Blog

January 22, 2021

Learning Styles

Each of us learns in different ways. Some of us prefer to study in depth before we tackle a task; others prefer to “get stuck into the job” and learn as we go along. Some of us are satisfied when the methods we use get the job done; others are more concerned with why a particular approach proved successful. Yet others spend time thinking through how the task could be tackled more effectively next time. Research by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford suggests that we might usefully consider 4 basic “learning styles”: Activist – Pragmatist – Theorist – Reflector.

Activist Learning Style

Activists involve themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the “here and now” and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical, and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new. Their philosophy is: “I’ll try anything once”. They tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards. Their days are filled with activity. They tackle problems by brainstorming. As soon as the excitement from one activity has died down, they are busy looking for the next. They tend to thrive on the challenge of new experiences but are bored by implementation and long-term consolidation. They are gregarious people constantly involving them-selves with others but, in so doing, they seek to centre all activity around themselves.

You will want to get stuck in straight away! Explore and experiment by all means – you will discover all sorts of things as you do so. You may then be able to help others solve their specific problems and you can call on their help to rescue you. Try to remember, however, that not everybody has your enthusiasm and drive and they may wish to approach life (and learning) a little more slowly.

Recording learning

If you need to keep notes of what you have learned, Mindmapping is a quick and visual method of recording information that is probably suited to your style of learning.

Using IT

You might like to use short-cut key-combinations but will also find the toolbar buttons useful. The UNDO button will come in handy for when your experimenting does not produce the result you wanted

  • Jumps in at the deep end
  • Enthusiastic
  • Looks for new experiences
  • Likes to be centre of attention

STRENGTHS

  • Flexible and open-minded
  • Happy to “have a go”
  • Enjoys new situations
  • Optimistic about anything new – therefore unlikely to resist change

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Will I learn something new? (Something I didn’t know or couldn’t do before.)
  • Will there be a variety of different activities? (I get bored doing the same thing for any length of time.)
  • Will it be OK to let my hair down and have fun?
  • Will it be OK to make mistakes?
  • Will there be other like-minded people to mix with?

WEAKNESSES

  • Tendency to take the immediately obvious course of action without weighing up other possibilities
  • Tendency to do too much themselves
  • Tendency to hog the limelight
  • Often take unnecessary risks
  • Goes into action without sufficient preparation
  • Gets bored with implementation and consolidation

Pragmatist Learning Style

Pragmatists are keen on trying out new ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They are the sort of people who return from courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out. They like to get on with things, and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussion. They are essentially practical, down-to-earth people who like solving problems (often through trial and error). They view problems and difficulties as a “challenge”. Their philosophy is: “As long as it works, that’s fine.” – although they may also be keen to experiment to find better ways to do things.

You will appreciate having a specific task or project to work on. This will help you to focus your attention as you seek to “come up with the goods”. You may find it useful to break down larger projects into smaller sections – each of which has its own problems and difficulties to be solved.

Recording learning

If you have to record information, you may find flow charts a useful way of representing what you have learned. Using flowcharts will also help you to develop a more holistic view of your work.

Using IT

You will probably use the toolbar buttons to get things done. You can use the HELP pointer to find out what these do. There are EXAMPLES and DEMOS in the HELP menu where you can often find useful hints and tips to help you get the job done. The TIP OF THE DAY can also set you thinking.

  • Experiments with new ideas
  • Looks for practical application
  • Down-to-earth
  • Problem-solver

STRENGTHS

  • Keen to test things out in practice
  • Practical and realistic
  • Down to earth and business-like; gets straight to the point
  • Technique oriented
  • KEY QUESTIONS
  • Will there be opportunity to practice and experiment?
  • Will there be lot of practical tips and techniques?
  • Will we be addressing real problems? (Hopefully, similar to my current problems.)
  • Will I be mixing with “hands-on” experts who have shown they can do it themselves?

