Teaching tools to accommodate varied student learning styles

Amber Cann, PharmD

As pharmacy schools transition to a competency-based format, it becomes essential that teaching styles match the varied learning styles of students. Pharmacy education is no longer one-size-fits-all. Studies of pharmacy students’ learning styles have been published, but little has been written about application of corresponding teaching styles.

Teaching tools have been implemented successfully in other graduate-level programs at Sullivan University. A recording studio on the main campus is available for faculty to record lectures and supplemental tutorials.  These tools—such as screencasts and interactive topic discussions—are used both in our classrooms and in online courses. Surprisingly, similar approaches have not been reported in pharmacy education journals. This type of enhanced teaching has only recently been started at Sullivan’s College of Pharmacy.

Although different learning assessment tools have been developed in recent years, studies on the subject show that learning styles vary significantly among pharmacy students.  The current literature concludes that varied learning styles require varied and innovative teaching approaches to meet students’ needs.

To find the learning styles of our students, we administer the H-PILS (Health Professionals Inventory of Learning Styles) upon matriculation.  (This inventory places students in one of four categories—accommodator, assimilator, converger, or diverger based on 17 questions.) We now have 5 years of data to compare.  We discovered year over year, the majority of our students profess the “assimilator” style.  That is, they prefer to work alone, at their own pace, and tend to value organization and attention to detail.  This type of student tends to learn on his own, and not in the traditional lecture-style format.

To address the needs of these “assimilators,” we began creating short (3-5 minute) video tutorials to supplement lectures. In this way, students can study on their own, in short bursts, when they’re ready to learn.  Our investigation of assessment results show the topics we identified had significant improvement once tutorials were available for students.

We are now working with other schools to compare learning styles results in a different student population. We anticipate a similar pattern among pharmacy students at other schools as we see in our own at Sullivan University.  Our students have reported high satisfaction with the videos we’ve made to date. We continue to fine-tune and broaden the type and format of our tutorials.