A Survey of the Literature on Factors affecting learning Style preferences of the Learner


Previous studies have indicated that gender, age, and cultural heritage affects the learners’ learning style (Charlesworth, 2008; De Vita, 2010, Joy & Dunn, 2008; Song & Oh, 2011). Studies have also documented that learning styles are affected by other factors Griggs and Dunn (1998). Thus, factors such as these needs to be considered when identifying learning style preferences of the student as they may influence learning outcomes.

Learning Style and Culture

The influence that culture has on the learning style preference of the learner has been studied and documented in numerous studies. In one study, Song and Oh (2011) conducted a study to examine the learning style preferences of learners who have diverse cultural backgrounds in an online language learning environment. The researchers utilized the Felder and Silverman Learning Style Model to identify students’ learning style preferences. A total of 65 international students enrolled in a Korean language course at a university’s language institute in Seoul, Korea participated in the study. Study participants were culturally diverse representing six cultural clusters: China, Middle East, Europe, Japan, America, and other Asia. The online language course was analyzed using the active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, sequential/global, visual/verbal dimensions of the Felder and Silverman model.  Results indicated significant cultural group differences in the learning style preferences of the learners of Korean language. Song and Oh noted that it is critical to analyze learning styles based on cultural backgrounds of the learners when designing successful online learning courses. In another study, Joy and Kolb (2009) investigated the role that culture plays in way that individuals learn. Experiential learning theory was used as a lens while conducting this study. Kolb’s learning style inventory was utilized to identify students’ learning style preferences. The researchers also used the framework for categorizing cultural differences from the Global Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (GLOBE) study, to categorize national cultures and individual cultural dimensions. A total 533 respondents residing in seven different nations participated in the study. The findings indicated that the influence of culture on learning styles of the learner was a marginally significant. Furthermore, the researchers also found that individuals tended to have abstract learning style in countries that are high in group collectivism, institutional collectivism, and uncertainty avoidance. The researchers concluded that individuals’ cultural background tend to influence their learning style. Thus, educators need to keep cultural background in mind while designing instruction for their learners.

Charlesworth (2008) examined the relationship between learning style and culture. Honey and Mumford learning style questionnaire was used to identify students’ learning style preferences into reflectors, activists, theorists and pragmatists. Forty one Chinese students, 34 Indonesians students, and 38 French students participated in the study. To ascertain if differences between groups would larger than differences within groups, ANOVA was used. The result indicated statistically significant differences existed between learning styles of the learners classified as activists, reflectors, and pragmatists. Specifically, Indonesian students scored high on the reflector scale, Chinese students scored high on the theorists scale, and French students scored high on the pragmatist scale. Thus, cultural backgrounds affect students’ learning styles and needs to be considered while designing and delivering instruction. In another study, Jia-Ying (2011) explored the influence of cultural background differences on students’ second language/foreign language learning styles. The study focused was to compare these differences between East and Western classroom cultures. A total of 20 graduate students pursuing graduate degrees in the U.S. from China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea were interviewed for this study.  The evidence from the study revealed that East Asian students adhere to the Confucian traditions and collectivists values. These values affects how students and their teachers interact. Thus, understanding these cultural norms and values is crucial in order for educators to be effective students from different cultures. De Vita (2010) conducted a study to investigate the learning style profiles exhibited by in multi-cultural class of international business management and how cultural influences are reflected on learning style preferences of native and foreign students. The Felder and Solomon Index of learning style was used to identify students’ learning styles. The findings of study suggests that greater variation of learning preferences do exist in multicultural cohorts. Thus, multi-style teaching strategies are recommended to in-order reach all the diverse learners in the course.

In summary, previous studies reveals the influence of culture on learning style preferences of the learner in a multitude of context. Thus, it is advisable to use different type of instructional materials and teaching strategies in order to reach the different type of learners in our multicultural classrooms.

Learning style and age

Age plays a big role on how individuals prefers to receive and give out information. Many studies have shown a relationship between age and learning style preferences of the learner. Cornu (1999) investigated the relationship between learning style, gender, and age amongst students of theology. A questionnaire focusing on contextual examples of global and analytical learning styles was used to identify student learning style preferences. Two batches of students taking theological education participated in the study. The researcher found no significant correlation between learning styles and gender, however, a significant correlation was found between learning style and age. A study by Honingsfeld and Dunn (2003) examined learning style characteristics of 1637 adolescents from five different countries. The Dunn and Dunn learning style inventory was used to identify students learning characteristics. Participants were divided into three groups: 13, 15, 17 years old groups. The evidence indicated a significant difference existed for 16 of the 22 learning style characteristics amongst the three age groups. In another study, Chan (2001) investigated learning styles of 398 gifted and non-gifted Chinese secondary school students. During the study, students were grouped into two groups: 11-13 year olds and 14 – 19 year olds. The result indicated a significant interaction effect between the younger group and learning styles. Chan argued that younger student interacted more with structured activities and games.

