Welcome to the Absolute Idiot's Guide to Learning Styles

IDIOTs know that there is more than meets the eye when educating others. Browse through the resources and links below for an overview of Learning Styles, where they have come from and where they are going to in the future.

(IDIOT = Idealist Devoted to Influencing Others Tirelessly)

WHAT are 'Learning Styles'?

In your experience as an educator, you have probably pondered on why some students find it difficult to learn, whereas others find it easy. Some students learn particular skills easily and well, but are not so competent with learning other skills.
Why don't all learners learn all skills with the same efficacy and at the same rate?
Auditory/Sequential -vs- Visual/Spatial

'The way in which we learn best is related to the context in which we do our learning. We learn how to learn through particular learning contexts or situations. As we mature as learners, we find that we approach a learning situation in reasonable consistent ways, that is, we tend to develop a particular learning style. We can define learning style as "a relatively consistent pattern of perception, interaction with and response to stimuli in a particular learning environment"' (Pithers & Mason 1992, p.61).

So, styles are a pattern of how students each individually approach learning and can be affected by many different forces. The image at right shows the different approaches that two types of learners may have to getting themselves off to school in the morning. If that is the way that they approach an everyday task, then imagine how they would approach learning something new - it would be very different for each of them.

STOP HERE and take a survey. What do you already know ?

Click on the monkey below.
Check LS Results for an analysis of the survey results so far.

WHY learn about Learning Styles?

Once a style is determined, then the learner (and the educator) can gain some insight into their preferred way of learning, which in turn can inform a better choice of learning activities. Matching activities to a preferred style can support the learner to achieve, while planning activities that work in their less-preferred styles can encourage the learner to develop more confidence and strength in that area.

Jonassen & Grabowski (1993) remark that, the fact that learners think, process information, and learn differently is obvious. Those differences affect the courses they take and succeed in, the careers they choose, and even the friends they select. Although the relationships between learner traits and information-processing effects, and learning outcomes is often methodologically fuzzy, the relationships are still obvious to anyone who has ever taught.

REFLECTION ACTIVITY: How well do you know yourself as a learner? Can you locate examples from the way you learn that would exemplify individual differences? Can you identify with either of the above flowcharts for Getting Ready for School?

The term Learning Styles has been used to cover a broad range of models and theories about how learners actually collect and process information when they are learning something new. The range spreads from simple to complex and is supported by various Inventories to 'test' for a set of characteristics that will describe a learner's style. As there are so many to choose from, we have included a selection below which you may find useful as resources for working with your learners.


Learning styles, learning modalities and learning strengths may be classified broadly into the following six types.
Click on each type to see one or more examples with a very brief description, a further link to an explanatory website, and (if available) an online Learning Styles Inventory for you to complete.
  1. Sensory
  2. Perceptual
  3. Cognitive Information Processing
  4. Personality type
  5. Personal talents
  6. Situational


Over the years, continuing study of models in the above categories has produced new theories and more models which combine several of their features. Two examples are:
  1. Memletics
  2. 4Mat

Also, with the increasing use of the Internet and ICTs, further study has suggested that today's learners have developed new ways to approach learning.
  1. Neomillennial
  2. Web 2.0 Personality Types

1. Sensory

  • Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic & Tactile (VAK)
  • Learners have a preferred method of input, either by seeing, hearing, or doing.

  • Click VARK site which offers:
  • an online Inventory
  • instant results
  • Help Sheets for each Style
  • Frequently Asked Questions
Sample of Help Sheets
back to MODELS List

2. Perceptual

  • Right/Left Hemispheric Dominance (Sperry) or whole Brain Model (Hermann)
  • Learners have preferred characteristics attributed to the two different hemispheres of the brain
  • Click Hermann site for explanation
  • Click here for Right/left Brain Inventory, including graphical results

back to MODELS List

3. Cognitive Information Processing (three examples)

  • Kolb's Learning Styles model
  • Learners have preferred styes in the realms of perception -vs- processing
  • Click here for explanation of model
  • Instruments need to be purchased

