By Vicky Lara, El Paso Community College
This self-paced module consists of a series of annotated websites that
provide an overview of the key concepts underlying our understanding of
learning styles. Web sites offering more practical than theoretical information
were selected to aid the instructor in recognizing and handling the instructional
challenges and opportunities presented by the variety of student learning
styles in the classroom.
- Learning Styles
- Models Used to Describe Learning Styles
- Strategies for Addressing Multiple Learning Styles
Section 1: Learning Styles
analyze, reflect upon, visualize, internalize, and transform information
in various ways. The individual cognitive approach most effective and
comfortable for a given student is called his learning style. Although
most styles are based on seeming dichotomies (left brain/right brain),
the reality is that the terminology utilized by any dichotomy should be
seen as the extreme on a continuum with students fitting at different
points along the line. For example, seldom are students so left-brained
that they cannot appreciate or function in some right-brained manner.
In fact, a poignant classroom challenge is the instructor’s need
to foster and encourage a variety of learning style capabilities in students
in order to promote versatility and adaptability in their real-world,
psychologists credit C. G. Jung with the seminal classifications (sensation
and intuition) from which the variety of learning style models evolved.
Other early theoretical contributors were John Dewey and Jean Piaget.
Based on the theories of all three, a wide variety of systems were developed.
All attempted to classify learning methods in well-organized systems with
ample explanations and examples of each “type” of learner.
These various theoretical constructs are called models or methods. The
reader in the field will soon notice the similarities in many of the key
classifications. In fact, in many cases, one system evolved from a previous
one, with the new system attempting to expand or clarify a previous system’s
weaknesses or limitations. According to Gypsy Denzine, Associate Dean
in the College of Education, Northern Arizona University, approaches to
the concept of learning styles typically share four core assumptions:
- There are individual differences in learning.
- An individual's style of learning is fairly stable across time.
- An individual's style of learning is fairly stable across tasks/problems/situations.
- We can effectively measure an individual's learning style.
there are also educational psychologists and cognitive scientists who
reject some of these assumptions. In her article "The Existence of
Learning Styles: Myth or Reality?" [http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~dlk/Learn.styles.html]
Denzine explains that theorists in the Human Information Processing (HIP)
camp believe that learning style theorists "ignore the critical role
that prior knowledge plays in a learning situation." See also "Different
Strokes for Different Folks? A Critique of Learning Styles" http://www.aft.org/american_educator/fall99/DiffStrokes.pdf
by Steven Stahl, professor of reading education at the University of Georgia.
potential for confusion and controversy, why bother with learning styles?
Perhaps Richard Felder, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at
North Carolina State University, explains it best:
mismatches exist between learning styles of most students in a class
and the teaching style of the professor, the students may become bored
and inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about
the courses, the curriculum, and themselves, and in some cases change
to other curricula or drop out of school. Professors, confronted by
low test grades, unresponsive or hostile classes, poor attendance and
dropouts, know something is not working. They may become overly critical
of their students (making things even worse) or begin to wonder if they
are in the right profession. Most seriously, society loses potentially
2: Models Used to Describe Learning Styles
at Indiana State University describes how the development of individual
learning styles reflects the development of "a personal point of
understand learning style models, begin with one of the fundamental
insights of 20th Century psychology: people rely on personally constructed
filters to orient their relationships toward the world. These filters
are responsive to a variety of factors: age, experience, internal psychodynamics,
maturity, cognition, physiology, biochemistry, and so on. Since no one
is capable of switching endlessly between all of these filters, it seems
obvious that each individual has a unique approach he or she uses to
perceive, understand, and plan his or her interactions. Information
theory, for example, explains that the world is information rich and
therefore people are selective in the information they perceive (&
believe). Our personal way of selecting can be described as our style.
