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This issue of CDTL Brief presents the last instalment of a two-part discussion on the issues surrounding Learning Styles.

October 2002, Vol.5 No. 7 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Applying Learning Style in Instructional Strategies
Associate Professor Lim Lum Peng
Department of Preventive Dentistry
Associate Director, CDTL

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 academic achievement.

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 potential.

Dunn & Dunn’s Three Basic Learning Styles

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 oral ones.

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 and comprehension.

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.

 First Look articles

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Inside this issue
Applying Learning Style in Instructional Strategies
NUS Students and Biggs’ Learning Process Questionnaire
A Matter of Style