What are some examples of learning styles

Learning styles - what is it?

Pupils are differently successful under the same learning conditions, which is often attributed to intellectual differences, different prior knowledge, diverging motivation and other individual characteristics. In the last few decades, it has been particularly often assumed that different skills or preferences with regard to the sensory modalities are an important cause, i.e. that interindividually differently pronounced reception and processing needs lead to different learning effectiveness. Such personality traits and individual preferences are described in the relevant literature under the terms "perceptual style" (cognitive controls - control and influence the perception of environmental stimuli), "thinking style" (cognitive styles - mostly in the wake of Paivio's (1971) "theory of dual coding" differentiated between verbal-linguistic and visual-visual processing) and "learning style" (learning styles - preferred learning activities in the interplay between personal and situational characteristics) summarized (cf. Jonassen & Grabowski 1993). Perception and thinking styles are viewed as more stable personality traits, while the learning style, on the other hand, is the sum of those preferences that are ultimately set by the learners themselves, depending on the context. These three aspects are often briefly dealt with in pedagogical discourse under the term "learner type", whereby a multitude of different categorizations are carried out on this global level, which are mostly based on self-assessments and descriptions by the learners themselves and have rarely been researched strictly experimentally. A barely manageable number of relevant "tests" that were developed by himself and others in the wake of Frederic Vester's popular scientific publications cannot hide this. Giorgi Lozanow's suggestopedia explicitly bases its learning on the inclusion of multi-sensory stimuli and elements of body learning (psychomotor learning). After a factorial comparative investigation of several such instruments, however, there are great doubts about the validity and reliability of these instruments (Ferrell 1983).

The "learning type theories" associated with the term "learner type" suggest none the less a scientific foundation, are astonishingly widespread and enjoy a sustained, sometimes even increasing popularity. Concepts of learning in this regard have recently been found in didactics, educational magazines, in the advisory literature for pupils and teachers, and increasingly also in school books: "Learning with all the senses", "holistic learning" and "action-oriented learning". Logically, these learner type theories can be found under changing keywords in state curricula and in teacher training offers, and it seems that these are plausible and practice-appropriate concepts for an effective (more) lesson structuring than other "new" didactics, and more or less, especially among school practitioners have been passed down uncritically for some time. Looß (2001) points out this problem and emphasizes that these terms are often used in a general way to distinguish them from traditional cognitive learning. Last but not least, these disputes are sometimes carried out on an ideological background, on which the superiority of a certain organizational form of educational institutions is to be proven, which cannot be discussed here.

In the following, we understand learning styles based on Keefe & Ferrell (1990, p. 16) as complexes of interconnected features that add up to more than the individual parts. Thus, an individual learning style forms a "shape" (in the psychological sense) of internal and external processes that are derived from the neurobiology, personality and development of the individual and are reflected in the learning behavior.

In the relevant (specialist) literature one finds the most varied of categorizations of learners, whereby such classifications in learning styles or types are often more and more differentiated and overlaps or inconsistencies are accepted. Some of such "learning types" are to be demonstrated here using the example of teaching how to calculate the spatial volume of the sphere:

  • The visual type must have a picture in front of it, such as a schematic drawing of a sphere with the corresponding dimensions.
  • The auditory or acoustic type can memorize the formula by simply listening, namely by hearing the sentence "take the radius to the power of three and multiply by 4/3 pi" several times.
  • The discussing type needs someone with whom he can talk about this mathematical problem or a teacher who works out the formula in a dialogue with him.
  • The haptic or motor type needs a solid spherical model that he can "grasp" or that he can put a nail into.
  • The psychomotor type needs to be active in movement, so they should probably learn bowling or the shot put.
  • The olfactory or gustatory type must be able to smell or bite into spherical fruits.
  • The discerning type needs the evidence; the number 4/3 or pi bothers him most of all. If he does not get the proof, he can hardly remember the formula.
  • The contact or person-oriented type needs a teacher he likes, because he does not accept explanations from the unsympathetic teacher.
  • The idea of ​​the formula 4/3 Pi radius to the power of three is sufficient for the abstract-verbal thinking type.
  • The media-oriented type prefers to develop the formula independently on the computer as part of an animated learning program.

