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Learning styles

Teaching and learning can occur in a wide range of settings and individuals may respond very differently to different approaches to teaching and learning. Some people argue that these differences occur because individuals have preferred learning styles and adapting learning environments to take account of these could make a considerable difference to their participation and achievement. Learning styles continue to exert an appeal, even though their value is keenly contested. Indeed earlier presentations of this material generated heated discussion among guidance practitioners. So here we present a questionnaire that will allow you to self-assess your own preferred learning style, an edited collection of contributions and comments from a range of guidance practitioners and a comprehensive review of learning styles. If you have not previously taken a learning style inventory why not have a go at the following self assessment learning style inventory.

The Vark Questionnaire

Please note, this inventory is subject to copyright and copyright restrictions relate to its use. Copyright for this version of VARK is held by Neil D. Fleming, Christchurch, New Zealand and Charles C. Bonwell, Green Mountain, Colorado, USA.

VARK questionnaire

Discussions about value of learning styles

Mixed reactions to and possible uses of learning styles in guidance, together with a link to further resources related to experiential learning.

Mixed reactions to and possible uses of learning styles in guidance, together with a link to further resources related to experiential learning.
Comment 1:

I have completed various learning styles questionnaires before so was interested to see how I would be categorised by these ones.

I hadn't come across the Vark questionnaire before, it was very simple to complete the self assessment, and I liked the fact that the examples you are asked to react to were possible to relate to. I didn't feel the results particularly offered insight or new information however, perhaps because it was such a simplified version of what is a more involved analysis

I am more familiar with KOLB. Hilariously I demonstrated my active experimentation tendencies by thinking I knew what I was doing and launching in to complete the grid without reading the instructions properly and so had to redo it all when I realised I had scored it all wrongly. This suggests there is some validity in the results on an anecdotal level.

I feel the beauty of these learning styles type assessment tools is that they are resolutely positive. When you read through the 'diagnosis' for each particular orientation you read of strengths and qualities that anyone would value (not daleks obviously). I am torn, because I think to some extent this may explain why many of us like the learning styles categories. They are flattering, they value the particular approach our answers manifest, to devalue the results is to protest we are not the virtuous beings suggested. However, there is a serious point, much of the way we learn is about being tested through exams and failing and doing badly. Anything that converts learning into a positive experience, builds self-esteem and identifies strengths has to be motivational for learners and so I welcome it. I haven’t yet read some of the critiques included on the site (my next stop obviously) but I'm sure they will be quite justified in identifying limitations of the learning styles approach, but that does not mean that they don’t have some limited value in motivating learners.

They also seem to operate well on a 'common sense' or 'instinctive' level. I tend to view them light heartedly as a useful tool, that students seem to relate well to. But then I've only used them with undergraduates - is that significant?

There is a version of the Honey and Mumford learning styles questionnaire in Lashley and Best '12 Steps to Study Success' Continuum 2001. Readers are encouraged to consider the extent to which they show activists, reflector, theorist and pragamatist tendencies. The book includes a grid that identifies possible weaknesses as well as strengths for each learning style.

This perhaps moves things on a stage from seeing learning styles as fixed, to seeing them as a diagnostic tool that allows areas of weakness to be identified and developed or addressed. Again, does this need to be strictly 'true' if it allows exploration of new strategies to facilitate enquiry?

Incidentally, all the versions I've come across are incredibly text heavy to use - how to users who are dyslexic or have a visual impairment react to these, does anyone know? The computer scoring version is a helpful innovation too, I get bored easily and frustrated when I have to transcribe numbers onto grids etc, the computer helps by pass this - also it is fun to see the interactive potential of the forum being used!

Comment 2:

I have always found learning styles a useful tool when preparing for and undertaking teaching. Trying to incorporate different modes of delivery and interaction with the material in order to address the different ways in which people learn can be difficult but I have found it to be very effective and can be very stimulating for the students. Those students that learn by reading and reflecting upon materials often stimulate discussion with those students who are more active and verbal with their learning. When teaching 'training and human resource development' in a HEI, learning style questionnaires have always been a good icebreaker and enabled me to understand the students better as well as being pertinent to the course.

I had not used the VARK questionnaire before. My learning preference is multimodal which I did not find very helpful but pleasing to know that much of the population is multimodal too! I have used the Kolb inventory before and my preferred learning style has not changed but other learning styles preferences have become more prominent. I have learnt that I am in the right job for my preferred learning style. It would be interesting to know whether people's learning styles change with age? Surely experience must affect the way in which an individual would want to learn something?

