November 24, 2015

Personality Tests for Learners – Discovering Your Learning Style

by Stella Chan, PharmD, PGY-1 Pharmacy Resident, MedStar Union Memorial Hospital

You have probably taken a personality test. It might have been as simple five question online quiz or as involved as the Myers-Briggs personality inventory.  Most people are curious learn more about their personality type.  But have you ever taken a learning style questionnaire?  Everybody has their own learning style, and these questionnaires were developed to help shed some light on how we best learn.  Knowing your learning style can help you learn more successfully; and as teachers, it is important to help your students understanding their learning styles.   There are a few different types of surveys out there which provide “insight into the ways learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the environment in which learning occurs.”1

First, let’s talk about the different learning styles known as VAKT (which stands for Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic-Tactile).  These learning styles related to how we learn in response to environmental stimuli.2 Visual learners learn best through interpreting graphics, body language, and facial expressions during lessons.  Visual learners often prefer sitting at the front of the room to have a clear view of the presenter.  And they tend to like diagrams, illustrated text books, videos, and colorful handouts.  Auditory learners learn best through lectures, discussions, talking things through problems, and listening to what others have to say.  They can interpret the underlying meanings of speech based on tone, pitch, and speed of the presenter’s voice.  Auditory learners also like to record lectures and listen to them later.  Kinesthetic/tactile learners learn best through a hands-on approach.  They may find it hard to sit through a long lecture without some sort of activity in the middle.

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Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI) combines two major cognitive dimensions:  the active-reflective dimension and the abstract-concrete dimension.3  From these dimensions, Kolb developed four learning styles:  diverger, assimilator, converger, and accommodator.  However, research has shown that the LSI had low predictive validity and thus, the Learning Style Questionnaire (LSQ) was subsequently developed by Honey and Munford. Similar to Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory, the Honey and Munford learning style questionnaire reveals  four distinct preferences:  Activist, Theorist, Pragmatist, and Reflector.  Honey and Munford believe that individuals move between the four different preferences depending on the situation and their level of expertise in the subject, rather than being locked into one.4  These learning style tests include not only perception but also information processing rather than just focusing on the environmental stimuli (such as with the VAKT learning styles test).  Activists are students who enjoy being challenged by new experiences and being involved in projects with others.  Theorists prefer to think through problems systematically and understand the theories behind what is being taught.  Pragmatists learn best when they are able to apply what they learn to real life stituations.  These students may benefit most from case studies and discussions about what others have experienced in the real world.  Reflectors learn by observing activities and drawing conclusions about what they see; they prefer receiving feedback from others and having time to review concepts prior to applying them.5

Anthony Grasha and Sheryl Reichmann developed the Grasha-Reichmann Learning Style Scales in 1974 to determine college students' preferences for classroom participation.  The questionnaire has a series of statements that the student can rate from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) including: “I enjoy discussing my ideas about course content with other students,” “I can determine for myself the important content issues in a course,” and “I prefer to work on class related projects by myself.”6  The responses are then tallied up to determine what preferred social learning preferences the student has:  Independent, Dependent, Avoidant, Participant, Collaborative, and Competitive.  Independent students prefer to think for themselves and work on their own.  Dependent students generally only learn what is required of them and look for specific guidelines on what to do and how to do it.  Avoidant types are not enthusiastic about learning the content and will require a lot of coaxing to complete activities.  Participant students enjoy taking responsibility for getting the most out of their lesson.  Collaborative describes students who enjoy sharing their ideas and working in groups.  Competitive students learn content in order to achieve a better grade than their peers or to receive the teacher’s praise.7

There are many questionnaires available that can inform students about the learning strategies that work best for them.  These questionnaires focus on different learning style preferences and probably yield the best results when a few questionnaires are used.  By figuring out which VAKT learning style learners are most drawn to, they will understand what type of environmental stimuli they learn best from.  Using Honey and Munford’s questionnaire, learners will understand how to best process the content delivered to them.  By utilizing the learning scale developed by Grasha and Reichmann, learners can determine whether they work best in groups or alone.  By putting all of these learning scales together, students can better understand how they learn, can select courses that use methods they are more likely to enjoy, and adjust their study habits to learn most effectively!

  1. Brown BL. Teaching style vs. learning style. Educational Resources Information Center: Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education; 2003.
  2. Coffield F, Moseley D, Hall E, et al. Learning styles and pedagogy in post 16 learning: a systematic and critical review. The Learning and Skills Research Centre; 2004 [cited 2015 Oct 9].
  3. Allinson CW and Hayes J. The learning styles questionnaire: an alternative to Kolb’s inventory? Journal of Management Studies. 1988; 25(3): 269-81.
  4. Honey P and Mumford A.  The learning styles helper’s guide. Maidenhead: Peter Honey Publications Ltd; 2000 (revised edition 2006).
  5. Mobbs R. Honey and Mumford. University of Leicester. Leicester, UK. [cited 2015 Oct 20]
  6. Grasha-Reichmann student learning style inventory. Office of Information Technology: Claremont, CA. Claremont Graduate University [cited 2015 Nov 9].

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