WEAKNESSES

  • Tendency to reject anything without an obvious application
  • Not very interested in theory or basic principles
  • Tendency to seize on the first expedient solution to a problem
  • Impatient with “waffle”
  • Task-oriented rather than people-oriented

Theorist Learning Style

Theorists adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think through problems in a logical, step-by-step fashion. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent, holistic theories. They tend to be perfectionists who do not rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme. They like to analyse and synthesise. They are keen on asking questions and challenging assumptions. Their philosophy is: “If it’s logical then it’s good.” They attempt to fit everything together into a single jigsaw that encompasses “life, the universe and everything”. They tend to be detached, analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective or ambiguous. They may rigidly reject anything that does not fit in with their own particular mind-set.

You will want to ask lots of questions. You may find it useful to make a list of everything that needs to be learned and then tick off each item as it is dealt with. You could even grade the list (e.g.: looked at – familiar with – confident). On longer courses, you will benefit from sorting out a study timetable.

Recording learning

You may find it useful to keep a notebook and jot down the main points you have learned. Dividing the notebook into sections relating to different parts of the course will also be helpful. On the other hand, you may prefer to make rough notes initially and spend some time later on organising these into order.

Using IT

You will probably use the drop-down menus much of the time – which will help you to see what else the application can do. You might like to browse through the INDEX or SEARCH FOR HELP in the HELP menu

  • Logical and objective
  • Systematic and analytical
  • Thinks things through
  • Perfectionist
  • STRENGTHS
  • Logical, “vertical” thinkers
  • Rational and objective
  • Disciplined approach
  • Good at asking probing questions

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Will there be opportunities to ask questions?
  • Is there a clear structure and purpose?
  • Will I encounter complex ideas and concepts that will stretch me
  • Are the approaches to be used and concepts to be explored “valid”?
  • Will there be other people of similar calibre to myself?

WEAKNESSES

  • Restricted in lateral thinking
  • Low tolerance for uncertainty, disorder or ambiguity
  • Intolerant of anything subjective or intuitive
  • Full of “shoulds”, “oughts” and “musts”

Reflector Learning Style

Reflectors like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They collect data, both first-hand and from others, and prefer to think about it thoroughly before coming to any conclusion. They tend to postpone reaching definite conclusions for as long as possible. Their philosophy is to be cautious. They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They enjoy observing other people and prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They listen to others before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant unruffled air about them. When they act it is part of a wide picture that includes the past as well as the present and others’ observations as well as their own.

You may find it useful to spend a few minutes thinking through what it is you want to get out of the course you are taking. As the course progresses, make a note of any questions or problems you may have, together with the answers as you discover them.

Recording learning

You may find it a useful exercise to keep a reflective diary as a means of recording what you have learned. This need not take long and is simply a summary of the main points and procedures that you learned each day.

Using IT

You may prefer to use drop-down menus initially but you will soon discover what is best for you. You might like to browse through SEARCH FOR HELP in the HELP menu.

  • Chews things over
  • Thoughtful and analytical
  • Good listener
  • Adopts low profile
  • Likely to procrastinate

STRENGTHS

  • Careful
  • Thorough and methodical
  • Thoughtful
  • Good at listening and assimilating information
  • Rarely jump to conclusions

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Will I be given adequate time to think things through?
  • Will there be the opportunity to assemble all the relevant information?
  • Will there be a wide cross-section of people with a variety of views?
  • Will I be under pressure to get things done quickly? (I don’t like to be slapdash.)

WEAKNESSES

  • Tendency to hold back from direct participation
  • Slow to make up their minds and reach a decision
  • Tendency to be too cautious and not take enough risks
  • Not usually assertive

Learning Styles: the debate

Despite widespread acceptance and application of Learning Styles, there is nevertheless still some debate about the validity of the concept. Proponents of Learning Styles maintain that adapting classroom teaching methods to suit students’ preferred style of learning improves the educative process. However, opponents of Learning Styles theories maintain that there is little empirical evidence to support this proposition.