For this purpose, it is usually stated that none of these types exist on their own; rather, in practice there would only be mixed types that could also adapt more or less flexibly to the respective circumstances. As a result, the audiovisual type is postulated, which should be particularly suitable for our media age. Often in such systems there is also no lack of criticism that individual types of learner are preferred in our education system and others are disadvantaged, that some would better meet the requirements, since this system is characterized by written work, rapid information acquisition and processing, in which board, overhead , Textbooks or note-taking dominate.

Two groups of theories can be roughly distinguished: theories with rather vague findings and empirically founded theories.

Theories with fuzzy evidence

Ernst Meumann, a pioneer of empirical pedagogy and pedagogical psychology, found sensory-specific differences in the intellectual performance of children experimentally at the beginning of the 19th century, and postulated that people who were more visually oriented would prefer appropriate courses, while other people preferred auditory stimuli.

With regard to school learning, a study by Düker & Tausch (1957) showed that illustration correlates strongly with the degree of retention of the lesson content. The retention performance of a group that was allowed to look at a real object was 32% higher than that of the control group. Overall, the study shows that the degree of retention increases when the linguistic-acoustic form of communication is supplemented by media forms. The retention performance increases by 9.5% with the additional use of images, by 20% with the additional use of models, by 40.7% with the simultaneous use of a real object in relation to the control group, which is only spoken to acoustically.

In 1969, Edgar Dale classified media and their learning effectiveness in an "experience pyramid", at the top of which are symbolic media (language and image symbols). This is followed by iconic media (photo, film and television) and at the base of the pyramid there are direct experiences that are gained from role plays, models or targeted experience. He assumed that the more direct and concrete the experience, the easier it is to learn.

The following table often appears in some publications in connection with multimodal learning:

Transmission type



approx. 20%


approx. 30%

Hearing + seeing

approx. 50 %

Hearing + seeing + speaking

approx. 70%

Hear + see + speak + do

approx. 90%

Such a list can be found for the first time in Niggemann (1977), who writes that a series of experiments has shown that a conveyed material is retained differently depending on the type of conveyance - however, the specific sources are missing (cf. Szczesny 2004). Investigations have shown that "the memory, ie the amount of knowledge noted, is only 17-20% on a time average (measured after 24 hours, after a week, after a month) when speaking exclusively" (Niggemann 1977, p. 153) . This statistic, which has also been reproduced by other authors (e.g. Gudjons 2001, Klippert 2002), equates retention with understanding and ultimately claims that theoretical insight can best be gained from practical experience. This postulate can easily be refuted by referring to people who obviously have not learned anything from experience.

Weidenmann (1997, p. 69ff) suspects a connection to the "theory of hemispheric specialization", which assumes that one can "switch on" both hemispheres of the brain by simultaneously offering language and images and thus increase learning and retention performance . However, the effects of multimodal learning offers have only been empirically confirmed in very specific settings. On the one hand, images improve the retention of texts and the multicodal presentation of information is experienced as less stressful, on the other hand, multimedia information is also prone to overload and interference. Finally, multimodality also has a disadvantageous effect if the individual information channels are poorly coordinated with one another.

Fischer & Fischer (1968) differentiate between "incremental learners", "intuitive learners", "sensory specialists", "sensory generalists" and "emotionally involved" from a pedagogical perspective.

Schrader (1994) also proposes a typology that is more oriented towards teaching practice - with reference to adults in vocational training: "theoreticians", "application-oriented", "model students", "indifferent" and "insecure".

Pask (1976, 1988) assumes one dualistic approach and differentiates according to the manner of the development process with regard to abstractions from concrete experiences and details between Serialiststhat gradually move from concretions to abstractions, and Holiststhat continually interfere between concretions and abstractions, as well as Versatilethat apply both patterns in context.