In another study, Lincoln et al. (2006) investigated relationship between age and the VARK learning style preferences among student enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. A total of 69 students from 17 countries participated in the study. The age groups of participants ranged from late teens to 40s. The result showed a low positive correlation between age and the read/write learning style among all participants (r = 0.197). The results also showed a small negative correlation between age and kinesthetic learning style (r = -0. 32) for male students. Hlawaty (2008) examined the relationship between age and learning style preferences of German students. Hlawaty used the Dunn and Dunn learning style inventory to identify students’ learning styles. The participants were grouped into three main age groups: 13, 15, and 17 year olds. MANOVA result indicated significant differences among all three pair wise comparison of age groups. The researcher noted that each age group has unique learning requirements and concluded that learning demands vary by age of the student. Barun, Schaller, Chambers, and Allisson-Bunnell (2010) investigated the implication of learning style, gender, and age groups for developing online learning activities. The Kolb’s learning style theory was used as a lens in examining responses of online learners to five types of educational activities. Results showed that learning style influences preferences of learning activity. The researchers found a stronger relationship between learning styles and age among adults than among children aged 10- 13 (middle school age).

Despite all these studies indicating a relationship between ages and learning style preferences of the learners, other studies found no existence of a relationship between age and learning styles. Li, Chen, Yang, and Liu (2010) investigated the relationship between age and learning style among students in different nursing programs in Taiwan. The Chinese version of the Myers- Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was used to identify students learning style preferences in the four dichotomous of the Jungian theory.  The dichotomous include: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving.  A total of 331 student participated in the study. The data showed that the most common learning styles were introversion, sensing, thinking, and judging. In addition, the finding also indicated that student age was not significantly related to their learning styles. Seiler (2011) investigated the relationship between age and learning style of adult learners in an online environment. Kolb’s learning style inventory was used to identify students learning styles. A total of 142 students completed Kolb’s learning style survey. The findings indicated a no significant relationship between age and learning styles of learners.  Finally, a study by Adesunloye, Aladesunmi, Henriques-Forsythe and Ivonye (2008) investigated the preferred learning styles of medical student residents and faculty at Morehouse University. The Kolb learning style inventory was used to identify students learning style preferences. A total of 42 participants participated in the study with age ranging from 20 to 59 years old. The study findings showed that there was no relationship between age and learning of the participant.

In summary, the data on the relationship between learning style and age is clearly mix. Some studies in the reviewed literature indicate evidence and support the link between learning style and age, while, other studies shows the lack of evidence to support the link between learning style and age. All in all, classroom instruction needs to take into account learning styles and age differences of the students to maximize learning.

Learning Style and gender/sex.

It is known that males and females learn differently. Numerous learning style preference studies have found a link between gender and preferred styles of learning between the two genders. Raddon (2007) argues that gender is one among many variables considered in learning style studies. Wehrwein, Lujan, and DiCarlo (2007) investigated gender differences in learning style preferences among undergraduate physiology students. The VARK questionnaire was administered to identify undergraduate physiology major learning styles. The students were enrolled in a capstone physiology laboratory at Michigan State University. 86 students participated in the study, however, only 48 students who returned the questionnaire volunteered information their gender information (55.8%). The study found that 54.2% of female and 12.5% of male students preferred a single mode of information presentation. Among female students, 4.2% preferred visual learning style, 0% preferred audial, 16.7% preferred read/write (printed words), and 33.3% preferred hands-on activity to take in and give out information (kinesthetic). Male students had evenly distributed learning style preferences with 4.2% of the students preferring Audial, read/write, and kinesthetic, respectively, while 0% male students preferred the visual mode.