A report on the scientific validity of Learning Styles practices (Pashler, H.; McDaniel, M.; Rohrer, D.; Bjork, R. (2009). “Learning styles: Concepts and evidence”. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9: 105–119) concluded that an adequate evaluation of the Learning Styles hypothesis requires a particular kind of study. The report suggested that students, having been identified (for example) as “visual learners” or “auditory learners”, should then be randomly assigned to teaching groups focusing on either “visual” or “auditory” learning strategies – so that some students are “matched” to their preferred style, whereas others are “mismatched.” Students’ test scores (for the same test) at the end of the experiment would show whether “matched” students scored better than “unmatched” students – thus indicating whether or not the Learning Styles hypothesis is correct. To date, however, no such rigorous study has been carried out and the evidence for Learning Styles theory is largely anecdotal.

Nevertheless, large numbers of teachers and trainers are persuaded that Learning Styles are a factor in the effectiveness of their students’ learning.

Although the VAK Learning Styles model is perhaps the most widely used, largely because of its simplicity, Susan Greenfield (Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford) argues that adopting such an approach is “nonsense” from a neuro-scientific point of view. She argues that human beings make sense of the world through our senses working in unison. It is connectivity within the brain that enables us to make sense of the world – and therefore any attempt to separate the senses would be detrimental (if indeed it were possible.)

However, proponents of VAK are usually holistic rather than separatist and rarely propose separation of sensory input. They tend to campaign for a broadening of input – away from the tendency within many (traditional) classrooms to focus primarily on auditory input.

Whilst acknowledging that learning is a complex process that depends upon interconnectivity between many different parts of the brain, Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligences would suggest that certain functions are located within generalised regions of the brain and that these modules might be inherently better/worse or developed to different degrees within individuals. This argument could be used to substantiate the claim that individual learners exhibit a preference for particular types of input.

It could be argued that, in the same way that some people are better physically coordinated by contrast with the clumsiness of others, there are those who are more capable than others of extracting meaning from verbal sources. Similarly, others might be more adept at interpreting visual signals. To maintain that all individuals are equally adept at the panoply of skills and abilities exhibited by the brain would be foolish. Nor would it be wise to maintain that everybody is equally capable of development to the same levels of ability. (Interestingly, one of the starting points for Gardner’s thinking was the extraordinary capabilities of savants.)

Despite reference here to Multiple Intelligence Theory, it is worth noting that Gardner’s work is considerably more far reaching than merely being another Learning Styles model.

Less popular than the VAK model, largely because of the terminology employed, is Kolb’s learning styles model, which was developed from his work on Experiential Learning. Kolb proposed a 4-stage experiential learning cycle that applies to all learners. He suggested that immediate or concrete experiences provide a basis for observation and reflection. These are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts which can be actively tested, in turn creating new learning experiences. Individual learners will demonstrate differences in the way they think about things and the way they do things. These differences can be plotted on a Perception continuum (along a spectrum that ranges from a preference for thinking about things in a Concrete or Abstract way) and along a Processing continuum (along a spectrum that ranges from Active to Reflective). This results in identification of 4 broad Learning Styles, which Kolb refers to as: Accommodating, Diverging, Assimilating and Converging.

Apart from the extra effort required to get to grips with the terminology, a further disincentive for many from using Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory is the cost.

Although there is still a cost attached to use of their Learning Styles Questionnaire, Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles theory is more widely used in the UK. Peter Honey acknowledges that “there are more similarities than differences” between their work and that of Kolb.

Whereas some of us prefer to study in depth before we tackle a task; others prefer to “get stuck into the job” and learn as we go along. Some of us are satisfied when the methods we use get the job done; others are more concerned with why a particular approach proved successful. Yet others spend time thinking through how the task could be tackled more effectively next time. Peter Honey and Alan Mumford suggest that we might usefully consider 4 basic learning styles: Activist – Pragmatist – Theorist – Reflector.