Comment 3:

Question for the tutors and teachers out there really. If we assume for argument's sake that the notion of learning styles is pertinent to what goes on in education what should be the response? Is it more important to focus on developing individuals (whether ourselves or our students) less preferred learning styles, in order to help them/ us grow into 'all round' learners. Or should we instead reinforce the preferred style by concentrating on delivery methods that favour a particular approach?

Comment 4:

.....or indeed should we concentrate more on manipulating the environment in which learning takes place?

Comment 5:

Agreeing with the point that learning styles are pertinent in education. I am all for manipulating learning environments if it means moving away from the regimented lines of desks. Primary schools constantly change the learning environments of their students - quiet areas, play and interactive areas etc. - but this gets lost higher up in educational institutions and we only return to these methods on vocational courses where a hands on approach to learning is required. Could we not adopt these methods elsewhere?

Comment 6:

Over the last couple of years I have attended numerous training and accredited courses. However, the one that stands out in the memory, played most significantly to my own learning strengths. I enjoyed immensely a Counselling course as it was significantly orientated towards interpretation & imagination, whereas two other recent courses - 'Understanding Connexions' (I have absolutely no idea what that was all about!) and an MA in Career Guidance (too much orientated towards an assimilative learning style, which I grew to loathe as there appeared no ground for personal attachment) were both examples of courses asking me to perform in circumstances that I felt somewhat disconnected from.

I can only conclude that from recent personal experience the orientation of a course to one's own learning style is very important, yet only through experience and the opportunity to self reflect upon this am I able to see its value. I believe that career guidance should accommodate awareness of learning styles, however, it needs the tools to allow this to happen within timeframes often not suited to such tasks!

The value of learning styles discussion thread evolved further in response to the following question:

All of us involved in the provision of both education and guidance should be grateful to Kolb for his visionary explanation of the notion of how people learn through a reflective cycle. Honey and Mumford drew on his theory to develop a self-assessment system that allows individuals to identify their preferred learning style according to four categories: activist, reflector, theorist, and pragmatist. Once individuals understand how they learn most effectively this can be a turning point in their confidence and willingness to engage in lifelong learning. Through playing to their strengths and developing weaker areas people are able to move far closer to fulfilling their true potential - not only in learning, but in life.

What do you think?

Comment 7:

If it were as simple as it sounds then it would be useful. However, does anyone take any notice of young peoples learning styles before they embark upon their choice of post 16 learning? I venture 'No', Why? Because most post 16 learning is designed by educationalists obsessed with measurable outcomes (exams), negating the need to even consider the needs of the individual in favour of self preservation and self gratification. Is it any co-incidence that many large businesses have their own bespoke courses based upon the needs of their business and not the generic needs of the country as perceived by social engineers designing post 16 education.

Learning styles would be incredibly useful if there was an opportunity structure that supported such enlightenment. Otherwise at best it is self enlightening, no more!

Comment 8:

Find myself agreeing with you - except feel as though I need (as a lapsed educationalist!) to speak in their defence. Not sure we can lay the blame for the preoccupation with measurable outcomes entirely at their door. If we take the QCG (Qualification in Careers Guidance) as an example, the outcome-led approach to assessment was developed by employers. Educationalists were barely consulted. We could, therefore, legitimately claim that the notion of 'learning styles' has been completely overlooked in devising training for our own sector.

Comment 9:

Point taken, I hope I did not come across as unfairly critical. My feelings are that there is not enough 'joined-up' thinking around LL to enable the concept - or ideal - to be as fully realised as it should be. I remember attending a conference, some 5 years or so ago, on 'The Learning Age', where we were embarking upon a new world of continuously upgrading our skills, developing ourselves as more marketable commodities, responding to changes in technology etc. etc. Some way down the line here in the North East we are seeing a decrease in the level of 'modern' skills being offerred, an increase in the number of unfilled vacancies (as notified by the Job Centre), the lowest participation rate in further learning anywhere in the UK from our 16-19 year old's, the highest number (by average) of training days employers need to put new employees through in the UK, and the continued erosion of a career guidance structure that should have been one of the major players in communicating the philosophy and vision behind 'The Learning Age'.

Understanding a style of learning - from both the learners and the facilitators perspective -, I agree, can make a huge difference to participation and achievement. NVQ's, A Levels and Vocational alternatives, as well as the delivery focus within, accommodate - in main - a traditional set of values that ignore the ideology of LL and continue to place emphasis upon more readily measurable outcomes rather than developing structures that enable the individual to accommodate the learning in a style that has maximum benefit.

I agree with your observation on the Dip CG, however, such halcyon days I prefer to view with rose tinted spectacles anyway. It is interesting that I do not recall any mention of either LL or Learning Styles and their place in CG on my course, ah simpler times!

What though of the critiques of the concept of learning styles?

