level program. The mean age was 31.5 yr, and the gender composition was 72 women (86%) and 12 men (14%). Ethnic composition of the sample was as follows: White (n = 37, 44%), Black (n = 18, 21%), Hispanic (n = 19, 23%), and Asian (n = 7, 8.3%).
Outcome measures included Kolb’s LSI (Version 3.1), the FWPE, qualitative information extracted from fieldwork performance reflections, and demographic information. Descriptive statistics and multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) tests were used to evaluate the relationships among the variables. Thematic analysis was used to analyze qualitative information.
RESULTS: The predominant learning style was Accommodating (n = 37, 44%), with a strong preference for the Active Experimentation (AE) phase of learning (n = 38, 45%). The overall MANOVA tests were significant for the AE–Reflective Observation (RO) learning style dimension and for fieldwork Level II performance, F(3) = 4.41, p = .007. Students with a preference for the RO phase of learning achieved the lowest scores overall on fieldwork (M = 137.1). There were significant negative correlations between a preference for the learning phase of RO and fieldwork subsections of communication (r = −.186, p = .045), professional behaviors (r = −.185, p = .046), and management (r = −.197, p = .036). Students with a preference for the AE phase showed a significant positive correlation with the evaluation and the intervention subsections of fieldwork Level II; scores of the sample were not changed from fieldwork Level I to fieldwork Level II experience (r = .093, p = .044; r = .283, p = .006). The later also showed the greatest gains in scores from the first fieldwork experience to the second fieldwork experience (Mdiff = 2.5). Factors of age and ethnicity did not have a significant contribution to the fieldwork performance, but gender was significantly correlated with communication, management, professional behaviors, evaluation, and intervention (F = 13.4, p = .000); women scored significantly higher than men. A majority of students who experienced difficulty in fieldwork had a strong preference for the RO phase of learning and expressed low insight and self-awareness about weaknesses. They identified fewer strategies in adapting to the fieldwork contexts and change. They also showed resistance to implementing these strategies when issues were encountered.
CONCLUSION: Results suggest that learning styles and learning phases, particularly those along the AE–RO dimension of Kolb’s model, significantly influence fieldwork performance scores. The higher intervention scores by students with a preference for the AE phase may be explained by their preference for a more hands-on, practical approach to learning, with more initiation and risk taking evidenced during fieldwork. RO learners tended to be more reflective and to delay making judgments, which could be perceived as hesitation and a weakness in a clinical setting. Results related to gender differences should be viewed with caution due to small number of men in the sample.
Qualitative findings support Kolb’s notion that self-awareness and shifts in the use of tactics along the learning cycle are important for effective self-regulation in learning. If students, faculty, and fieldwork educators are made aware of learning style preferences, enhanced preparation, communication, and performance in fieldwork may ensue.