CDTL    Publications     Mailing List     About Brief



In recent years, the desire among educators to enhance the learning process for students has led to a growing concern with learning styles. CDTL Brief now presents the first of a two-part discussion on the issues surrounding Learning Styles.

September 2002, Vol. 5 No. 6 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Singapore Adolescents Also Got ‘Style’
Associate Professor Yeap Lay Leng &
Associate Professor Low Guat Tin
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

Learning style is an individual’s typical and preferred way of perceiving, thinking, solving problems, drawing inferences, and remembering. It is based on a combination of environmental, emotional, sociological, physiological, and psychological traits that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact, and respond to the learning environment (Dunn & Dunn, 1993). In recent years, the ‘Thinking School and Learning Nation’ concept in Singapore has revived and accelerated the interest in and application of learning style research. It is an important aspect of individuality crucial in determining the selection of appropriate teaching strategies and learning resources. This article presents a brief overview of studies on Singapore adolescents’ learning style in relation to their brain functioning in terms of hemisphericity or cerebral dominance—the tendency to use one side of the brain more than the other.

Brain Functioning

Brain functioning in relation to hemisphericity or cerebral dominance is one of the newest elements of the psychological domain of learning style research. Brain researchers yield evidence to support brain asymmetry—that the two sides of the brain are different and that our mental abilities are lateralised. The performance bias towards the left-brain functioning tasks (verbal, sequential, analytic, symbolic, abstract, temporal, digital, logical, and linear) or the right-brain functioning tasks (visual, spatial, holistic, intuitive, synthetic, and non-verbal) becomes a measure of hemisphericity (Lim, 2000).

Studies on Singapore Adolescents’ Learning Style

There are a number of studies on Singapore adolescents’ learning style. The findings are significant and show a core of learning style preferences and a certain trend in the cognitive profiles 1 that can distinguish the different achievement groups (Yeap, 1987; Lee & Yeap, 1998; Yeap, Chong & Low, 1998; Lim, 2000); the high and low mathematics achievers (Lee, 1998; Yeap, Chong & Low, 1998); and the types of achievers across the different disciplines (Yeo, 1992; Chan, 1994; Lee & Yeap, 1998; Lee, 1998; Ho, 1999; Tan, 1999; Tiey, 2001). The studies listed in this article are limited to those on brain hemisphericity and categorised according to the nature of instruments used for diagnosing hemispheric profiles. A distinction is made between the instruments used—preference inventories versus performance tests.

Preference inventories are simple opinion inventories based on an understanding of the basic functions of the right and left cerebral hemispheres, as revealed in research literature on brain specialisation. Performance tests are sub-tests on the specialised cognitive functions of the left or right cerebral hemisphere, validated by a consensus of research (Knolle, Gordon & Gwany, 1987).

The tables below present a summary of the studies on Singapore adolescents’ learning style related to brain hemisphericity:

(N.B. Literature on most of the studies are available at the National Institute of Education library.)

Results of the Studies

The above studies reveal that individual and group adolescent students differ in their learning styles. In short, they think, learn, perceive, and process information differently. However, in the brain functioning domain, there is a certain trend in the students’ cognitive profiles that will enable the researcher to predict their achievement level. Students with a tendency towards right brain functioning, favouring visual-spatial skills, is at greater risk for poor academic achievement. An integrated brain functioning profile with high performance scores in both the right- and left-brain functioning tasks is usually associated with high academic achievement.

Although the cognitive profiles of the adolescent students show their different cerebral dominance and preferred learning style, the above studies have also shown that all the adolescents have the capacity to engage in both left and right hemispheric processing. This dismisses the misconception that normal individuals process information with only one side of the brain. It also demonstrates that they have equal potent systems for thinking, and information processing.


The Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong (September, 1996:3) described Singapore school leavers and graduates as having “good analytical abilities, and can reason logically. But they are not strong on creative and innovative thinking, and in dealing with problems that are not well defined”. The Prime Minister’s concern was for the future where growth will be driven by knowledge, innovation, and the ability of the work force to think creatively, generate, and apply ideas. This is a call for wholeness in the thinking process.

Despite the difficulty in identifying valid and reliable instruments for learning style diagnosis, the above studies have found that all learners have equal potent systems for thinking and information processing. Given that the two hemispheres of the brain specialise to interpret the same stimuli in completely different ways, therefore students learn differently and should be taught differently.

