Learning Styles


OCR A level Psychology - Education


Banks and Thompson, Educational Psychology, West 1995, pp218 - 223.
Child, Psychology and the Teacher (3rd Ed), Holt 1981, pp228 - 230.

Merv Stapleton, Psychology in Practice – Education, Hodder & Stoughton, 2001, 0-340-64329-3, pp79-83

Excellent web site for Learning styles and Education

Learning style links

Two main areas concerning learning styles are Cognitive and Affective. Cognitive concerns the perception and processing of information within the brain. Affective concerns the emotional side of learning.

Cognitive styles

Witkin - Field dependence / Field independence (See culture document )

Field dependence means being 'holistically oriented' - going from the the big picture to the detail (many native american children are field dependent).

Vernon - Field independent are better at spatial tasks, maths and science. They are self-sufficient, Assertive, and Independent of thought.

Pask - Holists vs Serialists -similar to field dependent and independent
Holists - overview
Serialists - Works through the detail

Kagan - Impulsive vs Reflective
If reflective, decision making is more analytic and fewer errors are made

How many different styles?

Dunn and Dunn, 1978

Environmental factors

Emotional factors




Why and how learning styles matter


Entwistle (1991) argues that teachers should:


1.        ·    take account of the range of learning styles their students will inevitably exhibit

2.        ·    recognise that their own learning style is likely to be reflected in their teaching

3.        acknowledge the dangers of allowing one particular approach to teaching to exclude the voice of others.


He is uncompromising in his underscoring of this last point arguing that:

The decision to adopt an extreme teaching method, or to espouse a particular philosophy of education to the exclusion of any other, could be seen as an unjustifiable self-indulgence.  That style of teaching might well be personally satisfying to the teacher and to like-minded students, but would impose on other students an alien way of learning.

(Entwistle 1991)







o          ·         imaginative thinker

o                    ·           uses own experience

o                    ·           looks at situations from many different perspectives

o                    ·           brings coherence to a mass of information

o                    ·           sees relationships between things, grasps the whole picture

o                    ·           wide-ranging interests

o                    ·           good at listening and sharing

o                    ·           likes to get involved in the experience/information directly and then reflect on it

o                    ·           enjoys brainstorming and generation of ideas/altematives

o                    ·           likes social interaction/discussion/group work

o                    ·           aware of people's feelings

o                    ·           wants to see the whole picture before examining the parts


o          ·         frustrated by action plans

o                    ·           waits too long before getting started

o                    *          easily distracted

o                    ·           can be too easy going

o                    ·           sometimes indecisive

o                    ·           cannot see the trees for the wood

o                    ·           forgets important details

o                    ·           only works in bursts of energy


o                  Assimilator


o        Strengths


o         precise

o        good at creating theoretical models

o        very thorough

o        sets clear goals

o         enjoys ideas and thinking them through

o         analytical, logical

o                    ·           interested in facts and details

o                    ·           applies theories to problems/situations

o                    ·           good at bringing different theoretical viewpoints to critique a situation

o         examines facts carefully

o                    ·           likes collecting data

o                    ·           sequential thinker

o                    ·           specialist interest

o                    ·           avid reader

o                    ·           uses past experience constructively

o                    ·           sees links between ideas

o                    ·           thinks things through

o                    ·           well organised

o                    ·           plans in advance

o                    ·           enjoys didactic teaching

o                    ·           happy to rework essays/notes

o                    ·           works well alone




o                    ·            needs too much information before starting work or giving opinion

o                    ·             * reluctant to try anything new

o        * likes to do things in a set way, lets go of the past reluctantly

o                    *          gets bogged down in theory

o                    *          does not trust feelings, trusts only logic

o                    *          needs to know what the experts think

o                    *          overcautious, will not take risks

o                    *          not very comfortable in group discussion

o                    *          does not make use of friends/teachers as resources




o                    ·           practical application of ideas

o                    ·           decisive

o                    ·           integrates theory and practice

o                    ·           -enjoys solving problems in a common-sense way

o        likes to try things out

o        feels happiest when there is a correct answer/solution

o                    ·           draws references from experience

o        good  at using skills and tinkering with things

o                                focuses clearly on specific problems

o                    ·           able to see where theory has any practical relevance

o                    ·           moves from parts to whole

o                    *          thorough

o                    ·           works well alone

o                    ·           goal setting and action plans

o                    *          strategic thinking

o      ·  knows how to find information

o      ·  gets things done on time

o      * not easily distracted

o      ·  organises time well

o      ·  systematic notes/files

o      * reads instructions carefully




o                  * intolerant of woolly ideas

o                   not always patient with other people's suggestions

o                  resents being given answers

o                   tends to think their way is the only way of doing something

o                  * needs to control and do it alone

o                  details get in the way sometimes, cannot see the wood for the trees