Some trenchant criticisms of the concept of learning styles are sometimes offered and the discussion was moved on with the following challenge:

Far from being a helpful and enlightening theory, the notion of learning styles can be unhelpful and even oppressive. Its over-simplification of a complex process can be criticised as deterministic. That is, it suggests that an individual's learning style is fixed and therefore likely to be resistant to fundamental change. Learning styles also pay insufficient attention to the context in which learning takes place - by extension blaming learners for their failure to learn, rather than broader social constraints.

What do you think?

Comment 10:

Granted, the notion of learning styles is an over simplification, and it is important to be alert to the criticisms that are identified in the statement above. Nevertheless, I think they remain a useful tool to use with learners for two main reasons:

Firstly they are fun to use. Through completing the questionnaires or other self-assessment tools, learners can be stimulated to engage very actively in the learning process. Ironically, this engagement in considering what helps facilitate their own learning can lead to further consideration about the nature of learning more broadly including recognition of the limitations of the 'learning styles' approach to education.

Secondly, they are a refreshing antidote to the more traditional experiences of academic education in the UK. In my work as a tutor on an undergraduate skills development programme I find the learning styles questionnaire is hugely popular with students. A main reason for this seems to be that it reassures those students who aren't 'turned on' by more passive styles of teaching, by identifying and valuing alternative ways of learning.

It may be true that social constraints are very much more important in the greater scheme of things, but in pragmatic terms I find the learning styles questionnaire a useful part of my teaching tool kit, and far from being oppressive, it can be liberating for individuals to have a device through which they come to understand what works for them. however, I agree it should always come with a health warning that places it in sociological, political and cultural contexts, as well as recognising other theories of learning also exist.

Comment 11:

I agree that undertaking learning style questionnaires and understanding your own preferred learning style can be fun and reassuring for those who prefer to go away and reserach, read and reflect upon ideas before discussion. However, is it not one of those things that you either 'take on board' or ignore. Social pressures and constraints can be far more oppressive and hinder lifelong learning. For instance, practical courses can be far more expensive as well as leave out those who would prefer to read about an activity (learn the theory) before undertaking the task.

Is an individual more likely to chose which 'learning' or course to undertake because of the opportunities open to them at the end and not how the course is presented or taught?

Comment 12:

I'm interested in the question posed about the motivation for choosing particular courses being linked more to opportunities open to them at the end rather than how the course is taught. I think it raises a range of questions:

To what extent do individuals embarking on learning really have in mind the opportunities at the end? Some do - clearly with the more obviously vocational courses, but many don’t, and remaining in education (as opposed to returning to it after a break) can for some be a means of postponing career and life decisions as much as anything else.

It is useful to look at teaching styles on courses, but apart from references to 'this will involve group work and discussions' on the whole I would suggest that institutional prospectuses don't make this sort of information particularly explicit. Learning outcomes might be given, so the focus is on what is acquired in terms of knowledge rather than how this acquisition takes place. Whilst it would be helpful to have this information shared, there is also an issue over the teaching styles of lecturers and tutors. Not all are gifted in utilising a range of styles in conveying skills and/or knowledge. And let's face it, for some the primary interest stems from their area of expertise rather than a desire to enthuse and engage new learners. Or am I being too cynical here?

Are there any lecturers or teachers out there who can enlighten me on the extent to which their training includes an understanding of, and more importantly and application of that to their practice. Also, to what extent do trainers have free rein in designing delivery of any courses as opposed to identifying appropriate content?

Comment 13:

As a former teacher trainer - yes we included learning styles in the training - and used them with the trainee teachers to illustrate how they might be used.

However, I doubt that learning styles are used very extensively. This may not be due to cynicism or antipathy - rather the learning environment in the UK is so prescribed that it is difficult to undertake any real planning for differentiation within groups. For example, in primary schools - we have the literacy and numeracy hour; in secondary schools we have the National Curriculum, in colleges there are NVQs - where the scope for differentiation is inhibited by the nature of the curriculum. Ironically HE does provide some opportunities, and lecturers have a lot of autonomy over what is taught and how it is taught - but there may be a more homogenous student body in HE (most have already demonstrated an ability to do well at A level) and there are increasing class sizes, demands of research work etc to counterbalance this freedom. Widening participation in HE might require that teachers adopt different strategies for different styles - but academic staff would have to be convinced the instrument had worth before taking it seriously. Teachers tend to focus more on stimulating motivation and dealing with (individual) learning difficulties.

Don't I sound gloomy!

Comment 14:

Not gloomy at all - realistic perhaps! It does indeed seem ironic that the potential for autonomy in teaching design and delivery (HE) only comes in when arguably it is least important. (Taking at face value your analysis of HE students being by definition those who have succeeded within the A-level framework, and most likely to have evolved strategies to cope with formalised learning structures they face in education).

