Teacher Tap

The Learners: Learning Styles

Each teacher and student is unique. Learners have individual preferences, interests, intelligences, gifts, and talents. Although it's not possible to consider every situation when designing an online course, it's helpful to think about those approaches that might be helpful to particular types of learners.

Comfort and Learning Styles

Some students feel most comfortable hearing spoken word, while others would rather learn by reading, looking at images, or interacting with others.

girl at computer

Tools such as the Myers & Briggs Type Indicator and Fleming's VARK Learning Style Test are only a couple examples of well-known instruments for determining personality types and learning styles. It's unlikely you'll be able to gather detailed information about each of your learners. However when designing instruction, it's helpful to cast a wide net of options that might engage learners.

Realistic Approaches

While studies show that matching instruction to student learning styles and preferences improves learning, it may be unrealistic when creating a packaged course that's used by hundreds of students. In the chapter titled "Instructional strategies and learning styles: Which takes precedence," Merrill (2002) suggests that instructional designers use expected learning outcomes and content to determine the strategies that should be used for delivering instruction.

Positive Learning Experiences and Engagement

In a recent study titled Accommodating Individual Differences in the Design of Online Learning Environments: A Comparative Study, Mahnaz Moallem found that factors such as learning task, the context for learning and the student's perception of social presence play a significant role in online learning. He found that "in online learning environments where social interaction, collaboration, and problem solving are highly emphasized, it is likely that students' perception of their positive learning experience influence their motivation and willingness to adjust their preferred learning style." (p. 238)

By differentiating instruction to meet a variety of learning styles, you'll be able to keep most students engaged in learning.

Richard Felder and Barbara Silverman organized learning styles according to five questions. Take the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire and read the Descriptions of Learning Styles. They stressed that instructors should not simply teach to preferences. Instead, teaching materials should balance learning experiences.

Learning Style and Instructional Design

Moallem (2007-2008) has developed a set of guidelines (PDF) for developing instructional materials considering different learning styles based on Felder and Silverman's learning styles and strategies listed below.

As you design instruction, use a variety of strategies to reach different types of learners. You don't need to throw in the kitchen sink, however you never know what might reach a learner.


For instance, think of visual ways to approach math. Watch the YouTube video of an Asian approach to a math problem.

For background information or to learn more about students as learners, go to Student Information Scientists from Virtual Information Inquiry web-based course.

apply itApply It!
Create a list of the ways you learn best. What do you avoid when learning? Compare your list with a small group, create a list of those things to consider when thinking about individual differences and learning styles.

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