In a very real sense, we create our own personal point of view. http://www.indstate.edu/ctl/styles/learning.html#VIEW
further explains [http://www.indstate.edu/ctl/styles/learning.html#STYLES]
that since there is such a wide variety of models used to characterize
learning styles, it is helpful to divide those models into descriptive
& Environmental Preferences (e.g., Dunn & Dunn's model)
Processing Models (e.g., Kolb)
Models (e.g., Myers Briggs)
Developed by Dr. Lois Breur Krause, this model describes what we do with
the information once we have it. How do we process it? What do we need
to do to develop a real understanding of the new material? The model is
based on Jung's theory of personality type in which personality is described
using four pairs of characteristics that are opposite one another, such
as introverted/extroverted. While the Myers Briggs personality type indicator
is also based on Jung's work, Krause attempted to simplify the outcome
with her model. Instead of 16 possible personality types, her inventory
yields four--a manageable number for dealing with in a classroom setting.
To review her research, visit: http://www.cognitiveprofile.com/index.html;rjsessionid=5b0741eed88dbb6b.
You can also take the Cognitive Profile Inventory online at http://www.cognitiveprofile.com/cpi/
& Dunn Model
This model takes into account how a person interacts with various internal
and external stimuli across five categories: environmental, emotional,
sociological, physiological, and psychological stimuli. To view a graphic
of this grid, visit
In order to use this model to provide direction and structure for effective
teaching strategies, however, four additional factors that vary among
groups and in individuals over time must be considered: global versus
analytic processing styles, age, gender, and high- versus low-academic
achievement. Read Sarah Church's article which goes into more detail about
the Dunn & Dunn model of learning styles here: http://www.teresadybvig.com/learnsty.htm.
Learning Style Model
Richard Felder, professor of chemical engineering, and Linda K. Silverman,
an educational psychologist, developed a model of learning styles and
a parallel model of teaching styles designed to be used with students
in technical disciplines. "The idea is not to teach each student
exclusively according to his or her preferences, but rather to strive
for a balance of instructional methods.” The information, however,
is applicable for all students in all disciplines. http://www.ncsu.edu/felder-public/Learning_Styles.html.
The Index of Learning Styles is an instrument used to assess
preferences on four dimensions (active/reflective, sensing/intuitive,
visual/verbal, and sequential/global) of the Felder-Silverman learning
style model. The ILS instrument was developed by Felder and Barbara A.
Soloman of North Carolina State University. Both an on-line version and
a pencil-and-paper version of the instrument may be accessed from this
Independent and Field Dependent Cognitive Styles
Originally proposed by Hermann Witkin, et. al. in 1962, this model postulates
that "[the] field dependent rely on external cues, or visual framework,
in the perception of the upright. Conversely, people who rely on internal
cues, such as body orientation and gravitational pull are considered field
independent." Visit http://www.ithaca.edu/faculty/stephens/csback.html for
an introduction to the theoretical background. Greg Kearsley's "Theories
into Practice" database defines cognitive style as "a personality
dimension which influences attitudes, values, and social interaction." He
continues, explaining that:
independence versus field dependence refers to a tendency to approach
the environment in an analytical, as opposed to global, fashion. At
a perceptual level, field independent personalities are able to distinguish
figures as discrete from their backgrounds compared to field dependent
individuals who experience events in an undifferentiated way. In addition,
field dependent individuals have a greater social orientation relative
to field independent personalities. Studies have identified a number
connections between this cognitive style and learning (see Messick,
1978). For example, field independent individuals are likely to learn
more effectively under conditions of instrinsic motivation (e.g., self-study)
and are influenced less by social reinforcement. http://tip.psychology.org/styles.html
article "Field Independent/Dependent Learning Styles and L2 Acquisition"
(ELT Newsletter, June 2002, http://www.eltnewsletter.com/back/June2002/art1022002.htm)
lists the principal characteristics of the two styles and offers a helpful
checklist for helping students identify their cognitive style. While the
checklist is designed for use with students learning a second language,
it could be adapted for use in other academic disciplines.