Anthony Gregorc’s Mind Styles model is purported to be based on how the mind works and also proposes 4 learning styles. Gregorc proposes that we perceive the world in both concrete and abstract ways and subsequently order those perceptions in either a sequential or random fashion. The combination of these perceptual qualities and ordering abilities generates four combinations: Concrete Sequential; Abstract Random; Abstract Sequential; Concrete Random. Although both of the perceptual qualities and both of the ordering abilities are present in each individual, some will be more dominant. It is this combination that determines our preferred “Mind Style” and provides the foundation for our specific learning strengths, or learning styles.

It is notable that there are a number of “loose similarities” between each of the preceding models, insofar as they each constuct a matrix predicated on two intersecting continua (one concerned with the way we perceive, the other with how we process those perceptions.)

The model advocated by Dunn and Dunn is a more complex and comprehensive one that takes account of various environmental, emotional, sociological, physiological and psychological factors. These include such things as the learner’s need for mobility, optimal time of day for learning, and the learner’s need to chew, smoke or drink, all of which may influence a learner’s capacity to learn. Similar to the VAK model, it acknowledges that learners differ in their preferred perception processes, but also takes account of their levels of motivation and sense of responsibility.

The model is not widely known in the UK but Professors Ken and Rita Dunn (St John’s University, New York) maintain that it is the result of extensive field work and painstaking research. They are at pains to point out that peer-reviewed research papers and doctoral dissertations based on their model have been published at more than 120 universities and that the model has been validated in a wide range of geographic, socioeconomic and ethnic settings.

The model might more properly be said to ascertain learning preferences (rather than styles) and the usefulness of the instrument may reside as much in the self knowledge gained through its completion as in any tabulation of results.

Some have questioned whether the various questionnaires and instruments really indicate “Learning Style” or whether they are more of a personality test. Rather than get hung up about how to categorise or “label” Learning styles theories, it would be more appropriate to consider how the results are used – and whether that usage contributes to more effective learning.

THE CASE AGAINST USING LEARNING STYLES

Those who oppose the use of Learning Styles put forward a number of objections. Many of these are in fact criticisms of the way that Learning Styles are misused rather than a criticism of the concept itself.

It is argued that using Learning Styles could be detrimental because:

Learning Styles categories will be used as simplistic “labels” to be applied to learners – rather than develop an appreciation of the full range of factors that influence their capacity to learn. (However, see Dunn and Dunn, whose model is more far-ranging.)

Teachers who attempt to deliver learning opportunities that focus exclusively on one “style” will disadvantage their students because learning, as previously mentioned (by Greenfield, above), is an holistic activity of the brain that depends on interconnectivity between the different modules of perception. Over-emphasis by teachers on a particular Learning Style might actually reduce rather than increase the potential for absorption of learning

“Learning Styles” could be used as an excuse by some learners (in much the same way that self-diagnosed dyslexia is used by some) who will blame their failure to learn on their teachers’ failure to adopt teaching methods that do not match their Learning Style. (It may be that teachers who adopt a more “traditional” approach may feel more threatened by this.)

Teachers and learners may focus exclusively on “playing to strengths” rather than seek to develop areas of identified weakness – and thus miss out on the opportunity to develop “fully rounded” learners who are capable of calling upon a number of learning strategies. (Promoting the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory, HayGroup emphasise that it “recognises individual learning preferences, while encouraging individuals to expand their learning strengths.” Little mention is made of how teachers and trainers might apply knowledge of students’ learning styles to developing more holistic learners.)

Teachers and learners may focus exclusively on “developing areas of weakness” – and similarly miss out on the opportunity to develop fully rounded learners.

SO WHAT IS THE POINT OF LEARNING STYLES?

In the light of the various criticisms levelled at misuse of Learning Styles, those who engage with the concept may query whether the various theories and models serve any purpose at all. Although the following proposals will not escape criticism, they may provide a basis for future development of Learning Styles usage.

