Marcia Conner

Introduction to Learning Styles

You may realize that people learn and process information in different ways, but can you describe what those differences are or improve the unique ways that you learn? For decades, education researchers designed models that differentiate how people learn, yet the results are often harder to understand than the people they describe.

This introduction puts learning styles information into easy to understand language and provides sources where you can learn more. I also offer a Learning Style Assessment that you can use to gauge your dominant learning style and techniques you can use to benefit from your individuality.

  • Overview of learning styles
  • Books about different ways people learn
  • Links to other websites about learning styles

Overview of learning styles

Learning styles classify different ways people learn and how they approach information.

If you feel like you can’t learn something important — even after you use a method a friend, a parent, a colleague, or a teacher suggested — you might have a different learning style than that person and their approach might now be the best approach for you. You learn and processes information in your own special way, though we all share some learning patterns, preferences, and approaches. Knowing your own style can also help you realize that other people may approach the same situation in a way that’s different from your own.

I meet learners of all ages who think they’re dim, dumb, lazy, or crazy because they can’t understand materials the way the others do. When these learners can match the way they approach information with the way they learn, they see dramatic improvements in understanding, meaning making, self-image, and for students — grades.

Learning style assessments provide you an opportunity to learn how you are likely to respond under different circumstances and how to approach information in a way that best addresses your own particular needs.

Perceptual Modalities

The learning styles assessments I find most helpful examine how you take in information through your senses. Researchers call these sorts of assessments “perceptual modality assessments.” They look at how you see, hear, feel, and move through the world. Those perceptions deeply affect your ability to learn. Whether you tend to rely more or less on one sense than another has a tremendous influence on how you interpret new experiences and succeed in whatever you work with each day. Take a perceptual modality assessment now.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner asserts there are at least seven modalities (referred to as intelligences) that can be used to describe your individual style. His work encourages everyone to think about learning in new and creative ways.
This work suggests people can be:

  1. Verbal-linguistic: sensitive to the meaning and order of words
  2. Musical: sensitive to pitch, melody, rhythm, and tone
  3. Logical-mathematical: Able to handle chains of reasoning and recognize patterns and order
  4. Spatial: perceive the world accurately and try to re-create or transform aspects of that world
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic: able to use the body skillfully and handle objects adroitly
  6. Interpersonal: understand people and relationships
  7. Intrapersonal: possess access to one’s emotional life as a means to understand oneself and others.

Mind Styles

According to Anthony Gregorc, there are four basic learning styles. Gregorc’s Mind Styles model categorizes learners as Concrete Sequential (CS), Abstract Sequential (AS) Abstract Random (AR) and Concrete Random (CR).

  1. Concrete Sequential (CS) learners are hardworking, conventional, accurate, stable, dependable, consistent, factual, and organized.
  2. Abstract Sequential (AS) learners are analytic, objective, knowledgeable, thorough, structured, logical, deliberate, and systematic.
  3. Abstract Random (AR) learners are sensitive, compassionate, perceptive, imaginative, idealistic, sentimental, spontaneous, and flexible.
  4. Concrete Random (CR) learners are quick, intuitive, curious, realistic, creative, innovative, instinctive, adventurous.

Learning Styles Indicator

David Kolb’s Learning Style Model classifies learners as having a preference for 1)concrete experience or abstract conceptualization (how they take information in), and 2) active experimentation or reflective observation (how they internalize information).

  1. Type 1 (concrete, reflective). A characteristic question of this learning type is “Why?” Type 1 learners respond well to explanations of how course material relates to their experience, their interests, and their future careers. To be effective with Type 1 students, the instructor should function as a motivator.
  2. Type 2 (abstract, reflective). A characteristic question of this learning type is “What?” Type 2 learners respond to information presented in an organized, logical fashion and benefit if they have time for reflection. To be effective, the instructor should function as an expert.
  3. Type 3 (abstract, active). A characteristic question of this learning type is “How?” Type 3 learners respond to having opportunities to work actively on well-defined tasks and to learn by trial-and-error in an environment that allows them to fail safely. To be effective, the instructor should function as a coach, providing guided practice and feedback.
  4. Type 4 (concrete, active). A characteristic question of this learning type is “What if?” Type 4 learners like applying course material in new situations to solve real problems. To be effective, the instructor should stay out of the way, maximizing opportunities for the students to discover things for themselves.

Myers-Briggs

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, based on the work of Carl Jung identifies 16 personality styles based on:

How you relate to the world (Extravert or Introvert)

bullet Extraverts try things out, focus on the world around
bullet Introverts think things through, focus on the inner world of ideas.