In another study, Dobson (2009) compared student perceived and assessed learning style preferences and examined the relationship between learning styles preferences, sex, and academic performance. A total of 64 students participated in the study, of which 50 were undergraduate students and 14 were graduate students (40 women and 24 men). The researcher found that in the perceived sensory modality data, respondent disproportionally chose visual modality (36%), followed by read/write (28%), kinesthetic (18%) and audial (17%).  In the assessed sensory modality preference, respondents were classified as VARK (37%), followed by read/write (14%), AK (11%), K (8%), VK (6%), ARK (6%), A (5%), VAK (3%), RK (3%), V (2%), AR (2%), and VRK (2%). The researcher also found that there was a nearly significant relationship between sex and perceived sensory modality preference (x2 = 7.18, p = 0.06) and between sex and assessed sensory modality (x2 = 17.36, p = 0.09). However, there was a significant difference relationship between perceived sensory modality preference and academic performance (p = 0.06 by ANOVA).

In another study, Park (1997a) investigated if there were differences between the learning styles of Mexican, Armenia – American, Korean, and Anglo American students. One thousand two hundred eighty three students from 10 high schools in the U.S. participated in the study. The findings from the study indicated that there were differences in learning style preferences between male and female students across the four ethnic groups. Females showed a greater preference to kinesthetic learning style, while males showed a preference to a tactile mode of information presentation. Bernades and Hanna (2009) examined learning style preferences of students in an operations management course. The adult version of the VARK questionnaire was used to identify students learning styles. The researchers found no percent differences between male and female students’ mode of sensory preferences for the unimodal and multimodal learning styles. However, female students significantly preferred multimodal learning styles, whereas, male students significantly preferred a unimodal learning style. Furthermore, Lu and Chiou (2010) conducted a study to examine if gender affects quality of learning through E- leaning by ensuring learning styles of students were satisfactorily met with instructional materials. A total of 353 male and 169 female students from Northern Taiwan University enrolled in online courses participated in the study. Kolb’s learning style inventory was used to identify student learning style preferences. The researchers found a direct and positive relationship between gender and learning style.

In another study, Johnston (1997) examined the learning style preferences of physical education majors and analyzed differences in learning styles. A total of 64 male and 18 female physical education majors participated in the study. The study was conducted at a university in the Southeast of the United States. The Canfield learning style inventory (1988) was used to identify students learning style preferences. The result indicated that both males and females students vary from the norm on learning style preferences. In another study, Honigsfeld and Dunn (2006) investigated gender differences among the learning styles of 1637 adolescents from five countries – Bermuda, Brunei, Hungary, Sweden, and New Zealand. Student learning style preferences were identified using the English or appropriate foreign language (Hungarian, Malay, and Swedish) versions of the learning style inventory (LSI). The result showed significant main effects for gender with medium effect sizes and statistically significant and large effect sizes for country main effects. In addition, there were statistically significant and medium effect sizes for interactions of country by gender.

However, some studies investigating the link between learning styles and gender showed no relationship existed between the two variables. Al-Saud (2013) examined learning style preference of first-year dental students at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saud Arabia: Influence of gender and GPA. A total of 113 students participated in the study, of which 42 were females and 71 were males. The VARK questionnaire was used to identify students learning styles. The researcher found that 59% of the students preferred multi-modes of information presentation. The most common single mode preference was aural (20%), followed by kinesthetic (15.2%). The researcher found out that gender differences was not statistically significant. Urval, Kamath, Ullal, Shenoy, and Udupa (2014) investigated learning styles of undergraduate medical students using the VARK questionnaire and the influence of sex and academic performance. A total of 415 students participated in the study.  The VARK questionnaire was used to identify students learning styles. In addition, demographic data and self-perceived learning style preferences were also collected. The researchers found that the majority of the students had multiple learning style preferences (68.7%). Aural learning style was the predominant single learning style modality (45.5%) followed by kinesthetic at (33.1%). The researchers also found out that gender and previous academic performance did not have any influence of student learning styles preference. Negari and Barghi (2014) explored Iranian EFL learners’ learning style preferences and the role of gender in their learning styles. Ninety EFL learners participated in the study. The participant were from Sistan University, Baluchestan University, and Azad University of Zahedan. The Willing’s learning style questionnaire was used to identify students’ learning style preferences. The result indicated no significant difference between male and female learners’ learning style preferences

In summary, there is a conflict in the published evidence. The research on learning styles preference and gender differences is inconclusive. . In some studies the majority of male students preferred multiple modes of information presentation whereas in other studies female students preferred single mode of information presentation. In some studies a significant difference did exist between how females and male students prefers to take in and give out information. However, in other studies no significant differences between gender and learning styles preferences was found. Thus, educators needs to be aware of the conflicting findings on the research on gender and learning styles. This will help them to design and deliver information to students during instruction in a manner that is compatible to their learning style preference. Broadening and/or using multiple informational presentation styles can help create a more positive and effective environmental for students of all genders to learn. Thus, it is paramount for students and teachers to know student learning styles in order to improve teaching and learning.

