The theory of learning styles is presented; this is a highly valuable tool to be used in the learning experience.
Why did I choose this tool?
Knowing one’s own preferences in terms of learning styles is an incredible and invaluable source of help in structuring and organizing our learning experiences and therefore the development of the competence to identify learning objectives & pursue them proactively.
How does it apply to a trainer?
Trainers can get to know themselves and their individual learning tendencies, which can improve the quality of their learning significantly.
The concept of learning styles was introduced back in the 1970s as a part of an attempt to describe learning differences other than those related to intelligence and abilities. The explanation behind it is that people can learn in many ways; and each learner has individual preferences for conditions that promote learning. Each of us has our own learning style (Illeris, 2017, p.185).
One of the best known approaches to the concept of learning styles is that of David Kolb. Kolb asserts that different people to different degrees, lean towards one or more of the four modes in the learning cycle – concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. By measuring these tendencies through special tests, an individual profile of learning styles can be drawn (Kolb, 1984, p.84).
Accommodative learner or an ‘accommodator’ is typically creative and intuitive. The divergent learner typically has well-developed imagination and is good at taking several perspectives into consideration. The assimilative learner is typically good at conceptual and theoretical thinking, while the convergent learner excels at deductive thinking and problem solving. Learners can also be on the borderline between two of the categories. The learning style profile can thus provide an understanding of the learner’s strong and weak sides, and can then structure one’s learning accordingly. The learner should be aware of their profile and organize their learning in a way that corresponds to their personal preferences.
Following practical implications of this model, Kolb goes on to outline a learning profile for people attending different educational programs. Thus, students in the fields of psychology, political science and history exhibit mostly an assimilative learning style, engineering and nursing students are largely inclined towards a convergent learning style, students of commerce tend to have an accommodative learning style, while mathematics, chemistry and physics students have, on average, a learning style that is close to the borderline between the assimilative and the convergent (Kolb, 1984, p. 86).
The broadest understanding of learning styles is offered by Rita Dunn (1996). Using a practice-oriented approach, they simply took into consideration all matters relevant for learning. They found a total of 21 different factors within the following categories: environmental (sound, light, temperature, design), emotional (motivation, persistence, responsibility, structure), sociological (self, pair, peers, team, adult, varied), physical (perceptual, intake, time, mobility), and finally psychological matters (global/analytic, hemisphericity, impulsive/reflective). Using the 21 categories, several experiments have been conducted and guidelines have been drawn up in relation to teaching children, young people and adults (Illeris, 2017, p.186).
Finally, another, quite popular approach to learning styles is the one focusing on the fact that there are differences between people with respect to their differences in the capacity and affinity towards processing certain kinds of sensory impressions. This approach differentiates among those learners who learn best through the written word (visual learners), those whose learning thrives most when the learning material is heard (auditory learners), those who learn best through experiences (kinesthetic) and those who learn by touching and manipulating things (tactile). For more on this approach, see Lena Boström’s work.
It is important to note that no learning style is better than any other; people simply have different preferences for how to learn best. Of course, learners’ preferences can change depending on the challenges they encounter. Therefore, when planning the learning process, the question trainers often ask themselves is—should we adapt to learners’ existing strengths or strengthen their weak sides? My opinion is that the theories above should not lead to any fixed and rigid frameworks in terms of how one should learn or facilitate learning for others; we should rather simply acknowledge that, as Illeris puts it, “if one learns in this way or that way, one must simply acknowledge it and do that or this (Illeris, 2017, p.187)”.
Trainer completes the questionnaires individually:
- Kolb’s Learning Style Questionnaire:
This questionnaire is designed to find out your preferred learning styles(s) as an adult. Over the years, you have probably developed learning habits that help you benefit more from some experiences than from others. You may be unaware of this, and this questionnaire will help you pinpoint your learning preferences and share them with the other Community Facilitators.
This questionnaire will probably take you about 10 minutes to complete. The accuracy of
your results depends on how honest you are. There are no right or wrong answers.
If you agree more than you disagree with a statement, place a tick in the box to the left of the question. If you disagree more than you agree, leave the box blank. If you find yourself wondering which situation to think of when answering a question, just think about how you are when you are working with people. Go with your first gut reaction instead of over-thinking your response.
- I have strong beliefs about what is right and wrong, good and bad.
- I often act without considering the possible consequences.
- I tend to solve problems using a step-by-step approach.
- I believe that formal procedures and policies restrict people.
- I have a reputation for saying what I think, simply and directly.
- I often find that actions based on feelings are as sound as those based on careful thought and analysis.