The construct of learning style provides teachers with a new look at another dimension of individualised or group instruction. In the studies related to hemisphericity, the findings can alert teachers to styles that may motivate or inhibit students’ learning. Modern technology places increasing value on the students’ abilities to read and write well, to reason in numerals, to manipulate the computer keyboard, to think critically, to be creative, and to solve problems. Therefore, there is a need for students to develop flexible learning styles to cope with the multidimensional tasks. To those who teach, there is a need to recognise the fact that there are two equally valid methods of perceiving and processing information. There is a need to cultivate both hemispheric modes and to use them in a complementary fashion, towards whole brain functioning.


Chan, Y.M. (1994). ‘Interrelationships of cognitive style, formal reasoning ability, sex and chemistry achievement among junior college students’. Master of Education dissertation, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Dunn, R. & Dunn, K. (1993). Teaching secondary students through their individual learning styles. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Goh, C.T. (1996). ‘Prepare our children for the new century: Teach them well’. Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, in CONTACT: Special Teachers’ Day Rally Issue September 1996. Singapore: Ministry of Education.

Gordon, H.W. (1986). ‘The Cognitive Laterality Battery: Tests of specialised cognitive function’. International Journal of Neuroscience, 6, 79–92.

Herrmann, N. (1990). The creative brain. North Carolina: The Ned Herrmann Group.

Ho, S.T. (1999). ‘Information processing profile of information technology trained and non-information technology trained professionals in the banking sector’. Master of Business Administration dissertation, University of Surrey, United Kingdom.

Knolle, L., Gordon, H.W. & Gwany, D. (1987). ‘Relationship between performance and preference measures of cognitive laterality’. Psychological Reports, 61, 215–223.

Lee, S.C. & Yeap, L.L. (1998). ‘Differential functioning in cognition: Learning styles and hemisphericity’. In Thinking processes: Going beyond the surface curriculum. Ed. by Quah M.L. & Ho W.K., Singapore: Prentice Hall, 47–57.

Lee, S.Y. (1998). ‘Brain hemisphericity in art and non-art elective students (Express) and implications for curriculum’. Master of Education dissertation, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Lim, L.L. (2000). ‘A cognitive profile of junior college students’. Master of Education dissertation, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

McCarthy, B. (1998). The Hemispheric Mode Indicator (HMI). Barrington: Excel.

Ornstein, R. (1972). The psychology of consciousness. New York: Viking.

Ornstein, R. (1997). The right mind: Making sense of the hemispheres. Harcourt Brace.

Smith, P.L. & Ragan, T.J. (1999). Instructional design (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Tan, A.C.L. (1999). ‘Cognitive patterns of Engineering and Nursing students: Perception, processing, and hemisphericity’. Master of Education dissertation, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Tiey, H.Y. (2001). ‘Cognitive styles preferences among primary four English achievers: Perception and processing’. Master of Education dissertation, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Torrance, E.P., McCarthy, B. et al. (1988). SOLAT, Your Style of Learning and Thinking. Illinois: Scholastic Testing.

Yeap, L.L. (1987). ‘Hemisphericity and student achievement’. International Journal of Neuroscience, 48(3–4), 225–232.

Yeap, L.L. (July, 1995). ‘Explaining right, left or whole: A dimension to learner analysis’. ASCD Review, 20–24. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Singapore.

Yeap, L.L., & Chong, T.H. (1997). ‘Explaining the thinking, learning styles, and cognition constructs’. The Mathematics Educator, 2(1), 113–127.

Yeap, L.L. & Low, G.T. (2002). ‘Learning styles for teacher researchers’. Accepted for publication in ASCD Review, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Singapore.

Yeap, L.L., Chong, T.H., Chong, J. & Low G.T. (1998). ‘Differential brain functioning profiles among adolescent mathematics achievers’. The Mathematics Educator, 3(1), 113–128.

Yeap L.L., Chong T.H. & Low G.T. (1998). ‘Cognitive diversity among Singapore adolescents: Brain functioning, perception and processing among academic achievers, mathematics achievers, and ethnic groups’. Funded research RP 17/94 YLL. Institute of Education & Ministry of Education. Unpublished paper.

Yeo, K.C. (1992). ‘The learning of Shakespearan drama: The effects of visual-auditory and audio-and-print modalities’. Master of Education dissertation, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


1 Cognitive Profiling: Learners’ tendency towards left or right hemisphericity can be assessed using lateralisation tests. The cognitive profiling obtained from these tests gives a qualitative picture of an individual’s or group’s strengths and weaknesses.

 First Look articles

Search in
Email the Editor
Inside this issue
Students’ Learning Styles and Their Implications for Teachers
Productive Diversity in the Classroom: Practising the Theories of Differences in Learning Styles
Singapore Adolescents Also Got ‘Style’