Couple of questions arising from the previous contribution though –

Are you of the opinion that irrespective of whether or not they are particularly used, that the notion of learning styles has potential usefulness?

Could you say more about how widening participation might require that tutors and lecturers evolve different strategies? I presume this is to take account of entrants from previously unrepresented backgrounds who perhaps favour different learning styles. I'm just wondering though, that even if this might be desirable, it is all that likely. Simply because widening participation as I understand it, hasn't gone hand in hand with sufficient resources to fund such innovations. If class sizes grow, then I'd have thought the lecture based format is likely to get even more of a stranglehold on course delivery, with less opportunity to address individual preferences in terms of learning styles.

Also, is there any evidence that the preference for a particular learning style is the main criteria for success in formal education, and entry to university or is this based on the perception that it seems likely there would be a correlation? If, as is argued elsewhere on the site, other issues such as socio-economic background etc more influential then is it helpful to focus on learning styles, or would be better to look at issues more broadly?

(I'm thinking of a scenario where a very able student started a course at Cambridge some years ago, and although academically successful, she could not cope with what she perceived as the particular culture of that institution, this led to her dropping out of university altogether. This situation suggests recognition of her particular learning style was the least of her problems. leading back again to the central issue of whether thinking about learning styles is fun, harmless and useful fun but useless potentially harmful as well as useless by diverting attention from the more important broader factors that influence outcomes from education. Yours gloomily and ramblingly as well!

Comment 15:

I think the main usefulness of learning styles lies in their capacity to keep reminding us that we learn in different ways - that there is not one way of learning but many. The idea that all these different ways can be collapsed into (say) four categories, is, I think, ludicrous - and one step down from horoscopes where there are at least 12! that said in a teaching situation few if any teachers can respond to the idea that their efforts are being interpreted in 4, 12 or 200 different ways - and pragmatically - seeking to balance out the learning experience in respect of 4 different styles is probably manageable and thus has attractions to teachers. Your point about the Cambridge student tends to reinforce my prejudice that learning is complex and the conditions for it are very particular to the individual and derive from the context (largely previous experiences of learning and the person's learning strategies) - clearly Cambridge was not what she was expecting it to be. We might find more value in the learning styles debate if we think of whole courses/college or university experiences - rather than teaching sessions, where arguably over a period of 2, 3 or 4 years - a variety of learning experiences can be provided whcih address different styles.

I tend to think that there is a real trap in trying to find ways to categorise people (into styles) because it ascribes characteristics to learners. Perhaps a better thing to do is to ask them!- (teaching and learning is rather more dynamic and significantly about communication between learner and teacher) rather than fixing on arbitrary characteristics - that are likely to change.

And yes, you've guessed it - I am not much persuaded by learning styles beyond my opening remark.

Comment 16:

The issue of widening participation in HE which is being pushed and shoved further and further up the agenda currently is particularly relevant to this debate. As a tutor in East London for more years than I care to remember, where there are significant numbers of students from 'non-traditional' backgrounds, the key challenge was more around learning support than learning styles. Developing and supporting a student's confidence in themselves always seemed more successful than concentrating on individual preferences re: learning. Like the above contributor - far from convinced of the value of learning styles.

Comment 17:

I do find the concept useful and have found it helpful with both teaching and with guidance. Firstly I don't see the picture as static. When I first came across this work years ago and recognised or at least finally articulated that I was a poor theorist and almost non existent reflector I set about looking for ways of improving and building these aspects of learning into my repertoire. I may still be a predominantly accommodative learner but I now ensure that I do reflect and have mechanisms that help me do that. I have looked for ways to become more involved in theory and to value it and here I am!

I feel that this type of analysis, simplistic though it may be does provide insight and with it an opportunity to develop. It also helps someone to make decisions. If they understand something about their own preferences and about the learning processes they are being exposed to, they can make decisions as to whether this is something they want to engage in. It can also be used to offer mechanisms and ways forward that will help them cope. I think this is far preferable to the individual feeling they are failing or not bright enough to understand.

From the teacher/trainer point of view it is invaluable in making people understand that not everyone learns in the same way you do!

Comment 18:

With enlightenment comes the ability to be enlightened. This comment may not be such a throwaway line if we consider that LL is mainly accessed by people who are committed to LL!

My own style is described by Kolb as 'divergent', which I am wholly comfortable with. I have no desire to develop the other identified styles as I have no leaning towards them. If it is the case that I see the value and need in LL yet do not want to accommodate other learning styles which may effect the type of training etc. that I opt onto, then perhaps we can see that learning opportunities advertised to the masses may not have a desired effect upon those who might benefit most from them through perception of intellectual demand.

