Further information from Ferl

What are learning styles and do they matter

Further information

Some basic views on learning styles

Web resources

Is it useful to think about learning styles?

Further reading




This article was inspired by the recent discussion on the ILT Champions? Discussion Group. It contains information on some of the well known views relating to learning styles and includes comments from practitioners. Details of further resources on learning styles are also included.

 What are Learning Styles and do they matter?

People have preferences about how they like to learn which is called their learning style. These sometimes account for their problems in learning using a particular approach such as in a classroom or on the job. This may not be entirely due to their learning style but also due to their previous experience. There are a number of systems for describing learning styles. Some well known views of learning styles are provided by:

David Kolb: Experiential Learning

David Kolb is one of the leading researchers in learning strategies and learning processes. His model uses the Lewin Cycle of adult learning. Kolb suggests that there are four stages that follow on from each other to complete the cycle of learning:

  • The first stage is concrete experience where a student has active experience of learning something first hand.
  • This is then followed by reflective observation on that personal experience.
  • The next phase of the cycle, abstract conceptualisation, focuses on how the experience is applied to known theory and how it can then be modified for future active experimentation.

Source: Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential learning : experience as the source of learning and development.

Honey and Mumford?s Learning Styles

Peter Honey and Alan Mumford have identified four main learning style preferences.

  • Activist
  • Reflector
  • Theorist
  • Pragmatist


Activists like to be involved in new experiences and are enthusiastic about new ideas. They enjoy doing things and tend to act first and consider the implications afterwards. They are unlikely to prepare for the learning experience or review their learning afterwards.

Activists learn best when:

  • involved in new experiences, problems and opportunities
  • working with others in team tasks or role-playing
  • being thrown in the deep end with a difficult task
  • chairing meetings, leading discussions

Activists learn less when:

  • listening to lectures or long explanations
  • reading, writing or thinking on their own
  • absorbing and understanding data
  • following precise instruction to the letter


Reflectors like to view the situation from different perspectives. They like to collect data, review and think carefully before coming to any conclusions. They enjoy observing others and will listen to their views before offering their own.

Reflectors learn best when:

  • observing individuals or groups at work
  • reviewing what has happened and thinking about what they have learned
  • producing analyses and reports doing tasks without tight deadlines

Reflectors learn less when:

  • acting as leader or role-playing in front of others
  • doing things with no time to prepare
  • being thrown in at the deep end
  • being rushed or worried by deadlines


Theorists like to adapt and integrate observations into complex and logically sound theories. They think problems through step- by-step. They tend to be perfectionists who like to fit things into a rational scheme.

Theorists learn best when:

  • put in complex situations where they have to use their skills and knowledge
  • they are in structured situations with clear purpose
  • they are offered interesting ideas or concepts even though they are not immediately relevant
  • they have the chance to question and probe ideas

Theorists learn less when:

  • they have to participate in situations which emphasise emotion and feelings
  • the activity is unstructured or briefing is poor
  • they have to do things without knowing the principles or concepts involved
  • they feel they're out of tune with the other participants, for example people with different learning styles


Pragmatists are eager to try things out. They like concepts that can be applied to their job. They tend to be impatient with lengthy discussions and are practical and down to earth.

Pragmatists learn best when:

  • there is a link between the topic and job
  • they have the chance to try out techniques
  • they are shown techniques with obvious advantages such as saving time
  • they are shown a model they can copy

Pragmatists learn less when:

  • there is no obvious or immediate benefit that they can recognise
  • there is no practice or guidelines on how to do it
  • there is no apparent benefit to the learning
  • the event or learning is 'all theory'

Source: Mumford, A. (1997) How to manage your learning environment. Peter Honey Publications.

Riding and Rayner: Cognitive styles analysis

Riding and Rayner have reviewed and integrated research on style differences in learning behaviour and have developed the "cognitive styles analysis" which is designed to provide a method of assessing learning style.

Riding and Rayner suggest a taxonomy for learning style models resulting in four broad groupings:

  1. Style Models based on the learning process
  2. Style models grounded in orientation to study
  3. Style models based on instructional preferences
  4. Style models based on cognitive skills development Style models based on cognitive skills development

Source: Riding, R and Rayner, S (1998) Cognitive Styles and Learning Strategies: Understanding Style Differences in Learning and Behaviour. David Fulton Publishers.