Howard Gardner theorizes that although our culture rewards primarily verbal/linguistic
and logical/mathematical intelligence, there are at least five additional
kinds of intelligence that are equally important: musical, spatial, body-kinesthetic,
intrapersonal (e.g., insight, metacognition) and interpersonal (e.g.,
social skills). http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/learning/styles.html#mi
See his paper "Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years" which
he presented April 21, 2003, to the American Educational Research Association.
A broad overview of the theory of multiple intelligences can be found
The website http://pss.uvm.edu/pss162/learning_styles.html#2
based on David Lazear's work, provides checklists of characteristics describing
each type of intelligence.
Carolyn Hopper's website at Middle Tennessee State University explains
research confirms that both sides of the brain are involved in nearly
every human activity, [but] we do know that the left side of the brain
is the seat of language and processes in a logical and sequential order.
The right side is more visual and processes intuitively, holistically,
and randomly. Most people seem to have a dominant side. A key word is
that our dominance is a preference, not an absolute. When learning is
new, difficult, or stressful we PREFER to learn in a certain way. It
seems that our brain goes on autopilot to the preferred side.
quick Hemispheric Dominance Inventory at http://mtsu32.mtsu.edu:11063/advisor/learn.html
and then explore various modes of processing information:
- Linear vs. Holistic
from Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Tarcher/Putnam,
New York, 1989) can be found at the "Left Brain, Right Brain"
For other perspectives, read "Left Brain, Right Brain: Science or
the New Phrenology?" http://www.williamcalvin.com/bk2/bk2ch10.htm
an excerpt from William Calvin's book of essays on the brain, The Throwing
Madonna; and "Left Brain, Right Brain" by John McCrone (1999,
The New Scientist), an article that explores the "likely reasons
for the lateralisation of the human brain."
Keirsey Temperament Sorter
According to David Keirsey (http://keirsey.com/faq.html)
The Keirsey Temperament Sorter has been in existence for over twenty years
and follows the Myers-Briggs method of assessment closely—asking
more indirect questions. The Keirsey Character Sorter is more closely
related to the Keirsey Four Temperaments--asking more direct questions
and using the technique of ranking. In addition, "both questionnaires
can be fooled in giving the wrong assessments, given that many people
are not very good at assessing themselves. The Character Sorter might
have a slight bias towards assessing people's perceived desired traits
as opposed to their actual behavior." The four temperaments are:
Idealist, Rational, Artisan, and Guardian. Keirsey’s Sorter and
the MBTI are deeply connected and have often been confused with each other.
This site offers the clearest explanation of the differences between the
two models: http://users.viawest.net/~keirsey/difference.html.
A free version of the Temperament Sorter is available here: http://www.advisorteam.com/temperament_sorter/.
Experiential Learning Style Model
Learning Style Inventory (Kolb, D. A. 1984) is based on John Dewey's
emphasis on the need for learning to be grounded in experience, Kurt
Lewin's, work that stressed the importance of a person's being active
in learning, and Jean Piaget's theory on intelligence as the result
of the interaction of the person and the environment. Kolb's four stage
theory uses a model with two dimensions. You can think of the first
dimension, as shown in the model [see website], running horizontally
and it is based on task. The left end of the dimension is doing the
tasks (performing), while the right end is watching the task (observing).
The second dimension runs vertically and is based upon our thought and
emotional processes. The top of the dimension is feeling (responsive
feelings—such as Henry David Thoreau), while the bottom of the
dimension is thinking (controlled feelings—such as Dr. Spock of
Star Trek fame). from Don Clark's outstanding training website: http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/learning/styles.html#kolb
four learner types:
(or Assimilator) like to learn using abstract conceptualization and
reflective observation (lecture, papers, analogies).
(or Converger) like to learn using abstract conceptualization and active
experimentation (laboratories, field work, observations).
