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Adapting Your Virtual Exchange to Specific and Holistic Learners

Have you ever read, read about, or even heard mention of The Culture Map by Erin Meyer? It’s a fantastic guide to where different cultures fall on spectrums of styles of communication, feedback, leadership, time management, and all kinds of other interesting functions that would interest managers working across cultures. If you’re running, or interested in running, virtual exchanges in your classroom, you can see where I’m headed with this, and why familiarizing yourself with some of the ideas in this book might be a good point of professional growth for you.

In the chapter “Why Versus How,” Meyer looks at how leaders persuade (her words….I read motivate for leaders, but with our students sometimes it can feel like we must persuade) colleagues and team members to perform tasks for the good of a project; of greatest interest, though, proved her differentiation between specific thinking and holistic thinking. While most Western cultures fall somewhere on a spectrum of specific thinking, Asian cultures practice more of the latter. I couldn’t help but wonder if this also impacts learning styles. Here is how I would differentiate them to someone who hasn’t read the book:

Holistic Learners

  • Holistic learners tend to perceive and understand information as a whole, focusing on the overall picture or concept rather than individual details.
    • They often grasp the overall meaning before delving into specific details.
    • They may prefer to understand the context or big picture first before getting into the specifics.
    • Holistic learners may excel in tasks that require seeing patterns, relationships, or connections between different pieces of information.

Specific Learners

  • Specific learners, on the other hand, thrive on detailed information. They prefer to understand facts, details, and specifics before seeing the larger context or the big picture.
  • Characteristics:
    • They may find it easier to learn step-by-step, starting with specific details and gradually building up to a broader understanding.
    • Specific learners often pay attention to finer points and may have a keen eye for details that others might overlook.
    • They may prefer concrete examples and practical applications to grasp concepts.

I think it should go without saying that these distinctions, like all characteristics, reside on more of a spectrum, and your students may exhibit characteristics of both holistic and specific learning styles. They might have a dominant preference, but effective learning can also involve a combination of both approaches depending on the task or subject matter. And understanding your students’ learning styles can be beneficial in optimizing study strategies and improving comprehension. So, let’s apply their potential learning styles to enhance your virtual exchange management strategies.

Diversify Content

With Level Up Village’s virtual exchanges, so much can be customized; take advantage of the options when approaching your next exchange. I like to have one video assignment visible per week so students don’t end up submitting the wrong video to the wrong prompt, but if you can collect all the prompts and create a chart, a calendar, or some other organizational tool that presents the broader picture, your holistically minded students will thank you! Especially for kids that like to plan, offering a roadmap of the course, replete with a timeline and weekly to-do lists will help!

  • Holistic Approach: Provide overview materials that present the broader context of the topics covered in the exchange.
  • Specific Approach: Include detailed resources, such as articles or case studies, for students who prefer a more in-depth understanding.

Structured Discussions

Since you’re in control regarding how your students complete tasks in any Level Up Village Exchange, you can treat the material, and the discussions that arise because of the exchange, in several ways. If students seem to be focusing on minute details like grammar, editing choices, or answering a specific question, certainly help them with their queries. But don’t forget to zoom out and negotiate the big ideas presented in the exchange as well, identifying common themes and recurring motifs as they present themselves.

  • Holistic Approach: Initiate group discussions or collaborative projects that encourage students to explore the overarching themes of the exchange. Encourage reflective activities that ask students to consider the overall impact of the exchange on their understanding of global issues.
  • Specific Approach: Incorporate focused tasks or questions within discussions to cater to specific learners who thrive on detailed analysis. Include prompts that focus on specific elements or details, prompting students to analyze aspects of the exchange experience.

Adaptable Learning Paths

While the backbone of Level Up Village’s virtual program is the asynchronous video exchange, there are a lot of other areas to customize. For example, are your students starring in their videos, or are they behind the camera and narrating in a documentary-style reporting format? Are the students sharing personal stories, experiences, and opinions, or are they summarizing information they’ve researched and aggregated? For as many experiences I’ve had where kids are happy to share their world with their partners, I’ve also found some students who preferred to stick to neutral or abstract subjects that perhaps piqued their interest more.

  • Holistic Approach: Allow students to submit projects or presentations that showcase a holistic understanding of the exchange themes. Offer optional supplementary materials or suggested readings for students interested in exploring broader perspectives.
  • Specific Approach: Provide alternatives like reading written reports or data analyses for students who prefer a more specific and detailed approach. Provide optional deep dives or additional resources for those who want to delve into specific aspects in more detail.

Personalized Feedback

As the instructor, feedback is where you truly have the lion’s share of choice. If you can deduce your students’ style of learning, you can aid them best in the way you grade and assess them. Perhaps their attention to detail really helps their participation stand out; or, on the other hand, their broad thoughts on the subject matter have led them to have a great breadth of knowledge!

  • Holistic Approach: Provide feedback that highlights overarching strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Specific Approach: Offer detailed feedback on specific points or components of students’ contributions.

By incorporating these strategies, you can create a more inclusive and effective asynchronous video exchange that caters to the diverse learning styles of your students. That’s the beauty of a customizable platform like Level Up Village, so don’t be discouraged by the number of aspects you can change. Think instead about reaching more students and facilitating the experience for each of their individual learning styles!