Learning Styles

By: Anum Sidhu, MS Clinical Psychology

Everything that is characteristic to an individual when she/he is learning refers to her/his Learning style, for instance, a particular method of approaching a learning task, the learning strategies activated in order to accomplish the task. A widely accepted definition is given by Keefe (1979), according to which, learning style represents ”the composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and psychological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment”[1].

According to Rovai and Grooms (2004), learning styles can be classified and defined along a variety of dimensions [2]. James and Gardner (1995) suggested perceptual, cognitive, and affective dimensions, while others have suggested personality, information processing, social interaction, and instructional preference models. Still other researchers have suggested learning style models based on physical and sensory preferences [3].

Researchers and scholars have been interested in this area of learning from past few decades. Up till now, Coffield et al. (2004) identified 71 models of learning styles, among which 13 were categorized as major models. These models differ in the learning theories they are based on, the number and the description of the dimensions they include. Some famous models in learning styles literature are of Kolb, Dunn & Dunn, Honey & Mumford , and Myers-Briggs [4].

According to Popescu (2009), each of the learning style models offers a set of principles and recommendations for the instructional strategies that should be used with the students pertaining to each learning style category. Most psychologists recommend that the teaching style of the instructor should correspond to the learning style of the student (the “matching hypothesis”) [5].

Felder (1993) mentioned that mismatching can have serious consequences: for instance, students may feel “as though they are being addressed in an unfamiliar foreign language. They tend to get lower grades than students whose learning styles are better matched to the instructor’s teaching style and are less likely to develop an interest in the course material” [6]. Dunn and Griggs (2003) also suggested that teachers adapt the instruction and environmental conditions by allowing learners to work with their strong preferences and to avoid, as far as possible, activities for which learners report having very low preferences [7].

Another important role of learning styles would be to increase self-awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of the students during the learning process. According to smith (2001), the potential of such awareness lies in “enabling individuals to see and to question their long-held habitual behaviors”; individuals can be taught to monitor their selection and use of various learning styles and strategies [8].

According to Popescu (2009), it has only been recently that learning styles are introduced for enhancing learning. Last decade was quite important in this regard, as several learning style based adaptive educational systems (LSAES) started to appear in the last few years [5].


[1]. Keefe, J. (1979) Learning Style: An Overview. In: NASSP’s Student Learning Styles: Diagnosing and Prescribing Programs, pp. 1–17.

[2]. Rovai, A.P., and Grooms, L.D. (2004). The relationship of personality based learning style preferences and learning among online graduate students. Journal of computing in higher education. 16(I), 30-47.

[3]. James, W.B., & Gardner, D.L. (1995). Learning styles: Implications for distance learning, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 67, 19-32.

[4]. Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning Styles and Pedagogy in Post-16 Learning. A Systematic and Critical Review, Learning and Skills Research Centre, UK

[5]. Popescu, E. (2009). Addressing Learning Style Criticism: The Unified Learning Style Model Revisited. LNCS 5686, pp. 332–342, 2009. Website address: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-03426-8_40.

[6]. Felder, R.M. (1993). Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in College Science. Education. College Science Teaching 23(5), 286–290

[7]. Dunn, R., Griggs, S. (2003). Synthesis of the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model Research: Who, What, When, Where and So What – The Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model and Its Theoretical Cornerstone. St. John’s University, New York

[8]. Sadler-Smith, E. (2001). The Relationship between Learning Style and Cognitive Style. Personality and Individual Differences 30, 609–616