How you take in information (Sensing or iNtuiting)

bullet Sensors (practical, detail-oriented, focus on facts and procedures)
bullet Intuitors (imaginative, concept-oriented, focus on meanings and possibilities)

How you make decisions (Thinking or Feeling)

bullet Thinkers are skeptical, tend to make decisions based on logic and rules
bullet Feelers are appreciative, tend to make decisions based on personal and humanistic considerations

How you manage your life (Judging or Perceiving).

bullet Judgers set and follow agendas, seek closure even with incomplete data
bullet Perceivers adapt to changing circumstances, resist closure to obtain more data.

For example, one learner may be an ESTJ (extravert, sensor, thinker, perceiver) and another may be an INFJ (introvert, intuitor, feeler, judger).

Others

There are other ways to organize learning style models. These fall into general categories such as information processing, personality patterns, and social interaction.

Information processing distinguishes between the way you sense, think, solve problems, and remember information. You have a preferred, consistent, distinct way of perceiving, organizing, and retaining information. Kolb’s Learning Styles inventory, Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model, and Keefe’s Human Information Processing Model.

Personality patterns focus on attention, emotion, and values. Understanding these differences allows you to predict the way you’ll react and feel about different situations. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter are two of the most well-know personality pattern assessments. A lesser known assessment is Dellinger’s Psycho-Geometrics.

Social interaction looks at likely attitudes, habits, and strategies learners will take toward their work and how they engage with their peers when they learn. Some learners are independent, dependent, collaborative, competitive, participant, and avoidant. Reichmann and Grasha as well as Baxter Magolda have developed assessments.

Books on learning styles and different ways people learn

This list only includes books I have read that I can personally recommend as easy to read and understand. I may not agree with everything they say, but I believe these were the best of the bunch a few years ago and more of what they say is useful than confusing. Those that are more academic in tone or are exceptions to my “more useful” are noted. Books are listed alphabetically. Beside each of the books that I have read is an abbreviation that tells you which type of learning styles the book addresses.VAK=Visual/Auditory/Kinesthetic, VAK+ refers to models that look at VAK + other modes, MI=Multiple Intelligences, MS=Mind Styles, MBTI=Myers Briggs, PG=Psycho-Geometrics, LSI=Learning Styles Indicator.

Would you like us to review your learning styles book? Send a notetelling us about the book.

Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter, and Faster by Marcia L. Conner (John Wiley & Sons, 2004)  VAK+ ( Read chapter 3 online)

7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences by Thomas Armstrong (Plume, 1999)  MI

The Complete Guide to the Learning Styles Inservice Systemby Rita Stafford Dunn, Kenneth J. Dunn. (Allyn & Bacon, 1998) If you are a teacher, this is a terrific book to introduce you to how to create a learning styles program in your classroom.  VAK

Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis, Victoria Kindle-Hodson (Prima Publishing, 1999) 

How to Implement and Supervise a Learning Style Program by Rita Dunn (ASCD, 1996)  Even though this book is written primarily for educators, I find it one of the very  most straightforward and useful book available.  VAK+ ( Read chapter 1 online)

In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences by Thomas Armstrong (Tarcher, updated 2000)  MI

Learning Unlimited: Using Homework to Engage Your Child’s Natural Style of Intelligence by Dawna Markova and Anne R. Powell  VAK

A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine (2002) 

The Open Mind: Exploring the 6 Patterns of Intelligence by Dawna Markova (1996)  VAK

Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types by David Keirsey, Marilyn Bates  MBTI

So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences by Harvey F. Silver (ASCD, 2000)  MBTI & MI

The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias (Focus on the Family, 1999) 

The Way We Work: What You Know About Working Styles Can Increase Your Efficiency, Productivity, and Job Satisfaction by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias (Broadman & Holman, 1999) MS

What Type Am I? Discover Who You Really Are by Renee Baron  MBTI

Who are You? 101 Ways of Seeing Yourself by Malcolm Godwin. A beautiful picture book that addresses every imaginable way to assess how you work, live, and learn. Also a terrific gift-book. 

I have not personally read the following books, but hear good things about them.