An understanding of Learning Styles theory may encourage teachers to utilise a broader range of teaching strategies – thus providing for all learners a more diverse learning experience – which will increase the potential for brain interconnectivity.

Use of Learning Styles questionnaires may increase students’ self awareness – and hence make a contribution to their effectiveness as learners through raising their levels of motivation and self esteem.

A basic level of understanding of Learning Styles by students could be part of an empowering process that encourages learners to take ownership of their own development.

Learners who have previously written themselves off as failures may be encouraged to make a fresh start if they believe that they can now exercise some control over their own learning.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of Learning Styles theory is that it provides a vocabulary for learners, teachers and educators to discuss how best to assist learners to acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills that they aspire to.

We might usefully conclude by reminding ourselves of the basic tenet that underlies the thinking of those schools and educators who subscribe to the Sudbury Model. Proponents of the Sudbury Model advocate that learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you, and that every child is an individual exhibiting a learning style that is unique to them.

Learning Styles and Gender

A PRELIMINARY WORD OF CAUTION

I believe that all individuals should be treated as individuals regardless of their gender, race, colour, nationality, perceived ability or intelligence, sexual orientation, etc. This applies no less within the context of providing learning opportunities than in other areas of life.

However, providing individuals with equality of opportunity does not mean that they must all be provided with the same opportunity. (For instance, it would be inappropriate to address a mixed group of hearing, hearing-impaired and deaf students using British Sign Language alone – because that would most likely hinder the understanding of the students who do not sign. All the students would be receiving the same opportunity – but not equality of opportunity.)

“SAME OPPORTUNITY” does not equal “EQUAL OPPORTUNITY”

Likewise, we need to recognise that by putting students with different learning styles in the same classroom, although we may be providing them with the same opportunity, we are not actually facilitating their individual learning equally effectively.

In an ideal world, teachers ought to take into consideration the individual learning style(s) and preferred means of perceiving, processing and presenting information of each of their students.

In reality, we invariably pigeon-hole our students into a limited number of categories. Whether we adopt the four categories proposed by Honey and Mumford, the four identified by Kolb and McCarthy, or the eight (nine?) suggested by Howard Gardner, it is better than treating our students as if they were all moulded from the same lump – but not much better.

Although there are differences in the way in which boys and girls generally prefer to process information, we should nevertheless remind ourselves that this is the minimalist approach, in that it identifies only two broad categories. Nevertheless, differentiation on the basis of gender is a starting point – but we do need to bear in mind that it is heavily dependant on making sweeping generalisations.

GENDER DIFFERENTIATION IS ONLY A STARTING POINT.

MALE AND FEMALE BRAINS

The different sides of the brain have different functions.

LEFT BRAIN

language

logic

mathematics

analytical thinking

shaping of ideas

sequencing

fine motor skills

timing

RIGHT BRAIN

visual

perspective

spatial awareness

creative & imaginative functions

emotions

tone

quality of sound

facial recognition

The above applies to the majority of right-handed people.

In left-handed and ambidextrous people the functional specialisation is different: sometimes this is simply a swap-over – but may also be a more complex sharing of functions.

Males generally have more-developed right hemispheres – which disposes them towards spatial tasks such as map-reading or interpreting technical drawings. Females generally have more-developed left hemispheres – which is probably why they learn to speak earlier than males and are often more adept at languages. Females are also better at fine motor control, which probably accounts for their generally superior handwriting skills.

CO-ORDINATING LEFT AND RIGHT BRAIN

Joining the left and right halves of the brain, and co-ordinating their functions, is a bundle of nerve fibres called the corpus callosum. As children grow, the two brain hemispheres become increasingly more specialised, each becoming more involved in “doing its own thing”. As specialisation increases, so the corpus callosum becomes thinner and weaker – until, at puberty, the thinning stops. However, because females usually reach puberty before males, this thinning stops earlier in females – resulting in them having a thicker corpus callosum. This means that men tend to have brains that are more specialised with relatively less communication between the two hemispheres, the consequences of which are far-reaching.

