Teaching and Learning Style Preferences: Transitions Through Technology

by Virginia F. Hartman

from VCCA Journal, Volume 9, Number 2, Summer 1995, 18-20

Copyright 1995 VCCA Journal

My serious interest in teaching and learning style preferences developed after attending a presentation about the Kolb Learning Style Inventory at an ISETA (International Society for Exploring Teaching Alternatives) conference in Orem, Utah,in 1993. Before this conference, I had what might be called an on-again, off-again, curious interest in individual styles and preferences and their impact on interpersonal relationships and work place attitudes. Following this conference, I developed a greater appreciation for and understanding of how learning style preferences can positively or negatively influence a student's performance in both collaborative and individual classroom settings.

Many courses I teach include student group work and collaborative projects. In the past, I had assigned groups randomly. At times these random appointments met with surprising results, not always as positive an experience as I had planned. After attending the ISETA presentation about how learning style preferences contribute to more cohesive work groups, I began experimenting with a variety of inventories that could easily be used by students.

The Kolb Experiential Learning Model

To understand the value of the learning inventory, students must first have a basic understanding of the experiential learning model. This model provides a framework for identifying students' learning style preferences. According to Kolb (1984), the learning cycle involves four processes that must be present for learning to occur. These include concrete experience (laboratories, field work, observations, trigger films); reflective observation (logs, journals, brainstorming); abstract conceptualization (lecture, papers, analogies); and active experimentation (simulations, case study, homework).

The ideal classroom would include each of the four processes. For example, the cycle begins with the student's personal involvement through concrete experience; next, the student reflects on this experience, looking for meaning; then the student applies this meaning to form a logical conclusion; finally, the student experiments with similar problems, which result in new concrete experiences; and then the learning cycle begins again.

Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (LSI II-A)

After using Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (LSI II-A) at the beginning of each semester, I find students are better able to identify individual learning style preferences. Through discussion, students begin learning that preferred styles are more than just environment (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile). The preferred style also includes "perception of the learning event" through concrete experience (sensing and feeling) or abstract conceptualization (thinking and analyzing).

Furthermore, the preferred style focuses on how a student processes learning, whether it be through active experimentation (doing) or reflective observation (watching).

Group memberships heavily tilted toward "watching" may have difficulty reaching consensus. Whereas, group memberships heavily tilted toward "doing" may have difficulty reaching thoughtful, reflective conclusions. Ideal groups would be equally composed of all four learning preference styles.

Any number of learning style inventories are available for use in the classroom; however, I have found McCarthy's 4-MAT and Kolb's Learning Styles Inventory (LSI II-A) to be efficient and accurate assessments for student use. Both are easily scored by students and easily administered. I have had students complete the inventory in class (about 20 minutes) or as an out-of-class assignment. Either method appears to yield the same results. Class discussion centers on the newly identified learning style. Students gain new insights into how they learn best (at this time) and how others learn best (which may be the best reason for administering the inventory). After completing the learning style inventory, the students appear more sensitive to others' styles and reactions and more proactive than reactive during problem-solving situations. Student self-evaluations and instructor evaluations have improved, and students report a positive self-image and a greater confidence in their abilities to succeed in continuation courses.

As educators will quickly agree, students who are actively engaged in the learning process will be most likely to achieve success in the classroom. Active involvement leads to an attitude of empowerment, instilling ownership in personal achievement. Research indicates that the more time and effort students actively invest in the learning process, the more intensely they engage in their own education (self-directed), the greater their satisfaction of the classroom experience, the higher their retention rate, and the more persistent they are toward successfully completing degree course work. Research also suggests that when students perceive their learning as important, they begin to embrace the concept of lifelong learning for career and personal advancement.

Key questions for all community college faculty would include the following. Are we providing a classroom environment that promotes active engagement by all students? Are we providing a positive climate where students are encouraged to become proactive learners? If we are fostering student appreciation for and awareness of learning style preferences and the learning cycle, we can answer a resounding "yes."


Kolb, D. A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1984.

Kolb, D. A. "Learning Styles Inventory." The Modern American College. Ed. A. Chickering. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1981.

Zako, Wayne. "Transforming Learning Through Teaching and Learning Style Technologies." ISETA. Orem, Utah, 1993.

Virginia F. Hartman is assistant professor in office systems technology at Lord Fairfax Community College.