  • Felder and SolomanFelderman_LS_index.jpg
  • Learners have preferrred styles on a continuum as shown in Figure 1 right
  • Click here for explanation
  • Click here for Learning Style Questionnaire and results
sample of Results Page

  • Honey and Mumford Learning Styles (a variation on Kolb)
  • Learners have preferred styles in four quadrants as shown below
  • Click here for explanation (scroll down the page)
  • Instruments need to be purchased


back to MODELS List

4. Personality Type (two examples)

  • Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
  • Learners have preferred styles according to the dichotomies in the table below
  • Click Myers Briggs Site for a summary of each type in an interactive table
  • MBTI instruments need to be purchased (however, see next point)
  • Click Paragon for an Inventory, based on the work of Jung (1921) and Myers Briggs, which you can print out and hand score


Image sourced from
as part of the work of

  • The Keirsey Temperament Sorter (a variation on MBTI)
  • Learners have preferred styles in 4 Temperaments shown below
  • Click Keirsey site for explanation of the Temperaments
  • Instruments need to be purchased

back to MODELS List

5. Personal Talents

  • Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
  • Learners exhibit preferences in eight different types of intelligence as shown below
  • Click here for a downloadable Excel Spreadsheet Inventory
  • multiple_intelligences_diagram.jpeg
back to MODELS List

6. Situational

  • Regardless of natural learning preferences, it is important to recognise that some tasks demand specialised learning modalities. For example if you have to learn to row a boat, there is not much point in relying on reading the manual, or listening to someone's instructions - you will ultimately have to get into the boat and row it.

back to MODELS List

Combined Models

1. Memletics

  • Learners have a preference in seven areas as shown in the graph below
  • Click here for an Inventory of 70 questions with a graphical result, including comparisons with age, gender, country, and occupation


2. 4Mat Model (Bernice McCarthy)

  • Learners have a preferred style in one of four quadrants shown below
  • Click here for tables and explanations
  • Listen to Bernice McCarthy explaining how she developed the idea with very funny supporting stories -
  1. Click Part One
  2. Click Part Two
  3. Click for video (in wmv format)
back to MODELS List

Emerging Cyberlearning Model?

1. Neomillennial Learning Styles. Dede proposes the following emerging learning styles

  • Fluency in multiple media and in simulation-based virtual settings
  • Communal learning involving diverse, tacit, situated experience, with knowledge distributed across a community and a context as well as within an individual
  • A balance among experiential learning, guided mentoring, and collective reflection
  • Expression through nonlinear, associational webs of representations
  • Co-design of learning experiences personalized to individual needs and preferences


2. Web 2.0 Personality Dimensions. Warfield suggests the following styles describe today's learners:

Needs motion to attract their attention like Jurassic Park’s TRex
Wants time to digest a relatively static scene
Prefers written words
Loves videos and other rich media
Thrives on chaos
Prefers structure
Likes to watch
Driven to participate
and attributes the favourite Web 2.0 tools to each style as in the matrix below:


back to MODELS List

REFLECTION ACTIVITY: Which of these models do you see as being the most important to understand when working with YOUR learners?