- I like the sort of work where I have time for thorough preparation and implementation.
- I regularly question people about their basic assumptions.
- What matters most is whether something works in practice.
- I actively seek out new experiences.
- When I hear about a new idea or approach, I immediately start working out how to apply it in practice.
- I am keen on self-discipline such as watching my diet, taking regular exercise, sticking to a fixed routine, etc.
- I take pride in doing a thorough job
- I get on best with logical, analytical people and less well with spontaneous, ‘irrational’ people.
- I take care over how I interpret data and avoid jumping to conclusions.
- I like to reach a decision carefully after weighing up many alternatives.
- I am attracted more to novel, unusual ideas than to practical ones.
- I don’t like disorganized things and prefer to fit things into a coherent pattern.
- I accept and stick to laid down procedures and policies so long as I regard them as an efficient way of getting the job done.
- I like to relate my actions to a general principle, standard or belief.
- In discussions, I like to get straight to the point.
- I tend to have distant, rather formal relationships with people at work.
- I thrive on the challenge of tackling something new and different.
- I enjoy fun-loving spontaneous people.
- I pay careful attention to detail before coming to a conclusion.
- I find it difficult to produce ideas on impulse.
- I believe in coming to the point immediately.
- I am careful not to jump to conclusions too quickly.
- I prefer to have as many sources of information as possible – the more information to think over the better.
- Flippant, superficial people who don’t take things seriously enough usually irritate me.
- I listen to other people’s points of view before putting my own view forward.
- I tend to be open about how I’m feeling.
- In discussions, I enjoy watching the plotting and scheming of the other participants.
- I prefer to respond to events in a spontaneous, flexible way rather than plan things outin advance.
- I tend to be attracted to techniques such as flow charts, contingency plans etc.
- It worries me if I have to rush work to meet a tight deadline
- I tend to judge people’s ideas on their practical merits.
- Quiet, thoughtful people tend to make me feel uneasy.
- I often get irritated by people who want to rush things.
- It is more important to enjoy the present moment than to think about he past or future.
- I think that decisions based on a careful analysis of all the information are better than those based on intuition.
- I tend to be a perfectionist.
- In discussions, I usually produce lots of spontaneous ideas.
- In meetings, I put forward practical, realistic ideas.
- More often than not, rules are there to be broken.
- I prefer to stand back from a situation and consider all the perspectives.
- I can often see inconsistencies and weaknesses in other people’s arguments.
- On balance I talk more than I listen.
- I can often see better, more practical ways to get things done.
- I think written reports should be short and to the point.
- I believe that rational, logical thinking should win the day.
- I tend to discuss specific things with people rather than engaging in social discussion.
- I like people who approach things realistically rather than theoretically.
- In discussions, I get impatient with irrelevant issues and digressions.
- If I have a report to write, I tend to produce lots of drafts before settling on the final version.
- I am keen to try things out to see if they work in practice.
- I am keen to reach answers via a logical approach.
- I enjoy being the one that talks a lot.
- In discussions, I often find I am a realist, keeping people to the point and avoiding wild speculations.
- I like to ponder many alternatives before making up my mind.
- In discussions with people I often find I am the most dispassionate and objective.
- In discussions I’m more likely to adopt a ‘low profile’ than to take the lead and do most of the talking.
- I like to be able to relate current actions to the longer-term bigger picture.
- When things go wrong, I am happy to shrug it off and ‘put it down to experience’.
- I tend to reject wild, spontaneous ideas as being impractical.
- It’s best to think carefully before taking action.
- On balance, I do the listening rather than the talking.
- I tend to be tough on people who find it difficult to adopt a logical approach.
- Most times I believe the end justifies the means.
- I don’t mind hurting people’s feelings so long as the job gets done.
- I find the formality of having specific objectives and plans stifling.
- I’m usually one of the people who puts life into a party.
- I do whatever is practical to get the job done.
- I quickly get bored with methodical, detailed work.
- I am keen on exploring the basic assumptions, principles and theories underpinning things and events.
- I’m always interested to find out what people think.
- I like meetings to be run on methodical lines, sticking to laid down agenda.
- I steer clear of subjective (biased) or ambiguous (unclear) topics.
- I enjoy the drama and excitement of a crisis situation.
- People often find me insensitive to their feelings.
You score one point for each item you ticked. There are no points for the items you crossed.
Go back over your responses and simply circle the question number in the table below for each question you ticked. Then add up the number of circled responses in the Totals row.