(or Accommodator) like to learn using concrete experience and active
experimentation (simulations, case study, homework).>
(or Diverger) like to learn using reflective observation and concrete
experience (logs, journals, brainstorming).
on what kind of learner you are, try this Learning Style Indicator: http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/learning/kolb.html
A nice list of critiques of Kolb's model can be found at http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm#issues:
Smith, M. K. (2001) "David A. Kolb on experiential learning,"
The Encyclopedia of Informal Education.
This site allows either a superficial perusal or an in-depth study of
both instruction and learning based on Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT System.
The 4MAT model is constructed along two continua, perceiving and processing,
and students' preferences along these continua determine their individual
approach to learning. In broad terms, she classifies students preferred
learning styles as imaginative, analytic, common sense, or dynamic.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Don Clark's website (http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/learning/styles.html#jung)
contains a nuts and bolts overview of the MBTI with its four continuums
(Introverted/Extroverted; Intuition/Sensation; Thinking/Feeling; Judging/Perceiving)
and its sixteen combinations (types) and compares the Myers-Briggs model
to Jung's and Kolb's models. Brief descriptions of the 16 personality
types can be found at http://www.smc.qld.edu.au/mbti.htm.
A more thorough explanation of the MBTI is available at the Center
for Applications of Personality Type website: http://www.capt.org
The VAK model focuses rather narrowly on three sensory receivers (Vision,
Auditory, and Kinesthetic) to indicate the dominant learning style. You
can start with an exploration of the VAK model at http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/learning/styles.html#vak
and then try the self-assessment tool, the Sensory Modality Preference
Inventory at http://www.chaminade.org/inspire/learnstl.htm.
A similar learning styles model is VARK which consists of Visual, Auditory,
Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic modalities. The VARK questionnaire "How
Do I Learn Best?" provides users with a profile of their preferences.
In the article "Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection,"
the questionnaire's creators:
focus on the use of a modal preferences questionnaire as a catalyst to
empower students to reflect on their own sensory preferences and modify
their study methods accordingly. The authors discuss the development and
use of the questionnaire, strategies for students to use in modifying
their learning behavior, responses of students and faculty to the technique,
and directions for further investigation of modal preferences.
The Institute for Learning Styles Research website which expands and updates
the VAK model:
learning styles are the means by which learners extract information
from their surroundings through the use of their five senses. Individuals
have different "pathways" that are specific to them. When
information enters that "pathway" the information is retained
in short term memory. Repeated exposure and use promote retention in
long term memory. The seven perceptual modes (pathways) included in
this theory are:
- Print - refers to seeing printed or written words;
- Aural - refers to listening;
- Interactive - refers to verbalization;
- Visual - refers to seeing visual depictions such as pictures and graphs;
- Haptic - refers to the sense of touch or grasp;
- Kinesthetic - refers to whole body movement; and
- Olfactory - refers to sense of smell and taste. http://www.learningstyles.org/
3: Strategies for Addressing Multiple Learning Styles
If you only have time to read one article on learning styles, make it
this one! "Student Learning Styles and Their Implications for Teaching,"
a paper by Susan Montgomery and Linda Groat for the University of Michigan's
Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, compares the Myers-Briggs,
Kolb, and Felder-Silverman learning styles models and examines the Grasha
Riechmann model which is based on students' responses to actual classroom
activities rather than personality or cognitive traits. Teaching methods
associated with each cluster of teaching and learning styles are summarized
in a convenient table.
The web brief
"Learning Styles vs. Teaching Styles" http://www.sosu.edu/cidt/briefs/tb1.htm
from Southeastern Oklahoma State University's Center for Instructional
Development and Technology offers this bit of wisdom:
research, though sketchy and preliminary, strongly suggests that college
students are generally active, sensing, visual, sequential learners;
as opposed to reflective, intuitive, verbal, global learners (see above).
Roughly translated, most college students receive instruction by the
traditional lecture method, while their learning styles are incompatible
with that delivery mode. In short, there’s a disconnect between
teaching style and learning style. It’s like teaching the blind
with pictures and teaching the deaf with the spoken word.