o                   not good at suggesting altematives/lacks imagination

o                  * getting the job done sometimes overrides doing it well

o                   not concerned very much about presentation of work

o                  needs to know how things they are asked to do will help in real life



o   Strengths

o                   testing experience, trial and error

o                   committed to action

o                  very flexible

o                  wide-ranging interests

o                  enjoys change, variety

o               ·           willing to take risks

o               ·           looks for hidden possibilities and excitement

o               ·           not worried about getting it wrong by volunteering/asking questions

o               ·           gets others involved

o               ·           learns from others, quite prepared to ask for help

o               ·           gets involved in something which sparks their interest

o   uses gut reactions

o   often gets right answer without logical justification


o                  wants to see whole picture before examining the parts  


o                    ·           tries too many things at once

o                    ·           tends not to plan work

o                    ·           poor time management, leaves things till the last minute

o                    *          not very interested in details

o                    *          does not check work or rework it

o                    *          jumps in too quickly without thinking things through

o                    *          sometimes seen as pushy.

 D. Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (LSI) is a very popular assessment tool despite compelling arguments against its use. Provided is a summary of the salient issues concerning the LSI. Arguments against its use, including suspect methodology, misapplication of statistical procedures, logical inconsistencies in theory construction, and a general lack of support for reliability and validity are examined. In addition, current research studies supporting its continued popularity are presented. The authors conclude that it is important for social work researchers, educators, and practitioners to examine the psychometric properties of any instrument prior to making decisions based on unsubstantiated findings.  Koob,-Jeffrey-J; Funk,-Joanie  Research-on-Social-Work-Practice. 2002 Mar; Vol 12(2): 293-308






            Remember what they hear and say

Writing things down or drawing pictures           

Remember what they do and experience  

            Talk aloud to themselves           

Graphs and pictures

Like physical rewards  

Not always good with written directions         

Difficulty in concentrating during verbal activities  

Like to touch people when talking to them  

Enjoy listening to others reading aloud   

Watch rather than talk or act    

Work through problems physically  

Whisper whilst Reading  

Often well organised    

Tap pencil/foot

            Like class discussion

Remember what they    see      

            Find ways to move around  

            Need to talk through new learning

Put information in          visual forms   

Often lose interest when not actively                                     involved  


Like reading/good         Speller  

Poor speller  


            Often quiet in nature     

Outgoing in nature  

Noise is distracting       

            Notice details

Cannot sit still for long  






     Diverger                           Assimilator


       Open-ended                                           Research

       Lots of 'Why?'                                        Reading

       Flexible, oral/visual                                  Worksheets

       Related to personal/other experience       Independent work

       Reflective questioning                              Analysing data

       Reflection time allowed but focused        Specific task

       No worksheet                                         Written or diagrammatic

       Interviews                                               Give something to be marked


        Converger                                Accommodator


          Relevant                                                  Flexible/open

          Analytical                                                Multi-skilled

          Problem solving                                       Multi-tasked

          Regular homework                                  Group opportunities

          Set clear goals                                         Partnerships

          Practical                                                  Product without process


        Auditory                                     Visual


          Interviews                                               Topic web

          Watching TV programmes                       Extended writing

          Listening to radio                                     Completion of maps/charts

          Reporting on tape                                    Photos/models

          Research with a friend/teams                   Homework sheets with


          Research to report back verbally             Rewriting notes

Answer questions/do task on cassette             Clear deadlines




          Visits                                                    Read pictorially

          Project                                                 Drawing activities

          Making things                                       Collections/cuttings/evidence

          Survey                                                  Act out stories in books

          Map work                                            Recording/tape



Relationship with the teacher



o                                  'Friendly', close relationship

o                                Role model, respect

o                                Sensitivity

o                                informal

o                                Noise tolerant

o                                Imaginative

o                                Personal interest

o                                Time to talk and listen




o                                One-to-one

o                                Organized teacher

o                                Teacher encourage

o                                Teacher as source of information

o                                Business-like, down-to-earth teacher

o                                Teacher who relates theory to practice

o                                Specialist




o                                Verbal reassurance

o                                Teacher as facilitator

o                                Easy-going/informal

o                                Adaptable/flexible

o                                Emphasis on oral direction

o                                High teacher input

o                                Allowing time for talk/discussion




o                                Physical approach

o                                Close relationship

o                                Teacher involved in activities

o                                Teacher offering tasks

o                                Sympathetic approach

o                                Positive appraisal




o                                Teacher knowledgeable

o                                Teacher well prepared

o                                Slight distance

o                                Formal, clear cut

o                                Cerebral/thinking relationship

o                                Expect teacher to challenge

o                                Respect rather than closeness




o                                One-to-one relationship

o                                Trusting

o                                Encouraging

o                                'Personal', approachable

o                                Supportive

o                                Non-stereotyped teacher

o                                Facilitator and resource for

o                                pupils  




o                                Warmth, approachable

o                                Clear/directive

o                                Appearance

o                                Flexible

o                                Keep attention

o                                Repeat/reinforce

o                                Patient/security



Should we label?

