With a shift in emphasis from teaching to learning at all
levels of education, a variety of active learning strategies
have been advocated to optimise learning. It is also well
recognised that how best a person learns may be influenced
by social, psychological, emotional, environmental, and physical
factors, as well as the individual’s learning style.
One of the key elements in getting students involved in learning
lies in an understanding of learning style preferences which
can have an impact on the individual’s performance and
There are a variety of models used to characterise learning
styles. While the concept of learning styles has different
definitions, learning styles are thought to represent an individual’s
unique approach to learning. Four prominent schools of thought
on learning styles include Dunn & Dunn’s environmental
preferences, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, Kolb’s
experiential learning cycle, Honey & Mumford’s learning
types, and Gregorc’s mind styles. It is generally agreed
that an understanding of the dominant learning preference
will be useful in designing effective instructional strategies
to facilitate learning and to capitalise on the individual’s
Dunn & Dunn’s Three Basic Learning
Despite the wide range of learning models, the three basic
perceptual learning styles as described by Dunn & Dunn
are visual, verbal and kinesthetic/tactile.
Visual learners relate most effectively
to visual displays like written information, notes, diagrams
and pictures. They tend to prefer sitting at the front of
the classroom to avoid visual obstruction, to have a clear
view of the instructor when they are speaking so that they
can see the body language and facial expression. Visual learners
often prefer to take detailed notes to absorb information.
They learn best by writing down key points, and visualising
what they learn. They follow written instructions better than
Auditory learners relate most
effectively to verbal lectures, discussions and by listening
to what others have to say. Written information may have little
meaning until it is verbalised or read aloud. Auditory learners
like participating in class discussions and debates, as well
as discussing ideas verbally. They would rather listen to
a lecture than read the material in a textbook. They are good
in making speeches and presentations.
Kinesthetic/tactile learners learn through
moving, doing and touching. Kinesthetic learners learn best
through a hands-on approach. They may be considered hyperactive,
take frequent breaks and may become distracted by their need
for activity and exploration. In learning, they skim through
learning materials to get a gist of the content before settling
down to read it in detail. They enjoy working with their hands.
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory focuses on
the content of learning. The seven intelligences are Linguistic/Verbal,
Spatial/Visual, Bodily Kinesthetic, Logical/Mathematical,
Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal. While the
first three learning styles conform to the basic perceptual
learning styles as described by Dunn & Dunn, the inclusion
of all seven intelligences are conceived as a more holistic
approach to learning in the real world.
Honey & Mumford’s Learning Model
Viewing from another perspective, based on Kolb’s experiential
learning cycle, Concrete Experience=> Reflection => Theory => Preparation, Honey & Mumford (1982)
developed a model of learning styles by linking the different
stages of Kolb’s cycle to produce a model of four descriptions
of learnin. The four types are called Activists, Reflectors, Theorists and Pragmatists.
Activists involve themselves fully without
bias to new experiences. They are open-minded, enthusiastic,
constantly thriving for new challenges but are bored with
implementation and long-term consolidation. The awould enjoy
learning through games, competitive teamwork tasks and role-plays.
Reflectors prefer to step back to ponder
and observe others before taking action. They are in general
cautious, may be perceived as indecisive and tend to adopt
a low profile. The reflector prefers learning activities that
are observational (like carrying out an investigation) and
give allowance to ponder upon.
Theorists adapt and integrate information
in a step-by-step logical way. They prefer to maximise certainty
and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgements, lateral
thinking and anything flippant. The theorist prefersg activities
that explore the interrelationship between ideas and principles.
Pragmatists are keen to try out ideas, theories
and techniques to see if they work in practice. They are essentially
practical, down-to-earth people, like making practical decisions,
act quickly on ideas that attract them and tend to be impatient
with open-ended discussions. The pragmatist prefers learning
activities which are as close as possible to direct work experience.
It is generally agreed that a combination of different types
of learners will make an effective team in an organisation.
In discussing an issue, the most likely question the Reflector will pursue is Why it is important; the Theorist,
in contrast, will be interested in What it is all
about; the Pragmatist will be concerned with How it can be applied in the real world; le the Activist will be keen to know What if we were to apply it
here and now.
Gregorc’s Mind Styles
Gregorc sorts people along two continua: Abstract—Concrete and Sequential—Random according to
the individual’s ability to organisd reer information.
He believes that people have various combiof strength.
Applications in Teaching and Learning
A large proportion of adult learners have a dominant visual
learning style followed by an auditory preference. A smaller
proportion are kinesthetic/tactile learners. It is possible
some of us may have a combination of styles. However, no one
uses one of the styles exclusively. For example, when given
a new task, visual learners prefer to see a demonstration,
diagram or slides before embarking on the task; auditory learners
prefer verbal instruction or talking with someone about it;
while the kinesthetic learners would prefer to jump right
into the task. In a learning situation, we, as instructors,
could adapt to the diverse learning styles of different individuals
by using multiple approaches of ‘hearing’, ‘seeing’
and ‘doing’ activities. For example, in a lesson,
the use of good audio-visual aids and good presentation skills
will appeal to the visual and auditory types, while group
interaction and activity will appeal to the kinesthetic/tactile
type. In addition, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences
are essential in enhancing learning through teamwork, and
reflection on individuals’ strengths and weaknesses.
By appealing to different learning styles, more effective
lcan be achieved to facilitate attention, motivation, memory
There are several approaches to involve multiple learning
styles in a course. One good example is project-based learning.
Such projects inevitably demand that students approach a topic
with multiple skills: verbal, visual and kinesthetic. It also
facilitates students to contribute using their own preferred
style while experiencing other styles. The activist can contribute
effectively by his enthusiasm and initiative in generating
ideas; the pragmatist in his practical approach will get the
project started; the theorist will ensure the project is carried
out in a logical sequence based upon certain hypotheses; and
the reflector will effectively put together evidence of prior
experience/knowledge and integrate them into the project.
Another strateincorporates the diverse learning styles is
the use of multimedia instruction.
In conclusion, although it is not possible to take into account
all the learning styles of each individual student, by closely
examining students’ reflections, teachers can make their
approach more comprehensive in its appeal to diverse learning
styles. Some studies have supported matching teaching to learning
styles; there is, however, no consistent agreement on the
benefits of stereotyping or labelling individuals to certain
learning styles. In fact, exposing students to different learning
styles may be a more pract apph to help them develop their
muntelligences to the maximum potential.
Dunn, R. & Dunn, K. (1978). Teaching Students Through
Their Individual Learning Styles. Reston, VA: Reston
Publishing Company Inc.
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory
in Practice. New York, NY: Basic Books
Gregorc, A. (1985). Inside Styles: Beyond the Basics. Columbia, CT: Gregorc Associates.
Honey, P. & Mumford, A. (1982). Manual of Learning
Styles. London: P. Honey.
Kolb, D. (1981). Learning Style Inventory. Boston,
MA: McBer & Company.