Learning Styles
Nanda Mitra-Itle
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Discussion Points
Brief learning styles inventory
What’s hot in education
Agree or Disagree
What are learning styles
Learning styles assessments
Levels of research
Valid or not valid
What should I do now
I heard one of my classmates say the other day
that they didn't care if there was no empirical
evidence for learning styles... they know that they
are a visual learner. This made me think about my
own "learning style" (if it exists) and the
components that go into/are required for me to
truly learn something. Anecdotally, it seems that
many of us as individuals and not school
psychologists, recognize that there are methods
of learning that are more effective for us than
others. I just wondered if others recognize a
preferred method of learning within themselves?
What’s my learning style?
How do you normally study for tests,
particularly in subjects that are difficult
for you (i.e. physiology, music theory, etc)?
Think back to a class (Elementary, MS HS
or undergrad) where you learned a lot.
Perhaps even changed your life in some
way. How was it conducted? What about
that class had such an impact on you?
What’s my learning style?
Act first,
think/reflect later
Feel deprived when
cutoff from
interaction with the
outside world
Usually open to and
motivated by outside
world of people and
Enjoy wide variety and
change in people
Think/reflect first,
then Act
Regularly require an
amount of "private
time" to recharge
Motivated internally,
mind is sometimes so
active it is "closed" to
outside world
Prefer one-to-one
communication and
What’s my learning style?
Mentally live in the Now,
attending to present
Using common sense and
creating practical solutions
is automatic-instinctual
Memory recall is rich in
detail of facts and past
Best improvise from past
Like clear and concrete
information; dislike
guessing when facts are
Mentally live in the Future,
attending to future
Using imagination and
creating/inventing new
possibilities is automaticinstinctual
Memory recall emphasizes
patterns, contexts, and
Best improvise from
theoretical understanding
Comfortable with
ambiguous, fuzzy data and
with guessing its meaning
What’s my learning style?
Instinctively search for
facts and logic in a decision
Naturally notices tasks and
work to be accomplished.
Easily able to provide an
objective and critical
Accept conflict as a
natural, normal part of
relationships with people
Instinctively employ
personal feelings and
impact on people in decision
Naturally sensitive to
people needs and reactions.
Naturally seek consensus
and popular opinions.
Unsettled by conflict; have
almost a toxic reaction to
What’s my learning style?
Plan many of the details in
advance before moving into
Focus on task-related
action; complete meaningful
segments before moving on.
Work best and avoid stress
when keep ahead of
Naturally use targets,
dates and standard
routines to manage life.
Comfortable moving into
action without a plan; plan
Like to multitask, have
variety, mix work and play.
Naturally tolerant of time
pressure; work best close
to the deadlines.
Instinctively avoid
commitments which
interfere with flexibility,
freedom and variety
What’s my learning style?
Do I have patterns to the type of
materials I enjoy?
Do I have a preference for a
particular study/learning style?
Teaching style?
What learning style would I be?
What’s my learning style?
“Students are not failing because of
the curriculum. Students can learn
almost any subject matter when they
are taught with methods and
approaches responsive to their
learning styles strengths”
“We sometimes pretend something is
true not because there’s evidence for
it but because we want it to be true”
(Dun; cited by Ellis, 2001).
(Sagan; cited by Ellis, 2001).
What’s hot in education now?
What’s hot in education now
Learning Focused Schools
Grouping (I.e. ability, cooperative, interest,
Distance Learning
Specialized curriculum
Research based programs Tier I or II.
Increasing student achievement
What’s hot in education now
What do all these have in common?
Individualization of content to increase
student achievement or maximize
Are these the answers to meeting
accountability standards for at risk
students? (Anderson, 2007)
Learning Styles
Agree or Disagree:
Each us receives and processes information differently?
Teachers should make every attempt to know how students
learn best?
Intelligence and ability are equal but differentially distributed
among individuals?
Typical school assignments tend to discriminate in favor or
against certain learners?
Style based instruction increases learning?
Any given style is not superior to another?
Global (field dependent) intuitive learners tend to score lower
on tests of analytical abilities (considered basic to ones
intelligence as measured by IQ). Are they less intelligent than
analytical thinkers?
(Ellis, 2001)
Learning Styles
Agree or Disagree:
“It (learning style) has failed to distinguish among
personality, ability, environment and other
variables, leading to confusion over the very
meaning of the construct?
(Sternberg; cited by Ellis, 2001)
Learning style is preference rather than ability?
