Learning Styles: What Do You Need to Know?

By Emil Towner

Photo of female student looking at laptop while relaxing outside.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Four Learning Styles

Can we categorize learning styles in a way that helps professors educate today’s college students? The answer is yes…and no.

David Kolb and Roger Fry identified four basic learning styles:

  1. Converger—strong in practical application of ideas
  2. Diverger—strong in imaginative ability and seeing things from different perspectives
  3. Assimilator—concerned with abstract concepts rather than people
  4. Accommodator— solves problems intuitively and performs well when required to react to immediate circumstances

While those categories provide a general understanding of potential differences, they do have their limitations. For example, Mark Smith points out six key issues that arise out the model of learning styles:

  1. It pays insufficient attention to the process of reflection.
  2. The claims made for the four different learning styles are extravagant.
  3. The model takes very little account of different cultural experiences/conditions.
  4. The idea of stages or steps does not sit well with the reality of thinking.
  5. Empirical support for the model is weak.
  6. The relationship of learning processes to knowledge is problematic.

The Value of Learning Styles

Despite those concerns, Smith quotes Mark Tennant to describe the value in the categories of learning styles:

“The model provides an excellent framework for planning teaching and learning activities and it can be usefully employed as a guide for understanding learning difficulties, vocational counseling, academic advising and so on.”

Your Turn…

What does all of this really mean? Leave a reply below and let us know if you use learning styles and, if so, how.

Better yet, offer an example or activity that other faculty members can use to incorporate learning styles into their classrooms.

About the Author: Emil Towner is Assistant Professor of Business Communication in the Marketing Department.

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