 Some basic views on learning styles are:

  • Some people will prefer to have information presented to them as a whole while others will want the details
  • Some people will prefer to have information presented in text or speech while others would want pictures
  • Some people prefer to learn by doing while others would wish to think about the information before acting
  • Some people prefer to understand the theory before acting while others would prefer to act
  • These are very simple descriptions of learning styles and in practice people have a mixture of them with some characteristics being more pronounced than others.

The key issue to remember is to be flexible in the different learning approaches you provide and not limit your college to a narrow range of methods. A blend of methods and materials needs to be available such as:

  • Opportunities for practice
  • Taught sessions a mix of theory and practice
  • Open learning materials
  • Text and pictures used to present information
  • Formal and informal opportunities to learn
  • Teaching and learning styles discussion

 Is it useful to think about learning styles?

This is a summary of comments from practitioner?s who participated in the discussion on the ILT Champions? Discussion Group.

  • Learners do not utilise a single style to the exclusion of others. They may have a preference for one way of learning, but can also learn (although it may mean harder work) via other ways.
  • From a teacher's point of view this should mean attempting to use a variety of materials and delivery methods to allow students to at least have their learning style preference partly addressed. It would be impossible, in time as well as cost, to attempt to teach in a way that satisfies all learning style preferences to a full extent.
  • There are myriad learning styles out there and the same amount of teaching styles. What is important to realise is that THESE CHANGE depending on the task to be performed and as we grow and upon the individual's circumstances.
  • The whole learning styles concept, however imprecise, has the potential to help learners to develop a more sophisticated awareness of their areas of strength and weakness.
  • E-learning, in its various forms, offers the opportunity to develop one or more learning styles, but it seems to suit some learners, and some teachers, more obviously than others.
  • As a teacher, your own preferred learning style often becomes your predominant teaching style.
  • Some of the research has suggested that the most able learners are those with reasonably plastic learning styles who can adapt their ability to learn to the prevailing materials and circumstances. In other words, making people move out of their preferred learning style gives them the possibility of developing new learning strategies.
  • Clearly there are emotional and motivational factors that come into play if you are constantly provided with material in your non-preferred style. But there is an argument that overly providing a preferred learning style could be a disservice. If "multiple intelligence" theory is right it probably follows that the more intelligences we practice the better.
  • VLEs can be used to house different types of material on the same topic, thus allowing students to take a different path to the same end point, choosing their preferred learning style.


Most students have elements of more than one learning style. It may be useful for students to think about their strongest style and weakest style to identify how they learn.

By thinking about their preferred style, they can try and apply this to learning new things. If they are able to use their natural style, they may find learning much easier and quicker.

Knowing your learning style may help you develop coping strategies to compensate for your weaknesses and capitalise on your strengths.

 Further information from Ferl

Learning Styles Presentation: A PowerPoint presentation from Virginia Havergal of Wiltshire College on the subject of Learning Styles. Includes slides on Multiple Intelligence Theory.

Ferl Practitioners? Programme Module K4.5a - What is your Learning Style

What is your Learning Style? is a simple quiz that looks at one method that can be used to identify your own learning styles.

The Ferl Pedagogy Focus Area: This section of the Focus area looks at examples of integrated teaching and learning styles.

 Further information

Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire

A full online version of this questionnaire is available from the Peter Honey website on a pay-as-you-go basis for ?10. Your results include a full report with suggestions about how to become a more effective learner.

The website has information about learning styles and Multiple Intelligence (MI) and is helpful for everyone especially for people with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This site provides an explanation of what learning styles and MI are all about, an interactive assessment of your learning style/MI, and practical tips to make your learning style work for you.

 Web resources

 Further reading

Title: The learning styles questionnaire: by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford, Maidenhead, 2001

Title: Learning styles and strategies: a review of research by Philip Adey et al., ion info. London : King's College London, School of Education, 1999

Title: Dyslexia and Learning Styles: A Practitioner?s Handbook by Tilley Mortimore, Whurr Publishers Ltd, 2002

Title: Cognitive Styles and Learning Strategies: Understanding Style Differences in Learning and Behaviour by Richard Rayner, Stephen Rayner, David Fulton Publishers, 1998

Title: Learning Styles Audit by Mike Woodcock, Dave Francis, Gower Publishing Limited, 1994