“This could lead teachers quickly into a
labyrinthine world of diagnosis in the search for
Learning Styles are more elements that affect a person’s
ability to learn than ways of learning themselves?
Learning styles is an idea conjured as an excuse
for the lack of achievement of students?
(Ellis, 2001)
What are Learning Styles?
Learning Styles
Premise underlying popularity?
“For all students to receive an equitable education does
not mean that they all receive the same education; it
means that they all are taught in ways that promote their
individual opportunities to learn” (Alder, 2000).
This premise leads to conclusion that teachers must
match learning styles, change curriculum to make it fit,
adaptive skill levels for student, etc(Alder, 2000).
Each person has a combination of modality strengths
formed by the interaction between individual and
environmental characteristics. These modalities lead to
styles of how we think, learn and communicate (Ellis,2001)
Learning Styles
How defined?
“characteristic cognitive, affective and
psychological behaviors that serve as
relatively stable indicators of how
learners perceive, interact with, and
respond to the learning environment”
1979; cited by Johnson & Johnson 2006)
“..combination of various biological and
experiential variables that contribute to
(Rochford, 2003; cited by Johnson & Johnson 2006)
Learning Styles
How defined cont…:
“cognitive style that a person manifests when
confronted with a learning task, and specifically
as a predisposition to use a particular learning
strategy irrespective of learning task
differences (Schmeck, 1983; cited by Frisby, 1993)
“stable attitudes, preferences, or habitual
strategies determining a persons typical modes
of perceiving, remembering, thinking and
problem solving (Messick, 1976; cited by Frisby, 1993)
Learning Styles
How defined cont…:
“Learning styles is that consistent pattern of
behavior and performance by which an individual
approaches educational experiences…composite of
characteristics cognitive, affective, and
physiological behaviors that serve as relatively
stable indicators of how a learner perceives,
interacts with and responds to the learning
environment. It is formed in the deep structure of
neural organization and personality (that) molds
and is molded by human development and the
cultural experiences of home, school and society.”
(National Task Force on Learning Styles and Brain Behavior; as cited by Ellis, 2001)
Learning Styles
Individual’s way of processing
information using one of several
categories: cognition-centered,
personality-centered, activitycentered, and teaching styles.
(Sternberg; as cited by Ellis, 2001)
Learning Styles
Cognition-perceiving, finding out, getting
Personality (Conceptualization)-thinking,
forming ideas, processing memory.
Affective-feelings emotional responses,
values, judgments
(Ellis, 2001)
Learning styles assessments?
It seems that Sternberg's theory of
thinking styles is very closely aligned
with Gardener's multiple intelligences
theory. If we assessed students using
this theory do you think we would
find evidence for the treatment x
aptitude interaction that we are
always looking for? (Joie)
Learning Styles
(Learning Styles Resources Cite;
Measurement Instruments: Myers-Briggs
Uses the 3 Jungian dimensions - Extraversion-Introversion,
Sensing-Intuition (preferring the concrete or the abstract),
Thinking-Feeling (preferring logic or values), plus one created
by Isabel Briggs - Judging-Perceiving (being organized or
flexible and easygoing).
Numerous studies have provided evidence of its validity. The
Manual for Type sites hundreds of studies that demonstrate its
psychometric soundness. However, while it has been revised
many times, the very nature of a self report psychological
inventory includes limitations with reliability. However,
theoretically any test-taker should have an organic type that is
stable over a lifetime, and once they discover that type they
should be able to reliably interpret the information related to
their type.
It is the most widely used inventory in and out of education and
has been translated into several languages. More research has
been conducted on the MBTI than all of the other inventories
Learning Styles
(Learning Styles Resources Cite;
Measurement Instruments: Howard Gardner
“Identifies seven intelligences: Logical/mathematical,
Visual/spatial, Bodily/kinesthetic, Musical, Linguistic,
Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal.
There appears to be no apparent evidence of the
validity or reliability of this particular instrument and
Gardner himself does not claim MI to be a learning styles
theory or that there is any reliable means to determining
the type of a person.
He just offers the theory that there are more types of
intelligence than what has been historically considered.”
The MIDAS appears to be the only instrument endorsed
by Gardner. It has a version for teens aged 15-19 and
one for adults/college students over 20 years of age.
