Learning styles refer to a range of competing and contested theories that aim to account for differences in individuals' learning. These theories propose that all people can be classified according to their 'style' of learning, although the various theories present differing views on how the styles should be defined and categorised. A common concept is that individuals differ in how they learn.
The idea of individualized learning styles became popular in the 1970s, and has greatly influenced education despite the criticism that the idea has received from some researchers. Proponents recommend that teachers assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student's learning style. Although there is ample evidence that individuals express preferences for how they prefer to receive information, few studies have found any validity in using learning styles in education. Critics say there is no evidence that identifying an individual student's learning style produces better outcomes. There is evidence of empirical and pedagogical problems related to forcing learning tasks to "correspond to differences in a one-to-one fashion". Well-designed studies contradict the widespread "meshing hypothesis" that a student will learn best if taught in a method deemed appropriate for the student's learning style.
There are many different learning styles models; one literature review identified 71 different models. Only a few models are described below.
David Kolb's model
David A. Kolb's model is based on his experiential learning model, as explained in his book Experiential Learning. Kolb's model outlines two related approaches toward grasping experience: Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualization, as well as two related approaches toward transforming experience: Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation. According to Kolb's model, the ideal learning process engages all four of these modes in response to situational demands; they form a learning cycle from experience to observation to conceptualization to experimentation and back to experience. In order for learning to be effective, Kolb postulated, all four of these approaches must be incorporated. As individuals attempt to use all four approaches, they may tend to develop strengths in one experience-grasping approach and one experience-transforming approach, leading them to prefer one of the following four learning styles:
Kolb's model gave rise to the Learning Style Inventory, an assessment method used to determine an individual's learning style. According to this model, individuals may exhibit a preference for one of the four styles — Accommodating, Converging, Diverging and Assimilating — depending on their approach to learning in Kolb's experiential learning model.
Although Kolb's model is widely accepted with substantial empirical support and has been revised over the years, a 2013 study suggests that the Learning Style Inventory still "possesses serious weaknesses".
Peter Honey and Alan Mumford's model
Peter Honey and Alan Mumford adapted Kolb's experiential learning model. First, they renamed the stages in the learning cycle to accord with managerial experiences: having an experience, reviewing the experience, concluding from the experience, and planning the next steps. Second, they aligned these stages to four learning styles named: Activist, Reflector, Theorist, Pragmatist. These four learning styles are assumed to be acquired preferences that are adaptable, either at will or through changed circumstances, rather than being fixed personality characteristics. Honey and Mumford's Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ) is a self-development tool and differs from Kolb's Learning Style Inventory by inviting managers to complete a checklist of work-related behaviours without directly asking managers how they learn. Having completed the self-assessment, managers are encouraged to focus on strengthening underutilised styles in order to become better equipped to learn from a wide range of everyday experiences.
A MORI survey commissioned by The Campaign for Learning in 1999 found the Honey and Mumford LSQ to be the most widely used system for assessing preferred learning styles in the local government sector in the UK.
Anthony Gregorc's model
Anthony Gregorc and Kathleen Butler organized a model describing different learning styles rooted in the way individuals acquire and process information differently. This model posits that an individual's perceptual abilities are the foundation of his or her specific learning strengths, or learning styles.
In this model, there are two perceptual qualities: concrete and abstract, and two ordering abilities: random and sequential. Concrete perceptions involve registering information through the five senses, while abstract perceptions involve the understanding of ideas, qualities, and concepts which cannot be seen. In regard to the two ordering abilities, sequential ordering involves the organization of information in a linear, logical way, and random ordering involves the organization of information in chunks and in no specific order. The model posits that both of the perceptual qualities and both of the ordering abilities are present in each individual, but some qualities and ordering abilities are more dominant within certain individuals.
There are four combinations of perceptual qualities and ordering abilities based on dominance: concrete sequential, abstract random, abstract sequential, and concrete random. The model posits that individuals with different combinations learn in different ways—they have different strengths, different things make sense to them, different things are difficult for them, and they ask different questions throughout the learning process.
The validity of Gregorc's model has been questioned by Thomas Reio and Albert Wiswell following experimental trials. Gregorc argues that his critics have "scientifically-limited views" and that they wrongly repudiate the "mystical elements" of "the spirit" that can only be discerned by a "subtle human instrument".
Other methods (usually questionnaires) used to identify learning styles include Neil Fleming's VARK Questionnaire and Jackson's Learning Styles Profiler. Many other tests have gathered popularity and various levels of credibility among students and teachers.
Learning style theories have been criticized by many scholars and researchers. Some psychologists and neuroscientists have questioned the scientific basis for separating out students based on learning style. According to Susan Greenfield the practice is "nonsense" from a neuroscientific point of view: "Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain."
Source: Learning Styles