Whereas men are more vulnerable to problems such as dyslexia and hyperactivity, both of which are exacerbated by lack of hemispheric co-ordination, their compartmentalised thinking enables them to isolate specific problems as they attempt to solve them. Hence, men are more likely to excel at maths, mechanics and engineering. By contrast, women are able to take a more holistic view and are more likely to integrate logic and emotion, thus demonstrating enhanced “emotional intelligence”.

Geoff Hannan

Geoff Hannan points out that this bias is evident long before puberty. “Girls tend to be brought up to have relationships with people, to be responsible for themselves and others, with a strong emphasis on communication. They are brought up as ‘the talkers’. Boys, on the other hand, are brought up to have relationships with objects. They are ‘the doers’.”

Highlighting the predominance of right-brain thinking in males, Hannan suggests that a boy’s oral skills are weaker, as are his literacy, organisational and analytical skills. Consequently, “his lack of competence (and interest) in analysing, sequencing and prioritising are central to his academic under-achievement.”

Summing up the difference in boys’ and girls’ learning styles, Hannan writes: “He does first and then (hopefully) thinks. She thinks first and then (hopefully) does. He has a trial and error, experiential learning style rooted in confidence, competence and interest in the manipulation of objects and systems. He is a speculative thinker (leading towards physics as a subject). She has a language-centred, sequential learning style, rooted in an interest in people and relationships. She is a reflective thinker (leading towards English).”

IT’S NOT COOL TO BE GOOD AT SCHOOL

Research from Homerton College, Cambridge has shown that “if you’re a boy, it’s just not cool to work hard at school.” Peer pressure militates against boys’ success because boys appear more concerned with preserving an image of reluctant involvement or disengagement. The researchers conclude: “For many boys, their emerging masculinity placed them in direct conflict with the ethos and aspirations of the school, an antagonist against whom their own masculinity was frequently tested.”

Cathy Byrne (primary head teacher) suggests that boys “paint themselves into a tight gender role corner” from as early as six years old. She noticed a deterioration in enthusiasm and a refusal to participate in any activity where they were not certain of success; much of which coincided with the child’s awakening realisation of their gender.

It’s OK to be good at sport because that’s physical, it shows you’re tough. It’s even acceptable to be good at art because that’s perceived as natural talent and you don’t have to work at it. Being good at music is acceptable for the same reason, though it depends on the instrument. Electric guitar and drums are for boys, the clarinet and cello for girls.

EXAMINING ENGLISH

In a TES article questioning whether the English GCSE exam is biased in favour of girls, Nicholas Pyke pointed out that “an increasing number of academics are coming to the conclusion that the curriculum at GCSE level plays to female strengths, and that it has probably contributed to the enormous improvement in girls’ results over the past decade.”

Examiners thought girls had an advantage in:

extended pieces

answers to open-ended questions

showing audience awareness

writing reflectively

writing empathetically

writing imaginatively

discussing character motivation

conversation/drama

writing about poems

writing about literary prose

writing about drama

preparing for assignments

discussing assignments with teachers

listening.

By contrast, boys scored better only in:

writing argumentatively

writing factually

interpreting visual material.

Boys also do well on multiple-choice test papers which do not figure in GCSE English.

SINGLE-SEX LANGUAGE TEACHING

Writing in the TES, Amanda Barton reported on 3 schools that were experimenting with single-sex teaching of modern languages.

At Hollingworth High School in Rochdale, which segregates the whole of Year 7 for French classes, Valerie McDonald is using the opportunity to foster boys’ social skills, encouraging them to adopt a more organised approach. The main benefit, however, is that the boys’ writing skills have “improved considerably”.