References

Adesunloye, B., Aladesunmi, O.,  Henriques-Forsythe, M.,  & Ivonye, C. (2008). The preferred learning styles among residents and faculty members of an internal medicine residency program. Journal of the National Medical Association, 100(2), 172-175.

Al-Saud, M. (2013). Learning style preferences of first-year dental students at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Influence of gender and GPA. Journal of Dental Education, 77(10), 1371-1378.

Barun, M., Schaller, D., Chambers, M. & Allison-Bunnell (2010). Implications of learning style, age group, and gender for developing online activities. Visitor Studies, 13(2), 149-152.

Bernades, E., & Hanna, M. (2009). How do management students prefer to learn? Why should we care? International Journal for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 3(1), 1-12.

Chan, D. (2001). Learning styles of gifted and non-gifted secondary students in Hong Kong. Gifted Child Quarterly, 45(1), 35-44.

Charlesworth, Z. (2008). Learning styles across cultures: Suggestions for educators. Education & Training, 50(2), 155-127.

Cornu, A. (1999). Learning styles, gender, and age as influential issues amongst Theology student. Journal of Beliefs and values: Studies in Religion and Education, 20(1), 110-114.

De Vita, G. (2010). Learning style, culture, and inclusive instruction in the multicultural classroom: A business and management perspective. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 38(2), 165-174.

Dobson, J. (2009). Learning preferences and course performance in an undergraduate physiology class. Journal of Advances in Physiology Education, 33, 308-314.

Johnston, B. (1997). Learning style preferences of physical education majors. Physical Educator. 54, 31-34.

Hlawaty, H. (2008). A comparative analysis of learning styles of German adolescents by age, gender, and academic achievement level. European Education, 40(4), 23-25.

Honingsfeld, A., & Dunn, R. (2003). High school male and female learning similarities and differences diverse nations. The Journal of Education Research, 96(4), 195-206.

Jia-Ying, L. (2011). English learning styles of East Asian Countries: A focus on reading strategies. International Education Studies, 4(2), 74-81.

Joy, S., & Kolb, D. (2009). Are there cultural differences in learning styles? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33(2), 69-85.

Li, Y., Chen, H., Yang, B., & Liu, C. (2010). An exploratory study of the relationship between age and learning styles among nursing students in different nursing programs in Taiwan.  Nursing Education Today, 31(1), 18-23.

Lincoln, F., & Rademacher, B. (2006). Learning styles of ESL in community colleges. Community Journal of Research and Practice, 30(5), 485-500.

Lu, H., & Chiou, M.  (2010). The impact of individual differences on e-learning system satisfaction: A contingency approach. British Journal of Education Technology, 41(2), 307-323.

Negari., G., & Barghi., E. (2014). An exploration of Iranian EFL learners’ learning style preferences. Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods. 4(2), 17-24.

Park, C. (1997a). Learning style preferences of Korea, Mexican, Armenian-American, and Anglo students in secondary schools. NASSP Bulletin, 81, 103-111.

Raddon, A. (2007). Distance learners jugging home, work, and study. In P, Cotterill., S, Jackson., G, Letherby. (Eds.). Challenges and Negotiations for women in higher education (pp. 159-181). Dordrecht: The Netherlands: Springer.

Seiler, D. (2011). Age and learning styles of adult learners. The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning, 7, 133-138.

Song, D., & Oh, E. (2011). Learning styles based on the different cultural backgrounds of the KFL learners in online learning. Multi-media Assisted Language Learning, 13(3), 133-154.

Urval, R., Kamath, A., Ullal, S., Shenoy, A., Shenoy, N., & Udupa, L. (2014). Assessment of learning styles of undergraduate medical students using the VARK questionnaire and the influence of sex and academic performance. Journal of Advances in Physiology Education, 38(3), 216-220.

Wehrwein, E., Lujan, H., & DiCarlo, S. (2007). Gender differences in learning style preferences among undergraduate physiology student. Journal of Advances in Physiology Education, 31, 153-175.

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