Thus, the socially disadvantaged remain so as they perhaps subconsciously understand their own learning style but do not associate it with the accreditation obsessed plethora of opportunities that are constantly advertised. Is that too controversial a point, I can never tell.

Comment 19:

One reason the socially disadvantaged do not often take up learning opportunities may be because their learning style does not easily fit with accreditation-oriented provision. But they also be reluctant to participate in some other forms of learning too because of the negative image they have of themselves as learners, which may be reinforced by others.

Individual commitment to participate in substantive learning is mediated by the perspectives of others about what should be learned and how it should be learned. So, for example, the nature, direction, extent and commitment of an individual to learning at work can be strongly influenced by the set of social relationships that an individual has with others at and through work. So, the disadvantaged can make progress in their learning, but they will often need someone to believe in them - I think getting people to participate is a social thing just as much as a structural one.

'Only connect...' is the famous epigraph of E.M.Forster's Howard's End, but it probably applies here as to so many other settings.

One further shift in the discussion came when we asked the questions:

To what extent are learning styles relevant to guidance practice? What do you think?

Comment 20:

I find this quite a challenging question to take up. I first came across the concept of learning styles whilst doing my Dip CG (which was a major influence in terms of how I approached my professional practice). My impression was that this was covered as a means to help us Dip CG students make the most of our experiences on part 1 of the careers advisers training course, and to remind us to be alert to the different learning styles that might be represented in carrying out group work with clients once we started working in schools or other settings in the future.

I think it was helpful to recognise that people respond to different stimuli and so develop good habits such as using a range of materials to keep audiences engaged during group work. Whether or not those tactics were dependent on individual learning styles is probably questionable - it might be just as likely that variety maintained interest per se.

In terms of guidance, I am less aware of catering for different learning styles. Rather the reverse I was taught a flexible model of stages which you moved through with the client utilising the relevant counselling skills to facilitate a client-centred but purposeful interaction. I suppose it may be that where a client favoured a particular learning style this might come out in action points. however, I wonder with hindsight whether those action points may have been influenced by me an adviser, coming up with actions that I as an 'activist' would particularly value. It would be interesting to look at a range of client action plans in relation to the clients apparent learning style to see if the wording reflected particular tendencies. (Action point might be 'I will think about different college courses' as opposed to 'I will visit different colleges' or 'I will talk to friends who have done the course')

I honestly don't know, not thought about this issue before. Perhaps a more useful discussion could be around 'how might learning styles be relevant to guidance practice?' I suppose too, it really depends on whether or not we as practitioners and users agree that learnign styles have a basic validity. Presumably if they are an oppressive labelling tool then we should avoid reinforcing such unhelpful and simplistic devices that see success (or failure) to learn as linked primarily to individual attributes as opposed to broader contexts of learning.

Comment 21:

Perhaps another and closely related useful question might be 'how might learning styles be relevant to those making decisions about re engaging in learning'? i.e. recognising that in most geographical areas it is the minority of potential learners who are supported by guidance practitioners. A user friendly guide to the influence (if any) of learning styles on successful learning outcomes could be promoted by IAGPs, and others, to the majority of adults who find their own way into learning. Does anyone know of such a guide?

Comment 22:

As I haven't worked as a guidance practitioner I thinking about this question from a client's perspective. I think that learning styles are, and more importantly should be, relevant to guidance practice. I would be quite happy for someone to point me in the right direction of where to find out more about a particular career/course etc but know plenty of people who would find that method off putting and would want someone to tell them the information they needed to know. Does this not suggest an understanding of learning styles is needed? So does this example not only suggest to what extent learning styles are relevant to guidance practice but also they how might be relevant to guidance practice? It seems that it is an important skill for guidance practitioners to be able to identify to an extent a clients preferred learning style before determining action plans and setting them tasks which they are clearly not going to like doing.

Comment 23:

Picking up on the above point about learning styles being something to explore with clients I suppose it is worth saying that I would take it for granted (perhaps misguidedly) that any discussion about e.g. possible courses would include consideration about whether or not the structure of the course (whether practically or book based at its most simplistic level). I can think of instances where a client proposes to stay on in a school environment for A levels - because it is familiar, even though they have not flourished in an academic learning context. Thus exploring 'possible next steps' would ethically demand challenging the client with how they felt things might be different in the future with how they have been experienced in the past. By default this must include reference to preferred 'learning styles' even if this is not explicit.