At Madeley High School in Staffordshire, the decision to segregate was based as much on concern for the girls as for the boys. Faced with a group of “strong, dynamic boys who were very, very vociferous” and a group of “studious, quiet girls who were gradually bludgeoned into silence”, Norma Horton (head of modern languages) decided to separate them. She reports that lessons with the boys are “more boisterous” but have resulted in their test results being elevated to almost the same level as the girls.

At Ashlawn School in Rugby, Kirsten Watkins encourages a more relaxed atmosphere with her all-boys Year 10 French group. As an extra incentive, she also encourages an element of competition with the corresponding girls group. Acknowledging that it may be frowned on by equal opportunities experts, she maintains that it creates tremendous motivation – and reports that the boys are “unexpectedly positive” about writing.

All three heads of languages are keenly aware that segregation alone is not an answer but have done much to identify the learning styles, interests and needs of the boys they teach. Perhaps it is this has led the boys at Madeley to thrive in what they describe as a “happier environment”.

CLASSROOM DOMINATION

Dr Christine Howe suggests that girls could be their own worst enemies by encouraging boys to dominate in the classroom. Boys tend to “dominate the physical context, volunteering for practical demonstrations in science and controlling the mouse and keyboard in computing”. Boys will also make more contributions than girls and their contributions will be more elaborate. Research into oral assessment suggests that boys interrupt girls more than the reverse. However, it should not be assumed that quantity equates with quality.

What is perhaps disturbing about Dr Howe’s findings is that girls acquiesce by asking boys for help. In a study that observed young children working on a jigsaw puzzle, it was observed that girls were three times as likely as boys to ask for help from the supervising adult. In the absence of an adult, girls direct their pleas for assistance to boys. This reiterates the finding that girls prefer to relate to people, whereas boys “relate” to objects.

Dr Howe makes the point that we should not necessarily assume that girls are the “losers” in this process, as “soliciting contributions is a highly active process” and the girls are being afforded an opportunity to develop their interpersonal skills.

Learning Styles: The next generation

Since Honey and Mumford first gave birth to their Learning Styles theory, in the late eighties, many a trainer has sought to present this most useful of concepts in ever more engaging ways. Honey and Mumford (in particular, the former) have sought to re-kindle flagging interest in their original product by re-packaging it in a variety of guises – though I am still awaiting the hand painted (by Peter Honey) tee-shirts, emblazoned no doubt with various appropriate mottoes:

What nobody seems to have latched onto is the obvious next phase of the theory. As a trainer, I am always careful to point out that individuals do not fall neatly into pigeon-holed categories – but that each of us employs a complex combination of learning styles – depending on context, circumstance and the nature of what we are trying to learn. Each of us possesses not merely one clearly-defined learning style but a combination of two or more. This has led me to consider how we might designate the various combinations – so as to provide not merely the “bare bones” four-category model proposed by H&M – but an additional six combinatorial categories. Not that I am suggesting we should adopt such a model wholesale (it would be considerably more difficult to handle) or attempt to replace the eminently practical traditional model – but it does set you thinking.

Here then, for your consideration, are my slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestions for the enhancement of Learning Styles theory.

At first glance you might think that the Activist-Reflector is a most unlikely combination; they do appear to be situated at opposite ends of the style-spectrum. However, I suspect that they are more prevalent than we realise – and that most of us have been their unwitting victims or apologists. They are the type of person who cannot help but acting first – who then realise that they really shouldn’t have acted that way. The kind of person who opens their mouth, puts their foot in it – and then realises what they have said. The Activist-Reflector is known in the training trade as a “REGRETTER”.

Theorists, as you will be aware, like to make connections. They constantly ask “Why?” and then seek to organise the new information elicited so that it forms a cohesive overall picture of how things are. Activist-Theorists, on the other hand, although they still have lots of questions, generally do not have the time or inclination to sort or process all the information thus obtained. They excel at brainstorming, insofar as they generate new ideas; each new idea acting as a catalyst for the spontaneous eruption of further progeny. Unfortunately they rarely stop to consider the implications of their ideas – preferring to rely on friendly passing Reflectors to take on that role. The Activist-Theorist is technically known as a “SCATTERBRAIN”.