Whilst a number of instruments have been developed to measure learning style preferences, and a wealth of material has been developed, there are also many who oppose the notion that such preferences can be measured with any validity. Below is a selection of opinions:
  • Jonassen & Grabowski (1993) state that: "the validity of learning styles as a construct is based on the assumption that learners' cognitive styles are accurately reflected in their own perceptions. This assumes that learners are aware of how they process information and have developed some internally consistent constructs of themselves as learners." (p.232) thus querying this assumption.
  • Gardner (1993 p. 203) removes his study from the Learning Styles debate by making a distinction between Learning Styles and types of Intelligence stating: "The concept of style designates a general approach that an individual can apply equally to every conceivable content. In contrast, an intelligence is a capacity … that is geared to a specific content in the world."
  • In a publication entitled 'Should we be using Learning Styles? What research has to say to practice', Coffield et al (2004) thoroughly investigate a large number of Learning Styles and Models, testing them against set criteria in an attempt to validate their claims.
  • In this article Rod Bramald reviews Coffield's report
  • Julie Henry in her news article 'Professor pans ‘Learning Styles’ teaching method' reports on Susan Greenfield's opinion that "the method of classifying pupils on the basis of "learning styles" is a waste of valuable time and resources". She also reports Coffield as insisting "that the (Learning Styles) approach is theoretically incoherent and confused."
  • Frank Greenagel in his webarticle 'Lead Balloons, Stone Canoes, and Learning Styles notes that "Little effort is made to reconcile the findings from one set of tools with those from any other. More important, much of the research was conducted within the context of secondary and post-secondary education, which is rarely representative of adult learning.
  • Martin O'Grady in his 'Critique of Teaching & Learning Unit Report' states "We must be very careful not to fall into the logical trap of reifying a psychological construct and lending it credence just because somebody says it exists and applies a label to it. That does not bring it into the realm of reality that is occupied by such human characteristics as height, weight or eye colour. Constructs are theoretical formulations and must be supported by empirical evidence of their effects and explanatory value before we lend them any credence.
  • While Bjorkland (1989) found aspects of Right/Left brain hemispherity interesting and provocative, he also wondered at educators and parents uncritically adopting the idea of hemispherity to explain why some students underachieve, despite inconclusive research support.
  • However Ornstein (1997), after dubbing the Right/Left brain hemisphere dominance - 'Dichotomania' set out to prove that the 1970's research of Sperry was perhaps too simpistic for today and that in the ensuing years a more compelx relationship between the two halves of the brain would have been discovered. This would then complicate the right-left brain discussion and end the 'commercialism' that had grown up around the issue. In revisiting what he saw as the past 25 years of cacophony however, his findings brought him to an unexpected conclusion - that the division of the mind is profound. He had not proved what he had set out to prove.

Regardless of whether you believe the connection between original research studies and the extrapolations made since then is tenuous or not, Educators would have to ask the question: Does it really matter how closely the material can be justified by the research? or is ANY learning from the debate important to the ability to relate to students?

REFLECTION ACTIVITY: How does the contrary opinion impact on your ideas of working with Learning Styles with your learners?

HOW to use Learning Styles as an Educator

Is it really possible to create learning materials that will be all things to all people? With a wide variety of learners and content to cover it may seem an impossible task. Some suggestions could include:
  • survey some of your learners. Your group may have one main learning style due to the situation
  • make your training flexible to allow learners to choose activities or the sequence that will suit their preferences
  • use a wide variety of methods to accommodate as many styles as possible. For example use videos, but also make a podcast of the sound, so that students can review the material while walking, riding, or driving
  • only use online and mobile learning with those learners who you think will be able to successfully meet the challenge
  • at the very least, develop activities that include Video, Audio, and Movement

Below is a short list of examples of work that may give you some ideas:

  • ANTA Toolboxes for National Training Package Qualifications are built to be taken apart so that educators can select interactive activities and reuse them in their own way. Click here for part of the Retail Training Package where learners can interact with a case study. (Click through the navigation buttons on the left of the site.)
  • Wisc-online Resource Center is a free digital library of Web-based learning resources called learning objects.
    This learning object is great for visual and kinesthetic learners, as there is a visual memory component as well as a physical activity in 'dragging and dropping' to match learned information. (Click NEXT to get the activity started)
  • Gilly Salmon's activities for e-learning Etivities>
  • Chris Dede's Powerpoint shows an example of using handheld devices (or phones) to move students towards a Quest on campus, where they can collect pices of information when they move to a spot within 20 feet of a certain point. (Click the Powerpoint button)
  • Professor Michael Connor's use of the Multi-user Virtual Environment (MUVE) Second Life to allow students' artwork to be critiqued internationally. Critique It is an example of a recording of a live session in a multi-user environment with chat, voice, and presentation all appering on the same screen. It is fairly lengthy but worth the wait if you would like to get an idea of how Second Life is being used.
  • The reflective behaviour that occurs following failed attempts can be interpreted as "learning from one's mistakes", perhaps one of the most effective learning strategies. Try this Stencil Stacking task from the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, to understand 'reflection'.

REFLECTION ACTIVITY: Which of the above examples has inspired you to do something new?