Learning Styles and Learning Preferences

The term ‘Learning Style’ refers to the way a person perceives and processes an experience.  The study of Learning Style Theory explores the rationale on which the choices learners make along the continua of perceiving and processing is based.  A Learning Style may be defined by modelling it with the use of a four-quadrant construct.  This four-quadrant construct is commonly referred to as the ‘Cycle Of Learning’.
The ‘Cycle Of Learning’ (or ‘Learning Cycle’) traverses a (sometimes iterative) path that starts with a ‘Direct Experience’, and travels 360o – in a clockwise direction – through a state of ‘Reflective Processing’, the formation of ‘Abstract Concepts’, to ‘Active Processing’ or ‘Emulating’ (which supports assimilation of the knowledge being acquired), and ultimately back the ‘Direct Experience’ as a Learning Experience.  The axes of the (four-quadrant) Learning Cycle are ‘Perceiving’ (‘Y’) and ‘Processing’ (‘X’).  Therefore, the learning process can be thought of as how we process what we perceive. Further, the way in which information is perceived and processed defines the Type (I, II, III, or IV – relating to the four-quadrant model) of learner we are.

A Learning Style differs from a Learning Preference ... the latter usually refers to a preferred method that facilitates learning.  A list of commonly-cited Learning Preferences includes:

Verbal/Written. Learners who prefer a Verbal or Written learning method are most comfortable learning by reading.

Aural/Auditory/Oral. For learners with an Aural, Auditory, or Oral Learning Preference, information is most easily processed by hearing it.
Visual/Graphic. Visual or Graphic learners learn most effectively when using pictures, graphs, concept maps, grids, matrices and other visual representations of the information to be learned.
Kinesthetic/Tactile Concrete. When a learning process is most effectively facilitated by a ‘whole body’ (tangible) experience – such as relying on sight, smell, movement, colour, etc. - this is indicative of a Kinesthetic or Tactile Concrete Learning Preference.
Active/Reflective.  Active and Reflective learners process information ‘on the go’, and learn more effectively when part of discussion or study groups.

While Learning Styles and Preferences – in and of themselves – are limited in the amount of guidance they offer, it is important that educators understand their relevance in the context of the role they each play in facilitating an effective (student) learning process.