Perhaps this aspect of guidance operates, rightly or wrongly at a more intuitive level. Getting the client to identify what sort of learning environment they enjoy and thrive in is I suppose to do with learning styles although (embarrassingly) I hadn’t really made that connection before. Perhaps it is significant that I as a learner didn't particularly consider how I myself learned most effectively until way after I finished my compulsory education. Nor in my experience do most clients who I have seen in my practice as a careers adviser. It is not something young people are asked to consider at school. In an HE context where as part of the Warwick Skills Certificate undergraduate learners are encouraged to identify and think through their learning style for the overwhelming majority it seems to be a revelation, and not something they have considered at all before. If my general perception is correct, then perhaps it is also a question for education - though whether or not it would be compatible with the National Curriculum and general qualifications structure is debateable. Anecdotally there seems to remain a hierarchy within how qualifications are perceived - practical and vocational skills seen in some quarters as only appropriate for those who have 'failed' within the more academic, theoretical arenas, and consequently less highly valued.

On a note of clarification, I'd like to add that I don't think an effective action plan is about 'telling clients what to do' or 'setting tasks' but hopefully encouraging individuals to identify action points that are relevant to them - whether or not that always happens in practice is of course another matter. However, I just wonder if the language of 'action plans' suggests a focus on 'doing' rather than 'reflecting' whereas perhaps a more expansive and enlightened vision would include aspects of all areas of the learning cycle. In addition, when I was working in schools there was still the influence of 'death by action planning' although there was more flexibility than in earlier times when action plans were the basis for accessing funding. As a consequence I was aware of an ethos amongst some practitioners that created a tendency to focus on the product of the interview (the action plan)as opposed to the process (exploring, understanding, clarifying through discussion and interview). Obviously I would like to think that I focussed on the latter rather than the former, but interestingly this links to the area of how we evaluate guidance and quality within it. As the discussions within the Impact Analysis strand reflect, it is easier to look at systems and products than to assess qualitative outcomes, and as a consequence a sparkly professional looking action plan may satisfy bureaucrats more than a poorly documented but helpful guidance interview. There is a need to play the game and do both, but sloppy practice can be hidden by the fig leave of a good action plan, more easily than the reverse.

I digress, it seems to me that learning styles could be more explicitly utilised than at present, but for this to be most helpful it would be useful if clients had already been introduced to the notion of learning styles before being faced with option choices - also that in training practitioners should be encouraged to consider this aspect of learning more explicitly with their clients - but also to have critiqued the limitations of such assessments to avoid unhelpful stereotyping or over emphasis on individual as opposed to societal and contextual issues.

Comment 24:

Guidance takes place in many contexts. Recent research by MORI indicated that most people access (satisfactory) guidance in the workplace. Learning styles must be of particular importance to employers who usually seek to maintain/improve profitability as an outcome of successful training.

Unfortunately even more recent research (from Warwick) provides evidence of the "low skills equilibrium" or whole sectors of the economy where owners have decided against "up skilling" the workforce So:

How to support employers to make optimum use of knowledge of employees learning styles?

How to "sell the benefits" of LL in the first place to employers?

Comment 25:

Since the concept of learning styles derive from differential psychology (fixed traits that are objectively measurable) it follows that they would be most relevant, logically, to practitioners giving guidance within a differential framework (where individual abilities, interests, aptitudes must be assessed/measured so they can be matched with the 'best' job/course).

The point about discussing compatible learning environments with clients within guidance highlights a particular weakness of learning styles. That is, they marginalize the importance of learning environment. Every time I walk into a tiered lecture theatre, I’m reminded of how powerfully this architecture is expressive of a particular set of assumptions about how people learn. Trying to teach interactively in such an environment is quite challenging and demonstrates, for me, how environment can override individual preferences in learning. So I am more persuaded that taking factors external to the individual (like learning environment, resource availability, gender, ethnicity) are key.

Comment 26:

Responding to the point about how environment overrides any individual preferences in learning could you clarify a little more please? Are you saying that therefore there is no merit in discussing individual learning styles in any circumstances? I understand I think the point you are making, but trying to place it in a context where learning styles might be just one tool in the kit, although it may have its origins in differential psychology I think it would be a little harsh to say that is the entirety of how it might be used in practice. I'm aware here that perhaps we are moving into the area of how might guidance be understood - is it used in the context of 'pick'n'mix' i.e. technical eclectism or theoretical integration where:

‘Advocates of technical eclecticism use methods and techniques drawn from different theories without necessarily subscribing to their parent theories, while theoretical integrationists attempt to synthesise conceptually diverse theoretical frameworks’ (Kidd, 1996:204)

I am a little confused here, it seems to me that acknowledging what an individual is likely to encounter on particular courses - although an insufficient response in itself - does at least allow discussion of possible strategies that an individual may use to cope with (perhaps overcome is too strong) the external factors that they will meet. I am not advocating a wholly individualised analysis that then 'blames' those individuals who cannot thrive because of those external factors, although I think I do lean to a pragmatic acknowledgment that a discussion of learning styles might be used to help individuals cope with what's there - at the same time as pushing for greater institutional acknowledgement and awareness of how the factors you identify will ultimately have greater impact on successful learning outcomes. Is the argument that decontextualised identification of learning styles could actually be unhelpful and compound disadvantage?