ACTIVISTS (accommodating) want practical tasks and very little theory. They learn best from activities where: New experiences are emphasized; The focus is on the present and on doing such activities as games, problem solving, simulations; There is a lot of action and excitement; They can lead and be in the limelight; Ideas are generated without any concern about practical constraints; They have to respond to a challenge and take risks; The central focus is on team problem-solving.
THEORISTS (assimilating) want handouts, something to take away and study. They learn best from activities where; The learning forms a part of a conceptual whole, such as a model for a theory; There is time to explore the interrelationship amongst elements; They can explore the theory and methodology underlying the subject under investigation; They are intellectually stretched; There is a clear and obvious purpose to the activities; There is a reliance on rationality and logic; They can analyze situations and then generalize their findings; They are asked to understand complex situations.
REFLECTORS (diverging) want lots of breaks to go off and read and discuss. They learn best from activities where, there are opportunities to observe and consider; There is a strong element of passive involvement such as listening to a speaker or watching a video; There is time to think before having to act or contribute; There is opportunity for research and problems can be probed in some depth; They can review what was happening; They are asked to produce reports that carefully analyze a situation or issue; There is interaction with others without any risks of strong feelings coming to the fore; They can finalize a view without being put under pressure.
PRAGMATISTS (converging) want shortcuts and tips. They learn best from activities where; There is a clear link back to some job-related problem; Material is directed towards techniques that make their work easier; They are able to practice what they have learned; They can relate to a successful role model; There are many opportunities to implement what has been learned; The relevance is obvious and the learning is easily transferred to their jobs; What is done is practical such as drawing up action plans or trialing techniques or procedures.
DIVERGERS (Concrete experiencer/ Reflective observer) take experiences and think deeply about them. They diverge from a single experience to multiple possibilities. When they learn they will ask ‘why’, and will start from detail to logically work up to the big picture. They like working with others but like things to remain calm– they will be distressed by conflicts in the group. They like to receive constructive feedback.
CONVERGERS (Abstract conceptualization/Active experimenter) think about things and then try out their ideas to see if they work in practice. When they learn they will ask ‘how’, and will want to learn by understanding how things work in practice. They like facts and will seek to make things efficient by making small and careful changes. They prefer to work alone or independently.
ACCOMODATORS (Concrete experiencer/Active experimenter) have the most hands-on approach, with a strong preference for doing rather than thinking. When they lean they will ask ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ to support their action first approach. They do not like routine and will take creative risks to see what happens. They learn better by themselves than with others.
ASSIMILATORS (Abstract conceptualizer /Reflective observer) have the most cognitive approach, preferring to think than to act. When they learn they will ask ‘What is there I can know?’ and like organized and structured understanding. Lectures are their preference, with demonstrations where possible, and will respect the knowledge of experts. People with this style will have a strong control need. They learn best with lectures that start from high-level concepts and work down to the details.
2. VAK Learning Styles Questionnaire
Circle or tick the answer that most represents how you generally behave.
(It’s best to complete the questionnaire before reading the accompanying explanation.)
- When I operate new equipment I generally:
a) read the instructions first
b) listen to an explanation from someone who has used it before
c) go ahead and have a go, I can figure it out as I use it
2. When I need directions for travelling I usually:
a) look at a map
b) ask for spoken directions
c) follow my nose and maybe use a compass
- When I cook a new dish, I like to:
a) follow a written recipe
b) call a friend for an explanation
c) follow my instincts, testing as I cook
- If I am teaching someone something new, I tend to:
a) write instructions down for them
b) give them a verbal explanation
c) demonstrate first and then let them have a go
- I tend to say:
a) watch how I do it
b) listen to me explain
c) you have a go
- During my free time I most enjoy:
a) going to museums and galleries
b) listening to music and talking to my friends
c) playing sport or doing DIY
- When I go shopping for clothes, I tend to:
a) imagine what they would look like on
b) discuss them with the shop staff
c) try them on and test the m out
- When I am choosing a holiday I usually:
a) read lots of brochures
b) listen to recommendations from friends
c) imagine what it would be like to be there
- If I was buying a new car, I would:
a) read reviews in newspapers and magazines
b) discuss what I need with my friends
c) test-drive lots of different types
- When I am learning a new skill, I am most comfortable:
a) watching what the teacher is doing
b) talking through with the teacher exactly what I’m supposed to do
c) giving it a try myself and work it out as I go
- If I am choosing food off a menu, I tend to:
