Learning Style – a brief

Learning-Styles-1My previous post had concluded with a note that the next post would be on ‘corporate learning style inventories’, however, later I realized that this topic should be discussed a little later. Therefore, for now I will be concentrating on learning styles.

Learning style is an individual’s natural or habitual pattern of acquiring data and processing it to meaningful information in a learning situation. We all have preferred ways of organizing what we see, and think about or different styles of conceptualisation and patterning activities and these can be the most important characteristic of an individual with reference to learning. (Tyler, 1978). A reader who would approach this topic for the first time would get bewildered by the use of another similar term named ‘Cognitive style’. Cognitive style is a term that denotes how an individual will think, perceive and remember information. While some researchers like Riding and Rayner (1998) have argued that learning styles is a subset of cognitive styles to which Sternberg and Grigorenko (1997) have agreed too. Snow, Corno and Jackson (1996) in their study on ‘personal styles’ have made no distinction between learning styles and cognitive styles.

The theory of learning style has been gaining increasing attention from researchers, and is considered a pertinent issue in the field of Educational Psychology, Teaching and Learning Methodology thus is also reputed as the “real foundation of modern teaching”. Although numerous learning styles have been proposed but there are a select few of them that need special mention. Felder and his colleagues have studied the theoretical and practical implications of learning styles within the engineering curriculum (Felder & Silverman, 1988). David Kolb (1984) came up with the ‘Experiential Learning Theory’ (ELT) as explained in his book Experiential Learning. He believed that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”. Kolb’s ELT model presents a cyclical model of learning that has two related approaches for gaining experience Concrete Experience (CE) and Abstract Conceptualization (AC), as well as two related approaches toward transforming experience: Reflective Observation (RO) and Active Experimentation (AE). This model has two dimensions, perception dimension- that includes concrete experience and abstract conceptualization and processing dimension- that includes reflective observation and active experimentation. The Experiential Learning Model is based on six propositions:

1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.

2. Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.

3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world.

4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation.

5. Learning results from synergistic transactions between the person and the environment.

6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge (Kolb & Kolb, 2006, p. 47).

According to Kolb, for the learning to be effective the above four approaches were required to be incorporated together. Kolb’s model gave rise to Learning Style Inventory (LSI). It’s quite interesting to note here that although Kolb’s ELT model is most widely used coupled with empirical support; a group of researchers (Manolis et al, 2012) in their research study have suggested that Kolb’s ELT model is flawed. Garner (2000), for instance, dispels the notion of relationships between Kolb’s learning styles and Jung’s typologies (Jung, 1977), the supposed basis for Kolb’s learning styles (Kolb, 1984). Similarly, the relationship that Kolb believes exists between his learning styles and the Myers–Briggs Type Inventory (which is also based on Jung) has not been observed (Garner, 2000). Nevertheless, Kolb’s learning styles have gained widespread acceptance and have provided a foundation for understanding experiential learning. Although there appears to be little evidence supporting a Jungian connection, Kolb’s learning styles still appears to be a valuable schema (Turesky & Gallagher, 2011).

Learning styles appear to be of primary concern to educators. Since pedagogy is “the study of how learning takes place” (Fletcher, Potts, & Ballinger, 2008, p. 378), learning styles would seem to be of the utmost importance.


Felder, R. M and L. K. Silverman (1988). Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engineering Education,78, 674-681.

Fletcher, S., Potts, J., & Ballinger, R. (2008). The pedagogy of integrated coastal management. The Geographical Journal, 174(4), 374–386.

Garner, I. (2000). Problems and inconsistencies with Kolb’s learning styles. Educational Psychology, 20(3), 341–348.

Jung, C. G. (1977). Psychological types (Collected works of C. G. Jung), H. G. Baynes, trans. Revised by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kolb. D. A (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N1.

Manolis, C.; Burns, D., Assudan,R., China, R. (2012). “Assessing experiential learning styles: A methodological reconstruction and validation of the Kolb learning style inventory.” Learning and Individual Differences. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2012.10.009.

Riding, R. J and S. G. Rayner (1998). Cognitive Style and Learning Strategies. David Fulton, London.

Snow, R. E., Como, L., and D. Jackson (1996). Individual differences in affective and cognitive functions. In D. C. Berliner and R. C. Calfe (eds). Handbook of Educational Psychology. American Psychological Association. Macmillan, New York.

Sternberg, R. J., and E. L. Grigorenko (1997). Are cognitive styles still in style? American Psychologist, 52, 700-712.

Turesky, E. F., & Gallagher, D. (2011). Know thyself: Coaching for leadership using Kolb’s experiential learning theory.Coaching Psychologist, 7(1), 5–14.