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.

Threshold Concepts


stavropoleos courtesy of fusion_of_horizons

stavropoleos courtesy of fusion_of_horizons

Information Literacy Standards

If you’ve ever heard an academic librarian talk about information literacy, the librarian was most likely referring to the concept as defined by The Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, adopted by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in 2000. This document describes in great detail five information literacy standards and further delineates performance indicators and outcomes for each standard. The standards are being revised into a less prescriptive format called the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. This framework is scheduled to be adopted by ACRL this fall.

Threshold Concepts

The new framework is organized around threshold concepts. To learn more about threshold concepts I read Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practicing within the Disciplines, a seminal document by Jan Meyer and Ray Land cited in the framework.

Characteristics of Threshold Concepts

According to Meyer and Land, threshold concepts include following key characteristics (pp. 4-5):

  • Transformative: When a student understands a threshold concept, the student’s perception of the subject shifts.
  • Irreversible: Once learned, the concept is not forgotten which can lead to the “difficulty experienced by expert practitioners looking back across thresholds they have personally long since crossed and attempting to understand (from their own transformed perspective) the difficulties faced from (untransformed) student perspectives” (p. 4).
  • Integrative: The concept reveals disciplinary connections previously unknown to the student.
  • Troublesome: Troublesome knowledge is frequently counterintuitive such as the fact that heavier objects do not fall faster than lighter objects. 

Information Literacy Threshold Concepts

The Framework like the standards before it acknowledges that each information literacy concept will look different depending on the discipline. The Framework lists six information literacy threshold concepts:

  1. Scholarship is a Conversation
  2. Research as Inquiry
  3. Authority is Contextual and Constructed
  4. Format as a Process
  5. Searching as Exploration
  6. Information has Value

Teaching the Threshold Concepts

This fall I plan to explicitly address two of the threshold concepts in my teaching. Since I generally meet with students one time I want to focus on a concept that I can integrate into a one-shot session. I’ve chosen to focus on searching as exploration. Not quite sure what I’m going to do yet but I feel that my teaching during library instructions has gotten a little stale so I’m up for the challenge.

In addition to my library instruction sessions, I meet with students one-on-one during research consultations. Research consultations complement our information literacy program by extending the one-shot session. I meet primarily with graduate and doctoral students in the School of Education. Consultations generally last 30 to 60 minutes and present the perfect opportunity to discuss scholarship as a conversation.

What do you think?

What are the threshold concepts in your discipline? What teaching strategies do you use to introduce threshold concepts to your students?

About the Author: Robin Ewing is an Associate Professor in the library and is currently the assessment librarian.

Learning and the Brain

Brain By dierk schaefer

Brain By dierk schaefer

How does the brain impact learning?

Recent research on how the brain processes information may have significant implications for teaching and learning. According to Clemons, for successful brain-based learning to occur “everyone involved in the learning process (online course developers, educators, students) to understand the structure of the brain and consciously focus on learners needs and styles to evaluate and improve the course format and delivery system.”


  1. Six Tips for Brain-Based Learning Emphasize feedback and embrace the power of novelty are two tips that resonated with me.
  2. The 2013 CETL Spring Forum featured Dr. Stephen Carroll who shared his work on meta-cognition. For more about his work and for the slides he used in his presentation and workshop, please go to http://metalearninghabits.org/slides-for-st-cloud-lecture/.
  3. [ebook] How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, Eds., 1999)  I found the chapter on how novices differ from experts particularly interesting with regards to how I teach library research.
  4. In 2011, CETL sponsored a special workshop on Learning and the Brain and recorded the sessions.
  5. The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain by Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek.

What about you?

  • What’s one way you could incorporate how the brain works into your teaching?
  • Do you teach differently to freshmen than you do to seniors? How so?
  • How do you create a safe classroom environment for learning?
  • What resources have you used to learn about the brain?

About the Author: Robin Ewing is an Associate Professor in the library and is currently the assessment librarian.