a) imagine what the food will look like
b) talk through the options in my head or with my partner
c) imagine what the food will taste like
- When I listen to a band, I can’t help:
a) watching the band members and other people in the audience
b) listening to the lyrics and the beats
c) moving in time with the music
- When I concentrate, I most often:
a) focus on the words or the pictures in front of me
b) discuss the problem and the possible solutions in my head
c) move around a lot, fiddle with pens and pencils and touch things
- I choose household furnishings because I like:
a) their colors and how they look
b) the descriptions the sales-people give me
c) their textures and what it feels like to touch them
- My first memory is of:
a) looking at something
b) being spoken to
c) doing something
- When I am anxious, I:
a) visualize the worst-case scenarios
b) talk over in my head what worries me most
c) can’t sit still, fiddle and move around constantly
- I feel especially connected to other people because of:
a) how they look
b) what they say to me
c) how they make me feel
- When I have to revise for an exam, I generally:
a) write lots of revision notes and diagrams
b) talk over my notes, alone or with other people
c) imagine making the movement or creating the formula
- If I am explaining to someone I tend to:
a) show them what I mean
b) explain to them in different ways until they understand
c) encourage them to try and talk them through my idea as they do it
- I really love:
a) watching films, photography, looking at art or people watching
b) listening to music, the radio or talking to friends
c) taking part in sporting activities, eating fine foods and wines or dancing
- Most of my free time is spent:
a) watching television
b) talking to friends
c) doing physical activity or making things
- When I first contact a new person, I usually:
a) arrange a face to face meeting
b) talk to them on the telephone
c) try to get together whilst doing something else, such as an activity or a meal
- I first notice how people:
a) look and dress
b) sound and speak
c) stand and move
- If I am angry, I tend to:
a) keep replaying in my mind what it is that has upset me
b) raise my voice and tell people how I feel
c) stamp about, slam doors and physically demonstrate my anger
- I find it easiest to remember:
c) things I have done
- I think that you can tell if someone is lying if:
a) they avoid looking at you
b) their voices changes
c) they give me funny vibes
- When I meet an old friend:
a) I say “it’s great to see you!”
b) I say “it’s great to hear from you!”
c) I give them a hug or a handshake
- I remember things best by:
a) writing notes or keeping printed details
b) saying them aloud or repeating words and key points in my head
c) doing and practising the activity or imagining it being done
- If I have to complain about faulty goods, I am most comfortable:
a) writing a letter
b) complaining over the phone
c) taking the item back to the store or posting it to head office
- I tend to say:
a) I see what you mean
b) I hear what you are saying
c) I know how you feel
Now add up how many A’s, B’s and C’s you selected.
A’s = B’s = C’s =
If you chose mostly A’s you have a VISUAL learning style.
If you chose mostly B’s you have an AUDITORY learning style.
If you chose mostly C’s you have a KINESTHETIC learning style.
People commonly have a main preferred learning style, but this will be part of a blend of all three. Some people have a very strong preference; other people have a more even mixture of two or less commonly, three styles.
Now see the VAK Learning Styles Explanation.
VAK Learning Styles Explanation
The VAK learning styles model suggests that most people can be divided into one of three preferred styles of learning. These three styles are as follows, (and there is no right or wrong learning style):
- Someone with a Visual learning style has a preference for seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart, etc. These people will use phrases such as ‘show me’, ‘let’s have a look at that’ and will be best able to perform a new task after reading the instructions or watching someone else do it first. These are the people who will work from lists and written directions and instructions.
- Someone with an Auditory learning style has a preference for the transfer of information through listening: to the spoken word, of self or others, of sounds and noises. These people will use phrases such as ‘tell me’, ‘let’s talk it over’ and will be best able to perform a new task after listening to instructions from an expert. These are the people who are happy being given spoken instructions over the telephone, and can remember all the words to songs that they hear!
- Someone with a Kinesthetic learning style has a preference for physical experience – touching, feeling, holding, doing, practical hands-on experiences. These people will use phrases such as ‘let me try’, ‘how do you feel?’ and will be best able to perform a new task by going ahead and trying it out, learning as they go. These are the people who like to experiment, hands-on, and never look at the instructions first!
*VAK learning styles model was designed by Walter Burke Barbe and later expanded by Neil Fleming.
- How do the test results relate to what you already knew about yourself as a learner? What new information did you discover about your learning style(s)?
- Think of some practical learning situations where you would apply what you have discovered?
- What will you include more in your future learning processes and what will you try to avoid?
- What area of learning would you like to improve on?
- Name 3 learning situations in which you excel and 3 where you have challenges succeeding?
- How would you apply the information from this article in the training you guide?