Pragmatists are known as clearly-focused problem-solvers who relish the challenge of devising solutions to specific tasks. The Activist-Pragmatist is a slightly different animal who, typically, solves the problem – but invariably by means of utilising elastic bands, bulldog clips and the odd piece of chewing gum. The Activist-Pragmatist does not so much solve the problem as improvise a somewhat makeshift Heath Robinson affair – giving rise to them being known, in technical terminology, as a “BODGER”.

Theorist-Pragmatists, on the other hand, do not merely solve the problem. They delight in asking a whole series of “What if?” questions and then providing practical answers to the difficulties thus envisaged. They then engage in an ordered programme of implementing all the necessary safeguards to ensure that such a problem – or any associated similar or dissimilar problem – is unlikely to inflict itself in the future. In essence, the pragmatic “quick fix” is translated into a fully guaranteed solution that takes into account every conceivable potentiality for failure in order to ensure against it. Theorist-Pragmatists are known as “SAFEGUARDERS”.

The Pragmatist-Reflector also appreciates having a particular problem to address and invariably manages to devise a down-to-earth settlement. Unfortunately, they are then beset with uncertainty whether the solution they initially proposed is the best one. Did the original idea fully utilise available resources? Have all the implications been thought through? Maybe there was a cheaper alternative? They can often be found checking to make sure that the original solution is still in place and holding water. The Pragmatist-Reflector is known officially as a “TWEAKER”.

Pragmatist-Reflectors are not to be confused with Reflector-Pragmatists. These latter individuals can be found wandering aimlessly around garages or garden sheds at weekends, musing on whether they are properly equipped to rake out the gutters, mow the lawn or fix the broken gate. They spend much of their life “getting around to it” and differ from true Reflectors – who can be found lounging in the sunshine in padded garden chairs. Reflector-Pragmatists are affectionately known as “DITHERERS”.

The Theorist-Reflector is thoughtful and comprehensive; a dotter of i’s and a crosser of t’s. As something of a perfectionist, they are rarely able to complete anything to their own satisfaction. There is, they believe, always something else to be added, adapted, appended. Occasionally dubbed (somewhat unprofessionally) a “worry-guts”, the official term for a Theorist-Reflector is a “DOUBLE-CHECKER”.

Learning Style – Questionnaire

This questionnaire has been devised to assist trainers who appreciate the usefulness of Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles model but find their questionnaire rather cumbersome for use in a short training session. It is intended as a short and pithy introduction to Learning Styles that can be used at the beginning of a one-day training event or short course. This “Rough and ready reckoner” lacks the sophistication of Honey and Mumford’s questionnaire but is easy to complete, simple to score and a useful discussion starter.

Below is a list of 24 questions.

  1. Do you find it easy to meet new people and make new friends?
  2. Are you cautious and thoughtful?
  3. Do you get bored easily?
  4. Are you a practical, “hands on” kind of person?
  5. Do you like to try things out for yourself?
  6. Do friends consider you to be a good listener?
  7. Do you have clear ideas about the best way to do things?
  8. Do you enjoy being the centre of attention?
  9. Are you a bit of a daydreamer?
  10. Do you keep a list of things to do?
  11. Do you like to experiment to find the best way to do things?
  12. Do you prefer to think things out logically?
  13. Do you like to concentrate on one thing at a time?
  14. Do people sometimes think of you as shy and quiet?
  15. Are you a bit of a perfectionist?
  16. Are you enthusiastic about life?
  17. Would you rather “get on with the job” than keep talking about it?
  18. Do you often notice things that other people miss?
  19. Do you act first then think about the consequences later?
  20. Do you like to have everything in its “proper place”?
  21. Do you ask lots of questions?
  22. Do you like to think things through before getting involved?
  23. Do you enjoy trying out new things?
  24. Do you like the challenge of having a problem to solve?
Learners
About G. Tso