Learning Styles
(Learning Styles Resources Cite;
Measurement Instruments: Kolb
Identifies 2 dimensions Reflective vs. Experiential and
Concrete vs. Abstract. The result is four type combinations:
Converging (prefer to learn by solving problems and doing
technical tasks, good a finding practical uses for ideas and
theories), Accommodating (hands-on, people-oriented, relies on
gut feeling more than logical analysis), Diverging (imaginative
and sensitive, prefers to learn by observing, brainstorming and
gathering information, good at viewing concrete situations from
many points of view) and Assimilating (prefers to learn by
putting information into concise logical order).
Although the Kolb model has been popular and the subject of
many studies, some scholars question the model’s validity,
primarily because the scale asks respondents to rank rather
than rate items (see, for example, Hayes & Allinson, 1997, and
Curry, 1987). The scale is short (12 items) and self-scored.
Kolb’s learning styles
Learning Styles
(Learning Styles Resources Cite;
Measurement Instruments: Dun and DunPerceptual modality preference survey
Characterized by a multitude of learning style dimensions, including Immediate
Environment (with subscales for Noise Level, Light, Temperature, Design [formal
or informal learning environment], Emotionality, Motivation, Persistence,
Responsibility, and Structure [need for external structure]), Sociological Needs
(with subscales for Learning Alone/Peer Oriented, Authority Figures Present, and
Learn in Several Ways), and Physical Needs (with subscales for Auditory, Visual,
Tactile, Kinesthetic, Requires Intake, Evening-Morning/Late Morning/Afternoon,
and Needs Mobility).
While the model has some content validity, it is limited in that it does not really
deal with psychological dimensions of learning. As a result it lacks an organic basis
and therefore stability of “type.” This also creates a limitation in how it can be
used to make educational choices or determine student needs or aptitudes.
This model has been used in countless studies, and some feel that it has been well
validated (Lewthwaite & Dunham, 1999; Curry, 1987; Dunn & Griggs, 1995), but
others strongly criticize the model as unvalidated and lacking an underlying theory
(Bonham, 1988; Kavale, Hirschoren, & Forness, 1998; Kaiser, 1998). Another
concern is that the instrument has so many scales (21) that it might be difficult
for students and faculty to assimilate them all and “see the forest for the trees,”
drawing an overall picture of learning style.
Learning Styles
(Felder & Spurlin, 2005)
Measurement Instruments: Index of
Learning Styles (ILS)
Sensing (concrete thinker, practical, oriented towards
facts and procedures) or Intuitive (abstract thinker,
innovative, oriented toward theories and underlying
Visual (diagrams, flow charts, etc) or Verbal
(written/spoken explanations)
Active (learn by trying out, enjoy working in groups) or
Reflective (learning by thinking things through, working
alone or with a single partner).
Sequential (linear thinking process, learn in small
incremental steps) or Global (holistic thinking process,
learn in large leaps)
Learning Styles
(Felder & Spurlin, 2005)
Felder-Silverman model adds several
qualifying statements before using their
Index of Learning Styles (ILS) assessment
Learning styles dimensions are continua not categories.
Profiles suggest behavioral tendencies not infallible
Preferences are not reliable indicators of
Affected by student’s educational experiences
Point is not to ID, label and modify.
Some validity and reliability
Learning Styles
(Learning Styles Resources Cite;
Measurement Instruments:
The Abiator site is one of many that incorporates three
learning style dimensions/modalities: Visual, Auditory, and
Tactile/Kinesthetic. There is no apparent evidence of
reliability or validity. Because these instruments address
sensory perceptions, however, it makes intuitive sense and
therefore has some face validity.
Learning Styles
(Learning Styles Resources Cite;
Measurement Instruments: Field
Identifies two cognitive styles: field dependent and field independent.
This is one of the rare learning styles instruments that has been
reasonably well validated; the field dependence/field independence
model has successfully predicted academic performance in a number of
studies (Hayes & Allinson, 1997; Thompson et al, 1979; Wilson, 1998).
(Field independent students are more likely than field dependent
students to succeed academically.)
Unlike many of the other inventories and theories, these dimensions are
entirely distinct and separate from the Jungian dimensions. So they do
not have any relation to introversion-extroversion, concretenessabstractness, or random-sequential thinking in any way. This makes this
theory a useful adjunct to the others. It is also quite predictive of
what might be called giftedness. Those who have a field-independent
preference due to their narrow focus and ability to screen can process
information more efficiently, but may miss the social context that their
field-dependent peers more readily perceive. So an over simplification
would be that field-dependence leads to popularity and fieldindependence leads to academic success.