The only empirically proven differentiation according to sensory modalities is the typification in verbalizers and visualizers, which is often carried out. However, this is likely to be a phenomenon largely influenced by cultural experiences, because according to Scheu (1977), for example, a gender-specific treatment in infancy can be observed in this regard, in which girls are acoustically stimulated much more frequently, while boys are much more visually stimulated. This takes place in the phase of life in which optical stimulation is more important than acoustic stimulation. Garai & Scheinfeld (1968) report that male infants are more interested in what they see and later do better on tests that involve solving imaging problems. For this, girls' hearing is better developed. The upbringing of the "boy" and "girl stereotype" begins as early as the third month of life. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that the mother is more likely to promote muscle activity in boys than in girls (cf. Scheu 1977, p. 61ff). As a rule, girls are taught language subtly differently than boys, because girls are not allowed to speak loudly, adults are not allowed to interrupt a word or to pronounce certain words (cf. Scheu 1977, p. 78). As numerous studies show, there is only a small number of children (10-15 percent) who can be assigned to the auditory learning type and therefore benefit from a purely verbal presentation. Just as many children in a class can be classified as "multimedia". All the others keep almost nothing of what they just hear, but benefit above all from what they see (cf. Richter 2000).

Well-founded theories

The already mentioned inadequate empirical foundation of the learning style or type theories - especially with regard to the examination of their advantages in learning practice - is to a large extent related to the fundamental multifactorial nature of learning processes. In very specific temporal and spatial contexts, learning processes are always more than the mere interaction of a learner with subject matter conveyed by the media. In most cases, teaching materials come in complex media settings and combinations anyway, which can only be varied to a limited extent even by a didactically experienced teacher. If the learner has little interest in mathematical content, even with ideal media or multimodal presentation, a mathematical formula will hardly be easier to learn than with "traditional" presentations in class.

As a rule, the effectiveness of a learning style is also influenced by situational factors - for example, an activating lesson in a sixth period will not achieve much for some students, even if the subject matter itself calls for it.

From a psychological point of view, people differ fundamentally according to whether they are dominated by the environment or whether they try to dominate it. Therefore, field-dependent learners who accept facts as they are presented to them and who work in a more fact-oriented manner are faced with field-independent learners who tend to (re) organize and (re) structure the environment according to their own ideas. While field-dependent people often have problems locating information in a complex environment and therefore need more guidance and social interaction, field-independent people tend to need less guidance and are generally less oriented towards social interaction. On the other hand, they are keen to experiment and work more conceptually. However, this distinction cannot be understood in the sense of a general typification, because the working method often depends on the context. It can also be shown that, as a rule, younger children are predominantly field-dependent and tend to become more field-independent with increasing age.

An empirically well-established model comes from Kolb (1984), who, following Lewin, emphasizes the process character of learning. With recourse to intelligence and creativity research as well as Piaget's cognitive model, he differentiates between four learning styles, which he arranges in a coordinate system: on the X-axis, the poles face each other mentally, reflective observation and active testing, while on the Y-axis the poles are concrete, practical experience versus abstract, analytical understanding. The specific learning style types then result from the combination in the quadrants and are characterized by how experiences are collected and then processed (cf. Kolb 1984 and Smith & Kolb 1986). This can be illustrated graphically as follows:

  • Divergers prefer concrete experience and reflected observation, whereby their strengths lie in the ability to imagine. You tend to look at specific situations from many perspectives and are interested in people.
  • Assimilators prefer reflective observation and abstract concept formation up to theoretical models. They tend to draw inductive conclusions and integrate individual facts into overarching concepts.
  • Convergers prefer abstract concept formation and active experimentation. Your strengths lie in the execution of ideas. They are prone to hypothetical deductive inferences and prefer to deal with things or theories (which they like to check out) than with people.
  • Accommodation providers prefer active experimentation and concrete experience. Your strengths lie in the design of activities. They are prone to intuitive problem-solving through trial and error and prefer to deal with people rather than things or theories.

Felder & Soloman (no year) differentiate between four bipolar learning style dimensions, one of which focuses on sensory modalities, while all others are characterized by personal characteristics of the work style:

  • Active learners learn best by being active, e.g. B. deal with the subject matter in group work, while reflective learners first think quietly on their own.
  • Sensory learners are patient with details, facts, abstractions and formulas, they like to solve problems through well-established methods and are irritated by complications and surprises. Intuitive learners love variety, prefer to be creative and have an aversion to repetition, routine and memorization, they work faster than sensory ones and they are usually more innovative than these.
  • Visual learners learn most easily through graphs, diagrams, tables, or demonstrations. Verbal learners prefer written or spoken explanations.
  • Sequential learners prefer the detailed, logical structure of a material with clearly recognizable connections. Global learners prefer random, survey-based recording without too many cross-connections, but they struggle with details.

