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Teaching & Learning

Learning & Personality Styles

The current view on Learning Styles - according to the research

The belief in learning styles is so widespread, it is considered to be common sense. Few people ever challenge this belief, which has been deeply ingrained in our educational system. Teachers are routinely told that in order to be effective educators, they must identify & cater to individual students’ learning styles; it is estimated that around 90% of students believe that they have a specific learning style but research suggests that learning styles don’t actually exist! This presentation focuses on debunking this myth via research findings, explaining how/why the belief in learning styles is problematic, and examining the reasons why the belief persists despite the lack of evidence.

Learning styles & the importance of critical self-reflection by Tesia Marshik (TEDx)

Learning Styles

This picture goes to show that we all have different preconceived ideas and concepts.  Some of you see an old lady, others a young one, may be some of you cannot make heads or tails of it.  The point is this: the fact we perceive this picture differently must surely mean some of us acquire information differently.  If we acquire information differently, that must mean we learn in different ways.  And having different learning sets means one instructional method for teaching will not cater for us all.  In addition, as individual, we might have different preconceived ideas about a certain topic but as a group we can learn a lot from each other and appreciate the different perspectives or points of view which then widen our understanding and learning.

The way we acquire information depends on two things

  1. our built-in personality based preference
  2. the situation – different tasks require different approaches (e.g. most people would probably like to be shown and have a go at giving and intramuscular injection rather than reading or be told how to do it) 

That’s where Honey & Mumford come in.   They devised a tool to work out an indvidual built-in personality based preference for learning.   It was based on the four axes of the Kolb’s learning cycle (1984).  They developed their own 4 axes (mirroring that of Kolb’s)  -- which they termed Activists, Reflectors, Theorists & Pragmatists.  None of these are better than the other -- there are no right or wrong types and they are not markers of intelligence.   But each has its own pros and cons.   Honey and Mumford postulated that learners sit somewhere along the lines of these 4 different axes AND that the all rounded learner is one who can flexibly perform on all four axes depending on the context of his/her environment (= style  flexibility).  A lack of this flexibility results in learners struggling.  Equally, a team built with diffierent Honey and Mumford styles is thought to be a strong team because the “team” will have good representative from all four axes and the cons of each axes will be offset by the pros from others. These differences are what make us strong as a group: the different perspectives and wealth of knowledge and experience furnished through group work outweighs anything one individual could possibly offer (even if a so called expert!).

Whilst the following models are generally helpful, please remember that all people have a mixture of learning preferences and that sticking to a particular model rigidly might ‘pigeon hole’ people who are otherwise quite flexible.  So use them as they were intended: as aids (and not as dogmas) to increase our understanding of people and not to ‘brand’ them permanently.  

There is a questionnaire to help determine where you sit in relation to these four axes.   It’s not free and can be purchased from   You can find shortened versions for free on the web.  However, it cannot be said how reliable these alternative versions are.  But if you’re on a budget, they’re better than nothing

Teaching via the 4 styles

How to Use This Model

You can use the model to

  1. Match your teaching style to that of the learner’s: i.e. using complementary methods
  2. Provide learning methods to boost a learner’s weaker areas: to make them ultimately a more ‘all rounded’ learner
  3. Identify potential problems specific learners might encounter: for example
        • Reflectors–Theorists: reflect and theorise so much that they end up in a state of ‘analysis to paralysis’
        • Activists -- Pragmatists: end up doing things too quickly
        • Activists – Theorists: jump to conclusions too quickly
  4. Implement a variety of teaching methodologies when designing a course or educational session for a group of learners (who will inevitably come with different learning styles).   Your session needs methods to cater for them all.   So think what sorts of methods learners from each of the four axes might desire.
  5. Split a group of learners so that each subgroup has a mixture of people with different learning styles to promote understanding from different perspectives and thus create more ‘all rounded’ learners.
  6. Help allocate people to specific task groups in keeping with their learning style. 
    For example, if your team wants to implement a new service:
      • group all the pragmatists in your team in a task group to figure out the practical problems one might encounter and how they might be resolved
      • group the activists to implement a trial run and so on…
        Alternatively: remember Kolb’s Learning or Experiential Cycle?  (If not, read Pearl 3) You could split into four tasks groups each representing an arm of Kolb’s model.   
      • Experiencing: Activists are good at this
      • Reflecting: Reflectors are good at this
      • Conceptualising: Theorists are good at this
      • Experimenting: Pragmatists are good at this
  7. allocate individual members to roles that complement their learning styles (either in education or in the work place environment).   Activists are good at generating ideas, theorists for looking at current systems and how a proposal would fit in, reflectors on the possible effects of the ideas and pragmatists for trying them out and anticipating problems.
  • Characteristics: Involve themselves fully & without bias in new experiences.  Open minded & Not sceptical, enthusiastic about anything new. Days are filled with activity.  When one activity is dying down, they’re on the look-out for another. Their days are filled with activity and are always on the go.  When one activity is dying down, there on the lookout for another.  Enjoy the here and now and are dominated by immediate experiences. 
  • Famous sayings :   “I’ll try anything once”, “Sounds brilliant, let’s give it a go”
  • Their downfall: Act first & consider the consequences after.  Centre all the activities on themselves!  Thrive on challenge, but bored with implementation and long term consolidation (may not finish a job!)
  • Teaching methods they like: Anything with Activity.  Brainstorming.  Role Play.  Simulations.  Demonstrations.  Practise.  Field Trips.  Group Work.  Games
  • Characteristics: Stand back and ponder about experiences.  Enjoy observing other people, adopt a low profile.  Act on the past, the present and the opinion of others.  When they say something, they offer a more ‘rounded’ reflection than others. They often take the back seat in meetings and discussions BUT they act, having taken different perspectives into consideration.
  • Famous sayings: “I’d like to think about it”, “We need to be cautious”. 
  • Their Downfall: Thorough collection and analysis of data can delay reaching a definite conclusion.  They often postpone reaching a definite conclusion for as long a possible.  So sometimes, decisions are never made!
  • Teaching methods they like: They like to listen and read.  Reading.  Audiotapes.  Video/Film.  Seminars.  Group Discussion – they love them but often take a back seat observatory role
  • Characteristics: Observe and make theories. Analyse and synthesise.  They think though problems in a vertical, step by step, logical way.  Go back to basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems.  Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic.  Always thinking of basic assumptions, the principles, the theories, the models and of systems currently in place.
  • Famous sayings:  “If it is logical, it is good.”, “Does it make sense?”, “How does this fit in with that?”, “What are the basic assumptions””
  • Their Downfall: They’re perfectionists: won’t settle unless things fit into a nice rational scheme.  Because they are always analysing, they often remain detached from the rest of the team.  Feel uncomfortable with subjective judgments, lateral thinking and anything flippant.
  • Teaching methods they like: They like to get their concepts right first.  The lecture. Structured group discussion.  Question & Answer sessions.   Reading – mainly concepts and theories rather than the  attitudinal stuff that reflectors like to read
  • Characteristics: Keen on trying out new ideas, theories & skills.  Return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out.  Essentially practical down to earth people & get on with things.  Like practical decisions and problem solving. Positively seek out new ideas; always taking the first steps in experimenting.  Problems are always seen as challenges.
  • Famous sayings“There is always a better way”, “How can I apply this to practice”, “If it works it’s good”
  • Their Downfall:  impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions.  They like to put ideas into practise as soon as they get home -- others in the team may not be as ready!
  • Teaching methods they like: Demonstration & Practise.  Practical Workshops.  Field Trips?

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