Some scholars feel, however, that the GEFT measures ability rather
than learning style, making it an inappropriate choice as a tool to help
students understand themselves.
Ellis’s Levels of Research?
Ellis’s Levels of Research?
Level I?
Brain-mind research
Psychological research on individual differences
Close association of assessment instruments with
intelligence measures.
Weak link b/w theoretical work, assessment and
Validity and reliability of assessment measures
(Ellis, 2001)
Ellis’s Levels of Research?
Level II?
Dun and Dun meta-analysis
Oakland study with temperament based learning
style and gifted/nongifted students.
Other studies, etc
10 studies eluded to were, with exception of 2
or3, in journals with little reputation for
35 unpublished studies were dissertations.
24 of cited dissertation studies done under Dun et
al direction.
(Ellis, 2001)
Ellis’s Levels of Research?
Level II Problems cont….:
Experimental designs used in classroom
based learning styles research weak and
have inadequate controls.
Researcher bias
Hawthorn effect from doing something new
Studies conducted by graduate students
for dissertations.
Replicatability problems
(Ellis, 2001)
After sitting through today's class and talking
specifically about strong and/or possible evidence
of effectiveness, I thought it was interesting that
Dunn, et al, did a meta- analysis on the learning
style model of Dunn and Dunn and used studies
that were either published in journals of
questionable reputation or just not published at
all. And of the 36 studies included in the metaanalysis, 35 unpublished studies were doctoral
dissertations and 24 of the cited dissertations
were done under the direction of Dunn and her
colleagues......WOW! Aren't Dunn and her
colleagues worried about their own reputation as
legitimate researchers?? Sometimes I wonder
what people are thinking (Marybeth)
Ellis’s Levels of Research?
Level III?
Ellis mentions the lack of level III
research evaluating learning styles. Is
anyone aware of any studies published
since? I assume there isn’t much
more research to report, as Ellis
dropped the topic from the new
edition…thoughts? (Sandra)
There is little empirical support for the existence
of learning styles, however, Ellis notes that the
work of Sternberg and Grigorenko "seems to
offer considerable promise." According to Ellis,
Sternberg believes that in order to teach all of
our students we need to take their learning styles
into account. Doesn't good teaching encompass
presenting information in a variety of ways? Isn't
the Orton-Gilligham approach based on the idea
that information should be presented visually,
orally, and tactilely? Seeing, hearing, and feeling
the various letters and letter sounds is said to
improve learning and memory. (Erin)
To be or not to be valid, that
is the question?
Modalities change
over time as
demonstrated in
duplications of
classic studies
Johnson & Gable, 1998).
Low and High Low
SES achievers
differed only on
motivation and
persistence factors
(Caldwell & Ginther, 1996)
Dunn & Price study
of 1980 gifted
and kinesthetic(Burns,
Johnson & Gable, 1998).
Learning styles
valuable in
instruction (Felder et al,
A study examining learning
style and preference for
online learning support
found no significant
relationship b/w learning
style and achievement on
in-class examinations (Johnson et
al, 2006).
Learning style theories
have devised more than 70
constructs and ways of
identifying and
implementing them (Mortimore,
Definition of intelligence is
being reexamined. (Ellis, 2001).
All students in their study
performed better on
standardized tests when
using their learning styles
and continued trend in next
2 to 3 years (Burke & Dunn, 2003).
A study found differences
in styles between Mexican
Americans and European
Americans (Alder, 2000)
A study found that
students who were taught
using a Multisensory
Instructional Pkg based on
their learning styles
performed better than a
control group (Farkas, 2003). 43
Many differences
attributed to
learning/cog styles
also attributed to
gender diff (Frisby, 1993)
intelligence better
predictor of
reading/math ach (Frisby,
Debate over whether
methodology valid? (Frisby,
A study examining
learning style and
preference for online
learning support also
found active and visual
learners appeared
disadvantaged under
online study gps (Johnson et
al, 2006).
Active & visual scored
lower on in class
examinations following
on-line study gp (Johnson et al,
Construct validity and
reliability of learning
styles instruments
questionable (Frisby, 1993)
Matching approach
may stunt growth (Frisby,
Modality model has not
yielded the promised
results (Kavale & Forness, 1987)
99% of Special
education teachers
thought a child’s
modality should be a
major consideration
and 93% believed
their students learned
more when modalities
matched (Arter & Jenkins, 1977 as
cited by Kavale & Forness, 1987)
Learning styles
inventories are the
first instances of
testing where a failure
to solve a problem puts
one in a different
Style preference does
not necessarily
translate into higher
Research has shown
that field independent
or analytic style
correlate with
measures of spatial
and verbal ability.
children who were
viewed as stupid often
suffer from merely a
mismatch b/w their
style and teacher.