These well-empirically proven theories are characterized by their high degree of abstraction, which makes them seem less useful in terms of practical implementation. Since learning materials require more or less the entire range of activities described here, most likely only a recommendation can be derived from this for teaching and learning practice after changing offers for performance, exercise and memorization in the sense of a compensation. In this way, active learners can be given space for discussion after a traditional lecture, while reflective learners should be given the opportunity to deepen what has been discussed or to think about applications through reading or summaries. Since the visual system dominates for most people, it will not be a disadvantage for verbal learners to prepare learning material in the form of a structured excerpt. Verbal learners can use a small group discussion following a slide presentation to help them learn effectively. Since conventional teaching prefers this learning style anyway due to its sequential structure, it should always be possible for global learners to relate to the whole of a learning area.

What is left?

According to the current state of knowledge, there is no simple psychological structure in the cognitive sciences and also in terms of an individual learning style there is no ideal way to promote efficient learning and thinking (cf. Looß 2001). As more recent results of brain research show, the previously assumed relationships between sensory perception and memory are far more complex than that 1: 1 assignments between modality and sensory center can be assumed here. After all, every perception process is an active one of the synthesis and construction of a complex "sensory" form, whereby perception and learning as active processes are always represented by a neural coupling of sensory and motor functions, so that, for example, seeing cannot be separated from understanding, like knowing the visual world from consciousness.

Learning and understanding often presuppose a distancing from direct experience and intuition, because this neither replaces the intellectual achievement nor is it to be equated with it. In many cases, abstractions from a sensually conveyed reality must have already been understood by the learner before an illustration or manipulation can support sustainable acquisition.

Due to the "fixation" on learning styles, that is, on parts of the learner himself, the contextual conditions of learning are often forgotten: the concreteness or decontextualization of the learning content offered, the quality and completeness of the instruction or the lesson. For example, almost exclusively decontextualized knowledge is required in school, in which pupils only rarely become clear about the usability and the contextual relationship. Rule recognition, strategy derivation, transfer services and knowledge compilation are left to the individual learner. The phenomenon of "six hours retarded" - pupils who fail in school learning tasks but are extremely intelligent and capable of learning in their everyday environment - is essentially related to these learning conditions.

Didactic approaches to promote understanding-oriented knowledge acquisition must take into account that this is an active, motivated, constructive and, to a large extent, self-controlled process (cf. Looß 2001). The social and motivational circumstances of the interaction with a learning material are therefore much more important than the mediation medium, so that learning content that is coded verbally, graphically and haptically only leads to better information processing, for example if the relationship with the teacher or the class atmosphere "voices". A not inconsiderable shaping of learning preferences is ultimately also done by the institution itself, although changing them seems to be possible only in the long term.

There may be something true about the numerous competing learning style concepts and learning style inventories, even if most of them have not yet been validated. Nevertheless, they are usually well suited to clarify the diversity of learners or to update this topic or to make teachers and learners aware of them in the first place (cf. Schulmeister 2004). According to some research results, it can be more advantageous to pursue a clear learning strategy than to have no learning strategy at all, so that it may generally make sense to learn and teach learning strategies, even if many experiments with training did not produce clear results.

The self-assessments of one's own learning style recorded in tests often do not match the learning style actually used, as determined, for example, in observations (Nistor & Schäfer 2003). According to Haller (no year), in view of the inadequate quality of such learning style inventories, a methodological correction and relativization is often achieved. The "HALB test"(Stangl 2003) by the author, which is also available in an online version.

It is certainly not sensible to use a typology obtained by means of such tests as the basis of a detailed didactic planning, for example that "type-matching" learners and teachers are assigned to one another, but the determination of the learning style or learning type can trigger a kind of "reflection dynamic" "which leads the person concerned to consider how they are used to learning what their likes and dislikes are, what their particular strategies and techniques are, what cognitive patterns (e.g. in the sequence of concretion and abstraction) for them play a role "(Haller, no year). Haller therefore locates the specific application benefit of learning style research in the implied plea for "didactic diversity in the courses offered and teaching methods", because the consideration of individual learning styles is often an expression of an individualistic orientation as a value setting in contrast to the traditional view of seeing learning as a general genre-bound behavior, which has to follow the given pattern.


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Published in 2005 in Praxis Schule 5-10, year 31, issue 3.

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