Learning styles are not fixed

Different learning strategies would be used depending upon the task at hand.  It is important for the student to learn a range of learning strategies as well as make use of their dominant learning style.










·  learning from specific experiences, relating to people, and sensitivity to feelings and people


·  Logical analysis of ideas, systematic planning, acting on intellectual understanding of a situation



·  careful observation before making a judgement, viewing things from different perspectives, and looking for the meaning of things

·  You like to look at things from many points of view. You would rather watch rather than take action. You like to gather information and create many categories for things. You like using your imagination in problem solving. You are very sensitive to feelings when learning.

·  You are concise and logical. Abstract ideas and concepts are more important to you than people issues. Practicality is less important to you than a good logical explanation.



·  ability to get things done, risk taking, influence people and events through action

·  You are primarily a "hands-on" learner. You tend to rely on intuition rather than logic. You like to rely on other people's analysis rather than your own. You enjoy applying your learning in real life situations.

·  You like solving problems and finding practical solutions and uses for your learning. You shy away from social and interpersonal issues and prefer technical tasks.


Gregorc and Butler(1984)











1.Why? listening speaking interacting brainstorming




3.How? Experimenting Manipulating Improving Tinkering

2.What? Observing analyzing classifying theorizing


McCarthy (1987) describes the four learning styles that a student needs to go through in order to learn a topic. Known as the 4Mat Curriculum Development Model











1.Why? Discussion method. The teacher motivates the student

2.What? Teacher provides information



4.If? Teacher evaluates and remediates as the student discovers his or her self

3.How? Teacher coaches and facilitates

Grasha’s six learning styles

Learning Style



Independent, self-paced study; likes to work alone


Likes to be told what to do by the teacher


Motivated to do better than other students and likes recognition for academic achievement.


Co-operates with teacher and fellow students and prefers group work


Unenthusiastic about learning, overwhelmed by class activities and often absent


Interested in class activities and eager to work; wants to meet teacher’s expectations.

Learning style and teaching style

Joyce & Hudson (1968) found when the learning style of medical students matched the teaching style of his or her instructor better examination results were achieved. However there has been little evidence elsewhere to support this view that compatible learning and teaching styles enhance learning. Bennett (1976) has reported that the "insecure and less stable child" works harder and more successfully in a formal class setting.

Which styles are generally better for most people?

Barkman (1991)


Percentage recalled





Seeing and Hearing


Student talking


Student talking and doing


Gagné and Rohwer (1985)

Barkman (1991)

Methods of Instruction

Recall after 3 hours

Recall after 3 days







Telling and Showing



Mackenzie and White (1982)

The American Psychological association (1992) recommend:

A learning-styles school

What needs to be done

How this can be achieved

Students profiled on entry to determine their learning style

Using inventories

Give students choice over learning environment

Provide a range of different settings, such as individual study rooms, soft carpets, group working rooms, etc

Give choice over when to learn

Rotate time of day and week when lessons are taught

Give control over assessment

Take assessments when ready, not according to a set exam timetable

Involve students in organisation of school

Effective student councils

Should be equal emphasis on creativity and problem-solving as well as exam results

Reward creativity and problem-solving


Curry’s Onion Model (1983)

Outer layer refers to instructional preference.  Of course the student has little control at this level.

The middle layer is the informational processing style.  This concerns the various strategies the student uses to process information.  The student has more control here.

The inner layer is the cognitive personality style.  This is the underlying approach to thinking that the student uses.  Approaches include being divergent or convergent in your thinking.  Being extrovert/introvert, intuitive/sensing, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving are other examples; these are derived from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators.


Myers-Briggs Type Indicators

Learning style dimension

Main features

Extrovert or Introvert

Extroverts are active and like to try things out focusing on the outer world of people.  Introverts are passive; they try to think things through and focus on the inner world of ideas.

Sensors or Intuitors

Sensors are practical and pay attention to details; they focus on facts and procedures.  Intuitors are imaginative and are more interested in concepts focusing on meanings and possibilities.

Thinkers or Feelers

Thinkers are sceptical and their decisions are based on logic and rules.  Feelers are appreciative and their decisions are made on personal and humanistic considerations.

Judgers or Perceivers

Judges set and follow agendas and draw conclusions even without complete data.  Perceivers are adaptable and require the complete data before drawing conclusions.

These learning styles can be combined to give 16 different learning styles.

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