4Mat About Teaching; Format in the Classroom by Bernice McCarthy (EXCEL, 2000) LSI

10 Best Teaching Practices: How Brain Research, Learning Styles, and Standards Define Teaching Competencies by Donna Walker Tileston (2000)

Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles by Janice E. Hale-Benson(1986)

Bringing Out the Best in Your Child: 80 Ways to Focus on Every Kid’s Strengths by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Boys and Girls Learn Differently!: A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian

Every Child Can Succeed by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Learning Styles by Barbara K. Given

Quantum Pathways: Discovering Your Personal Learning Style by Bobbi DePorter, Mike Hernacki (Learning Forum, 2000) MS

Psycho-Geometrics: The Science of Understanding People, and the Art of Communicating with Them by Susan Dellinger (Audio Cassette, 1997) PG

A Teacher’s Guide to Cognitive Type Theory & Learning Style by Carolyn Mamchur (ASCD, 1996)

Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences by Linda Campbell (2nd ed) MI

You Are Smarter Than You Think! Learning Made Easier in Three Simple Steps by Renee Mollan-Masters (1997)

These books are not about learning-styles per se, but offer information on assessments that relate to learning.

Brainstyles: Change Your Life Without Changing Who You Are by Marlane Miller and David Cherry (Brainstyles, 1997)

Dewey Color System: Embrace Hue You Are by Dewey Sadka (Energia, 2001)

Kokology 2: More of the Game of Self-Discovery by Tadahiko Nagao, Isamu Saito(Fireside, 2001)

Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery by Tadahiko Nagao (Fireside, 2000)

The Psychologist’s Book of Self-Tests: 25 Love, Sex, Intelligence, Career, and Personality Tests Developed by Professionals to Reveal the Real You by Louis H. Janda

Who Do You Think You Are?: 12 Methods for Analyzing the True You by Tucker Shaw

The following books were written primarily for academics and people interested in the research behind various learning styles theory. I have only included those I have read and find approachable — though I can only recommend them to people seeking deep detail.

Cognitive Style: Five Approaches and Relevant Research. Kenneth M. Goldstein (1978)

Cognitive Styles and Classroom Learning. Harry Morgan (Praeger Publishers, 1997)

Cognitive Styles and Learning Strategies: Understanding Style Differences in Learning and Behaviour. Richard Riding, Stephen R. Rayner. (David Fulton Publications, 1998)

Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development David Kolb (Prentice-Hall, 1984)  LSI

Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner. This is a terrific book that introduced the notion of multiple intelligences. I didn’t include it in the list above because it’s long and very dry at times.

Handbook of Individual Differences, Learning and Instruction. David H. Jonassen, Barbara L. Grabowski. (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1993)

Learning and Teaching Style: In Theory and Practice by Kathleen A. Butler (1988)

Learning Strategies and Learning Styles: Perspectives on Individual Differences by Ronald R. Schmeck, editor. (Plenum Press, 1998)

Learning Style Perspectives: Impact in the Classroom by Lynne C. Sarasin (Atwood, 1998)

Modes of Thought: Explorations in Culture and Cognition by David R. Olson, Nancy Torrance, editors (1996)

Perspectives on Thinking, Learning, and Cognitive Styles. Robert J. Sternberg, Li-Fang Zhang, editors. 

Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences by Bruce Campbell, Dee Dickinson, Linda E. G. Campbell (Allyn & Bacon, 2nd edition 1996)

Thinking Styles Robert J. Sternberg (Cambridge University Press, 1997) 

Links to other websites about learning styles

International Learning Styles Network, part of the Center for Study of Learning and Teaching Styles at St. John’s University links you the latest research, local activities, and some of the most influential people in the learning-styles field.

CTL Learning Styles Web Pages from the Center for Technology and Learning (CTL), Indiana State University addresses why there are learning styles, Learning Styles in Higher Education, Types of Learning Styles, Using Styles to Teach, and Applying Computer Technologies. CTL also has a Teaching Styles web page.

Support4Learning links to all sorts of resources about learning styles and multiple intelligences.

Theory of Multiple Intelligences explains Howard Gardner’s work, Harvard Project Zero,the traditional view of intelligence, how this view has impacted schools historically, what Multiple Intelligences theory proposes, and how MI affect the implementation of traditional education.

VARK: A Guide to Learning Styles specifically focuses of verbal, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles.


If you reference this page in a report or article, the citation should read:

Conner, Marcia L. “Introduction to Learning Styles.” MarciaConner.com, 1997-2012. http://marciaconner.com/resources/learning-styles-intro/


Assessments: Learning Style | Motivation Style | Direction Style | Engagement Style | Learning Culture Audit

Style-related information: Learning Styles Introduction | Motivation Styles Introduction

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