(Ellis, 2001)
Learning styles seem to be very controversial due
to the lack of evidence supporting it and the
disagreement about the true definitions. Learning
styles is definitely a difficult construct to
measure again, due to its various definitions,
various inventories with low validity, and variability
within individuals (one individual can have more
than one learning style, primary and secondary),
but because something is difficult to measure,
does that make it invalid and unworthy of
exploring? (Lisa K)
If there is such a thing as learning
style, which I believe there is,
doesn’t direct instruction disregard
many students’ learning styles?
If learning styles exist, that would be
a good point. So then why is direct
instruction so effective? (Amy)
Debate topics
Do learning styles exist?
Are differentiation, multi-sensory
and learning styles related?
Is there utility to learning styles in
the classroom?
Is learning styles worth exploring?
So what do I do now?
So what do I do now?
Sternberg, “it is necessary that schools
take into account not only fit between
teacher and student (or principal and
teacher) style but also the way a subject is
taught and the way a student thinks (cited by
Ellis, 2001).
Teacher should be sensitive to student
differences, use different modalities, to
reach different learners effectively.
Learners should accommodate to different
situations, some of which match our style
and some of which do not.
(Ellis, 2001)
So what do I do now?
Is this good teaching anyway?
Questions at a variety of levels of thinking
Providing an overview of material before
Allowing sufficient time for info processing
Setting clear purposes
Spaced practice
Multisensory means to convey ideas
Using a variety of teaching and learning
Allowing students choices in methods of
demonstrating learning
If research does not support learning styles then
why differentiate instruction in these ways?
(Ellis, 2001)
I think that the true application of this regardless of whether you buy into the idea of
learning styles - is that teachers must
differentiate instruction to meet the needs of the
various students in their classroom. The examples
of how to teach to different styles listed on page
153 are truly the ways to differentiate
instruction. Is it truly necessary to talk about this
and research it under the name learning styles or
is it appropriate to recognize that all learners are
unique and simply take into consideration the
unique mix as teachers differentiate instruction?
So what do I do now?
No matter what, good teaching is
good teaching. Teachers should:
Have realistic expectations
Provide specific feedback
Clearly communicate
Make learning relevant to learner
Engage in positive interactions between
student and teacher
(Alder, 2000)
So what do I do now?
Learning styles can be used to guide
instructors on diversity of learning styles
within their class
It can help give individual students insight
into their possible strengths and weakness
(Felder et al, 2005)
(Felder et al, 2005)
(Warning) Keep in mind Learning styles
have been shown to change over time and
styles shown via measurements, may
contradict student perceptions and have
poor reliability and validity. So use with
So what do I do now?
(Caldwell et al, 1996).
Studies show students who had more
controlling teachers performed lower than
student of less controlling teachers.
Learning environments must be structured
to achieve highest level of internal
motivation from all students, particularly
for low SES achievers.
There is value in teaching students through
respectful attention and language to be
aware of their own learning strategies
(Mortimore, 2005)
Even if there was evidence that teaching to
learning styles improved student achievement, to
what extent would teachers be able to implement
the styles in the classroom? How many styles
would we expect one teacher to teach toward?
How could we really teach each student to their
“preference” if the research supported learning
styles? And if we can’t (if it’s not feasible), then
why are we researching it with hopes of improved
student achievement? (Christina)
More Questions
While the research base to support learning styles
is weak, would you recommend to a teacher to use
the different modalities mentioned by Ellis such
as stories, explanations, projects, and activities? I
am not suggesting going as far to specifically
assess or match learning styles since the research
does not support it, but should teachers still try
to vary their teaching styles with this possibility
in mind? Have you ever worked with a student that
you clearly felt displayed a specific learning style
that was in opposition to the teacher's style of
presentation? (Kourtney)
We have talked in depth about how teachers need
to be properly trained in evaluating research and
how to apply it. However, researchers must publish
unbiased research based findings. The meta
analysis by Dunn supports the use of learning
styles however does not use published research
and then used their own research. Is there an
agreed upon definition for learning styles? Would
a more concrete definition lead to more applicable
research? (Lisa W)
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Learning Styles