Interestingly, this debate is helping me to re-evaluate my own position and is therefore challenging how I view (review) my practice, which is after all what the NGRF is about. It is highlighting for me the importance of training including not just 'skills acquisition', 'understanding of tools of guidance' or 'building up relevant professional information and knowledge' but perhaps more importantly the instinct to critically evaluate all of these factors so as to remain alert to their limitation and underlying philosophies. It seems to demonstrate that without this understanding quite unintended messages can be communicated and that might potentially reinforce the status quo and compound disadvantage in a manner that is contrary to the stated aims of guidance which use language suggesting it should aim to help counter disadvantage, raise aspirations, overcome obstacles etc.

how are others doing!

Comment 27:

"factors external to the individual (like learning environment, resource availability, gender, ethnicity) are key"

This point is emphasised in a Training Needs Analysis Handbook for employers which was recently in use in North London. Examples of ways of learning are given:

College based training; Coaching; Books; Projects; In company - external provider &/or internal; Mentoring; Shadowing; Video/film; Problem solving; groups; Role play/ simulation; Projects; Text/computer based packages; Benchmarking; Discussions; On the job training; Interactive video; Brainstorms; Video/film; Demonstration; Case studies; Residential.

And advice to employers on other factors beside learning styles to consider is offered:

priorities and deadlines, e.g. you may not be able to wait for an external course as the need is urgent:; cost - possible budget restrictions; external sources time ability to release staff; duration, (e.g. of course); prejudices; number needing the training; availability of in-house expertise; shift patterns; cost of cover~individual; requirements; (e.g. is there a qualification to be gained?); existing level; of skills or knowledge

Guidance to clients could perhaps more systematically support clients to address similar issues pertaining to their learning needs? Some standardisation of practice might be necessary to achieve this?

Comment 28:

This is an interesting debate - which reveals the complexity of using something as superficially attractive as a quizz (the likes of which one might find in the Cosmopolitan)! I completed the inventory that was posted and thankfully came out as reader/writer - but interestingly my score was pretty balanced (two scores of 3, one of 2 and a 5). This says volumes to me - that whilst one style might predominate, others are important. In guidance terms, individuals prioritise and add value to their 'natural tendencies' (a contested notion, if ever there was!) and also change over time, with experience and under pressure from others' perceptions of good job/good college etc.

Where learning styles might be of more direct benefit to guidance workers is in those aspects of guidance that link closely with more formal teaching and where the use of information is to the fore. For example, careers literature (college prospectus') generally come in only one format - this is unlikely to be attractive or useful for all users. Group working activitiies can be planned in response to predominant learning styles in a group - for example, group leaders might be encouraged to undertake tasks involving physical movements in groups with predominantly kinesthetic learners. The work of Honey and Mumford (the reflector, theorist, pragmatist, activist model) was refined (by whom I cannot recall) and occupational norms established. It produced some interesting results - and was not quite so crude as suggesting that all librarians are theorists! But that there did seem to be some correlations with styles and occupations.

However, some cautions too:

the inventories can be very 'see-through' - I could predict which answers were the right ones whilst doing the quizz - and its very difficult to produce questionnaires that are lie proof (and like the Cosmo quiz, no-one wants to emerge as the category with (perceived) pathological tendencies).
clearly all learners are different, and learning styles inventories enable teachers (and guidance practitioners) to plan for differences - but there is a need to avoid stereotyping or fail to recognise that the style may alter.
there is some research (sorry no reference to hand) that suggests we teach (and guide?) in our own predominant learning style - this might have profound implications for the way guidance practice is conducted.
we do not yet know enough about the relationship between guidance and learning - or as I prefer to see it - the relationship between provision of guidance and teaching - that results in (career) learning. Much more research is needed here.
Comment 29:

Colleagues may be interested to read the National Policy Framework and Action Plan for IAG for Adults at

click on Information Advice and Guidance to access the doc

This doc sets out the entitlement for adults to information and advice. Guidance still does not appear to be on the national agenda.

Comment 30:

In HE, a large proportion of 'guidance' is now provided through 'teaching' rather than through an interview. Workshops, careers modules, integrated curriculum work (Careers Ed or Career Development Learning as it seems to now be labelled) reach many more clients than the traditional 1-to-1 work. This has brought Learning Theory and, as part of that, Learning Styles into the theoretical context of guidance.