This is followed
by a table demonstrating the mismatch between the lecture mode of presentation
and most student learning styles.
Disabilities Resource Community has developed a free, ten-week course
“designed to raise learners’ awareness of the cognitive and
metacognitive aspects of thinking and learning.” While the course
is designed for students to reflect on their own thinking, it offers several
modules that could be helpful to you as an instructor--including a module
on learning styles. You can visit the site as a guest or establish a free
and Henriques, E. (1995). Learning and teaching styles in foreign and
second language education. Foreign Language Annals, 28(1), 21-31. Although
this article focuses on language, its detailed, practical suggestions
are valuable for all areas.
(1996) Matters of style. ASEE Prism, 6(4), 18-23. Felder explores how
four learning style models (Felder-Silverman, Kolb, Myers-Briggs and the
Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument) might be applied in the classroom:
objective of education should thus be to help students build their skills
in both their preferred and less preferred modes of learning. Learning
style models that categorize these modes provide good frameworks for
designing instruction with the desired breadth. The goal is to make
sure that the learning needs of students in each model category are
met at least part of the time. This is referred to as "teaching
around the cycle."
Felder article, "Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching
Styles in College Science Education," is available at
Written with science instructors in mind, it promotes a multistyle teaching
approach through the adoption of the "systematic use of a small number
of additional teaching methods."
Students, New Learning Styles" by Charles Schroeder provides fascinating
information from the TRAILS (Tracking Retention and Academic Integration
by Learning Styles) research project, a longitudinal, eight-year study
designed to provide educators data on how student characteristics such
as Myers-Briggs type, ACT/SAT score, high school grade point average,
demographic and other factors related to choice of major, academic "aptitude,"
academic performance in specific curricular areas, and attrition. Schroeder
then suggests ways to bridge the gap between faculty and student learning
Niskanen's 4Mat webpage [
explains the strengths of the four 4MAT learning types in detail and offers
a detailed curriculum development model with examples:
four learning styles are integrated into a cyclical approach which begins
by asking the students to participate in WHY activities. This provides
concrete motivation in an innovative way to create interaction and discussion
on what is felt, and seen. The process then continues by having the
students enter into WHAT activities. These provide for reflective observation
- watching and thinking - in order to think through the concepts and
formulate them in an analytical way. The next stage is the abstract
conceptualization stage, answering HOW. By thinking, giving facts, and
trying by doing, students can integrate common sense with underlying
reasons and, with hands-on activities, move closer to personalized knowledge
which can be useful later in life. This leads to the fourth stage, the
active experimentation stage, in which students sense concrete reality.
In a process of self-discovery, they answer the question IF and basically
teach themselves and others. Here, the students adapt and share what
they have learned.
premises of the 4MAT system [http://www.aboutlearning.com/aboutlearning/4premis.html]
for describing learning styles are the roles that teachers need to play
in order to motivate students to learn:
- Type One Learners are primarily interested in personal meaning. Teachers need
to Create a Reason.
- Type Two
Learners are primarily interested in the facts as they lead to conceptual
understanding. Teachers need to Give Them Facts that deepen understanding.
- Type Three
Learners are primarily interested in how things work. Teachers need
to Let Them Try It.
- Type Four
Learners are primarily interested in self discovery. Teachers need to
Let Them Teach It to Themselves and Others.
W.J. (1995) Learning styles can become learning strategies. The National
Teaching and Learning Forum 4 (6). http://www.ntlf.com/html/pi/9511/article1.htm
is important for both teachers and students to realize that learners
always encounter many situations that are not adapted to their own preferences.
What we teachers need to do is to help students develop the skills and
strategies needed for learning effectively from teachers who do not
match the students' preferred learning "style."
at Georgia State University has developed a very helpful website on teaching
students having different learning styles, as assessed using the Myers-Briggs
Type Indicator. http://www.gsu.edu/~dschjb/wwwmbti.html
Along with practical strategies for teaching each type of student, he
reminds us to be aware that according to studies by the Center for Applied
- Most undergraduates
are extraverts. The majority of university faculty are introverts
- Most undergraduates
are sensing as opposed to intuitive. The majority of university faculty
- 64% of
all males have a preference for thinking over feeling, while only about
34% of all females have a preference for thinking.
