I have always been convinced that there is a learning style for each of the senses. One can learn by touch, smell, taste, sound, and vision. If we want to take the 5 basic senses and expand them to include the additional senses that have been added by research over the years, this statement still holds.
Academically, people learn primarily by sound and vision. The typical elementary school system is set up so that the bulk of learning is done by seeing, hearing, and doing. In high school, we lose a lot of the doing, and teaching leans more heavily on seeing and hearing. In trade schools, the emphasis is on doing. In culinary schools I think all five senses are used.
Some people learn better using a particular sense than others. Some people learn better from auditory lessons, some learn better by visual demonstration, and some learn better by other senses.
I think this way because in helping others to learn and in my own learning, I've had to apply the use of the senses, and find that certain senses help to learn certain things more quickly. Do you learn that something is hot by looking at it? While there is often a visual indicator, the very first time you picked up something hot, you learned that it was hot by the sense of touch. (I'm including hot/cold, pain, and pressure in my definition of touch.)
I think that what Willingham is discussing in the first chapter is the relevance of a problem to a student. If conditions are right, the subject is relevant and the student can learn. If conditions are wrong, the subject becomes irrelevant to the student. A student might like candy bars, but if given a problem about candy that the student can't solve, the fact that they are working with candy becomes irrelevant.
Conversely, if a subject is made relevant by being appropriate to the student's level of development with regard to the course, the student can excel and is interested in doing so.
So, it seems that what Willingham is really saying is that any student can learn under the right conditions. This means that no teacher should give up on their students. At the same time, it makes things a lot more complicated for teachers.
It isn't practicable to teach every student at their level. Ironically, while it seems that to do so would be easier at smaller schools where individual students have more attention, it may actually be easier to do at bigger schools. Bigger schools have more individuals at the same level, making it easier to teach large classes at a level appropriate to them.
I found it very interesting that people who already know the facts and have the procedures for learning start out ahead on everything. What this implies is that by giving open-book tests and not requiring students to learn the material, teachers are doing a disservice to their students.
Considering that recent research has indicated that long term memory is suffering in modern times due to devices that remember everything for us, we need to make sure that long term memory doesn't become a thing of the past. Thus, we have to force students to learn and remember things rather than giving them an easy way out.
When the thinking process does not provide an easy solution, there is no satisfaction for having spent so much time thinking. It should come as no surprise, then, that people really don't want to think about problems that they have no knowledge about. They prefer to stick their heads in the sand and hope that someone who understands the problem better will solve it. And, if we consider what Willingham says about how "factual knowledge must precede skill," we can see how a lack of knowledge in the subject matter of the problem can cause the 'head in the sand' phenomenom.
However, people also like to have solutions. When you give people a problem to take home and consider, they will often return the next day with interesting solutions. Many of the solutions might not work, but I think that what is important is that they tried to get to an answer. A class that has no facts to base their solutions on is probably less likely to come up with even possible answers.
The text and the movies we watched have added a new level of understanding about this subject for me. It will take some time for me to assimilate this information and put it to use, but I am now aware of a whole new aspect of learning.
Willingham, Daniel T. Why Don't Students Like School? 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.