Comment 31:

A quick comment on the influence of the environment. When in Glasgow this week, we were shown a brand new building in the Medical school. This school has switched from traditional teaching methods - largely lecture - to 'problem based learning'. This new building, therefore, is a mass of small rooms, suites of rooms etc suited to small group work, seminar teaching - not a lecture theatre in sight!

Comment 32:

And about time too! Whoever thought that such an environment was conducive to learning anyway? (probably the Romans, 'what did they ever do for us anyway'?)!

I too did Kolb's inventory and was surprised at the outcome, it certainly did not fit with how I see myself. Therein lies the problem of interpretation and subsequent judgement on a learning style. Perhaps that is why CG has never wholly embarrassed it as a requirement within effective guidance? which is sort of paradoxical, as 'Judgement under Uncertainty' is a trait often evidenced within the average CGI.

Boshier (1998) reinforces the notion that environment and individual circumstances are key to LL, he describes LL as 'a regressive notion that renders social conditions invisible' and is only confined to post 16 learning. The 'Learning Age' goes further relating LL to accredited and 'useful' to the economy, rather than for any individual benefit. Edwards (1999) argues that we are in danger of creating a system that values vocationally functional development far higher than personal improvement. He continues this theme by arguing that LL is a displacement of LE (Lifelong Education), a way of 'freeing' individuals from the 'deadening hand' of the bureaucracy & the collective to be challenged to shape their own futures as, perhaps, never before (Hatton, 1997). Basically endorsing LE as reductive (economically beneficial) and consigning LL as idealistic (applicable for any purpose). So, when we talk about LL are we really talking about LE? or is Tai Chi and Flower Arranging just as valuable as accredited (and politically countable) technical training?

Perhaps before addressing either learning styles or environment, we need - as career guidance professionals - to consider our roles as political agents of change and endorse only opportunities that are collectively beneficial.(In truth we probably do this anyway)! What would Plato have made of that?

My own feelings on the matter concern the perception young people have of LL. Within the formal structures of pre-16 education, learning is related to state requirements, so the motivation to seek opportunities for personal development and growth is seen only as a bolt on (if there is the time) to the more important learning (is 'learning' even the most applicable word here - perhaps 'conditional acquired knowledge') that is associated with career and labour market demands?

Learning style inventories are designed to explore the way you prefer to learn.

This is a link to a summary of some of the work done on Experiential Learning Cycles. There are plenty of links within this review plus a booklist if you want to explore further:

Comprehensive reviews of research on learning styles

The Learning Skills Development Agency (LSDA) has produced two comprehensive documents reviewing research on learning styles and how these might be used in practice. The documents, both published in 2004, represent the state of the art on learning styles and we recommend them to anyone with an interest in this area.

The Learning Skills Development Agency (LSDA) has produced two comprehensive documents reviewing research on learning styles and how these might be used in practice. The documents, both published in 2004, represent the state of the art on learning styles and we recommend them to anyone with an interest in this area.
The LSDA identified that theory and practice of learning styles has generated great interest and controversy over the past 20 years and more. As a consequence the Learning and Skills Research commissioned Frank Coffield and colleagues to produce two complementary reports. These are provided by LSDA as a valuable resource for researchers and practitioners in the learning and skills sector. The reports serve two key purposes: first, they contribute to what we know about models of learning styles and to our knowledge of what these offer to teachers and learners. Second, the reports identify an agenda for further research: to evaluate rigorously key models in a variety of learning environments in order to better understand their merits and deficiencies.

LSDA publish these reports in the spirit of stimulating debate and enabling knowledge of learning styles to be developed for the benefit of practice and policy.

The first report Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning provides a systematic and critical review of learning styles models. The report critically reviews the literature on learning styles and examines in detail 13 of the most influential models. These are:

Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model and Style Delineator
The Dunn and Dunn model and instruments of learning styles
Riding’s model of cognitive style and his Cognitive Styles Analysis (CSA)
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
Apter’s reversal theory of motivational styles,the Motivational Style Profile (MSP) and related
assessment tools
Jackson’s Learning Styles Profiler (LSP)
Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI)
Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ)
The Herrmann ‘whole brain’ model and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI)
Allinson and Hayes’ Cognitive Style Index (CSI)
Entwistle’s Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST)
Vermunt’s framework for classifying learning styles and his Inventory of Learning Styles (ILS)
Sternberg’s theory of thinking styles and his Thinking Styles Inventory (TSI)
The second report Should we be using learning styles? explores what research on these 13 models has to say to practice.

The final sections are common to both reports: these draw out the implications for pedagogy and offer recommendations and conclusions for practitioners, policy-makers and the research community. Interestingly, Coffield and colleagues not only offer advice for practitioners, but they also explore the appeal of learning styles and the objections to learning styles in their comprehensive coverage of this topic.