- The majority
of university faculty have a preference for thinking.
- The majority
of undergraduate students are judging as opposed to perceiving, as are
the majority of university faculty.
Regional Educational Laboratory's website offers a comparison attributes
of Field Independent and Field Dependent cognitive styles (Adapted from
Ramirez and Castaneda, 1974). The tables include overall characteristics,
student relationship with peers, student personal relationship with teachers,
student instructional relationship with teachers, and characteristics
of curriculum that promote learning for each cognitive style.
Around the Cycle” is one way of describing instruction that accommodates
multiple learning styles in an attempt to motivate and engage all students
and to encourage them to expand their skills and abilities as widely as
possible. Lisa Lim's article, "Going Cycling with Learning Styles"
diagrams how a learner might start at the style within Kolb's cycle that
he or she is most comfortable with and progress through the rest of the
cycle. She offers helpful advice for students who need to develop their
capacity to learn in other modes--questions they can ask themselves as
they cycle through the stages, as well as concrete suggestions for developing
each style. http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/success/sl27.htm
N.D; (1995), I'm different; not dumb. Modes of presentation (VARK) in
the tertiary classroom, in Zelmer, A., (ed.) Research and Development
in Higher Education, HERDSA, 308 - 313. For insight on techniques
for reaching students having various sensory mode learning preferences,
see Fleming's article. An excerpt appears below.
most common mode for information exchange in our society is speech and
this arrives to the learner's ear and is therefore coded as aural (A)
by the questionnaire. For students with an aural preference an attachment
to the questionnaire provides a set of strategies for 'learning by ear'.
The results for other respondents may reveal a preference for accessing
information from printed words. These people are coded read/writers
(R) or "R and W" because they use reading and writing as their
first preferences for taking in information.
The third group are not well served by present day methods of teaching
in a university. They are the visuals (V). This does not mean that they
are restricted merely to picture information or enhancements using colour
and layout. They like information to arrive in the form of graphs, charts,
and flow diagrams. Sometimes they will draw maps of their learning sequences
or create patterns of information. They are sensitive to different or
changing spatial arrangements and can work easily with symbols.
The last group in the four part typology is the group who like to experience
their learning by using all their senses, including touch, hearing,
smell, taste and sight. This group is regularly described in the literature
as kinesthetics (K). They want concrete, multi-sensory experiences in
their learning. Although learning by doing matches their needs they
can easily learn conceptual and abstract material provided it arrives
with suitable analogies, real life examples, or metaphors. They learn
theory through its application.
Learning Styles" by Al Heredia explores the research that has been
done regarding learning styles among Caucasian, African American, Hispanic,
and Native American students and the advantages and disadvantages of using
culture as a means of understanding learning styles and their impact on
the education of minority students.
P., & Cartnal, R. B. (1999). Students' learning styles in two classes:
Online distance learning and equivalent on-campus. College Teaching 47(4),
This study compared the student learning styles of two online health education
classes with an equivalent on-campus class The Grasha-Riechmann Student
Learning Style Scales (GRSLSS) was administered to determine student social
learning preferences in six learning style categories. Students who enrolled
in the distance education class were significantly more Independent learners
than students in the equivalent on-campus class. Students enrolled in
the equivalent class were significantly more Dependent learners than the
"Online Versus Traditionally-delivered Instruction: A Descriptive
Study of Learner Characteristics in a Community College Setting"
describes the research of Alana M. Halsne and Louis A. Gatta. They concluded
that the online learners were predominately visual learners and the traditional
learners at this community college in suburban Chicago were primarily
auditory or kinesthetic learners. http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring51/halsne51.html