Learning Style Preferences

– Khem Raj Joshi

Learners learn a second language in many ways. Each learner prefers different learning styles and techniques. S/he has a mix of learning styles but may find that s/he has a dominant style of learning. It means that learners receive information through their senses and prefer some senses to others in specific situations. Usually, they learn more effectively when they learn through their own initiatives. When their learning styles are matched with appropriate teaching styles, their motivation and achievement increase and are enhanced. Thus,   researchers   and educators try to discover their learners’ style preferences so that they can help them learn in accordance with their own preferred learning styles.

A good teacher is supposed to keep the following teaching credo in mind:

  • What I hear, I forget.
  • What I hear and see, I remember a little
  • What I hear, see and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to   understand
  • What I hear, see, discuss and do, I acquire knowledge and skill from.
  • What I teach to

From  the above framework  we can  infer that  a teacher’s  job is not only  to present information that learners need, but also to help them understand what  they are good at. Although it is very difficult to address everyone’s needs, it is important to meet as many needs as possible. To accomplish this, the teacher should assess learners’ styles and preferences.

Defining Learning Styles

Learning styles have been defined variously. Cornett (1983, p.9) defines learning styles   as “the overall patterns that give general direction to learning behavior”. In  the same way, Dunn and  Griggs  (1988) define learning style  as  “the biologically  and developmentally imposed  set of characteristics  that make   the  same  teaching  method wonderful for some and terrible for others” (p.3). From these definitions what is inferred is that learning styles are the general approaches that learners use in acquiring a new language or in learning any other subject. Learning styles are those educational conditions under which a student is most likely to learn. It implies that learning styles are not really concerned with what learners learn, but rather how they prefer to learn. Reid (1995) defines learning styles as “internally based characteristics of individuals for the intake or understanding of new information”. Reid clarifies that learning styles are the learner’s cognitive, affective and physiological factors that indicate how a learner perceives, interacts with and responds to the learning environment. On the basis of all the above definitions, we can say that a learning style is a learner’s consistent way of responding to and using stimuli in the context of learning. The learner may prefer one or more styles over others.

Types of Learning Styles

Scholars have divided learning styles into different types. In this article, I am   dealing with the most common types of learning styles:  visual, auditory and  kinesthetic, introverted and extroverted.

Visual Learners

Visual learners are those who “like to read and obtain a great deal from visual stimulation” (Oxford, 2003). For them, lectures, conversations and oral directions without any visual backup can be very confusing. They learn things best through seeing them and like to keep an eye on the teacher by sitting in the front of the class and watching the lecture closely.  Some   characteristics of visual learners are that they:

         use  words and phrases  that evoke  visual  images;

        learn by seeing and visualizing;

        are good at spelling but forget names;

        understand/like  charts;

        are good  at sign language,

        take  numerous detailed notes;

        find something to watch if they are bored:

        benefit  from illustrations and presentations  that use  colour;

        are attracted to written or spoken language  rich in imagery;

        find passive surroundings  ideal.

 Auditory Learners

Auditory learners are those who “enjoy and profit from unembellished lectures, conversations and oral directions” (Oxford, 2003). They are excited by classroom interactions in role-plays and similar activities. They learn best through hearing. Some characteristics of auditory learners are that they:

        speak slowly and tend  to be natural listeners;

        prefer things  explained to  them verbally rather than to  read  written information;

        learn by listening and verbalizing;

        notice sound effects in movies and enjoy music;

        can’t  keep quiet for long periods  and are good in study   groups;

        talk to themselves or others when bored,

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners are those who like movement and enjoy working with tangible objects. They prefer frequent move around the room. They learn through experiencing or doing things. Some characteristics of kinesthetic learners are that they:

        learn by doing and solving real life  problems;

        like hands-on approaches and learn  through trial and error;

        are good at sports;

        can’t  sit  still for long;

        like lab work, adventure books, movies;

        take  breaks when studying;

        build models;

        are involved in material arts, dance;

        speak  with  their  hands and gestures;

        enjoy field trips and tasks that  involve manipulating materials.

Introvert vs Extrovert Learners

Introvert learners are those who can do more work when they work alone. They learn best when they study alone. They think that it is fun to learn with classmates, but is hard to study with them. Some characteristics of introverts are that they:

        are  energized by the inner  world  (what  they are  thinking);

        prefer individual or one-on-one  games and activities.

        are exhausted after working in a  large group;

        tend  to keep silent and listen in a group;

        want to understand  something well before they try it.

On the other hand, extrovert learners enjoy joining in on class discussions. They prefer group work to working in isolation. If they have to decide something, they ask other people for their opinions. If they understand a problem, they like to help other learners understand it too.

Some characteristics of extroverts are that they:

        learn better when they work or study with others than by themselves;

        meet  new people easily by jumping into conversations;

        learn better in the classroom  than with a  private tutor.

 What Type of Learner Are You?

You can determine your learning style by looking over the characteristics of different types of learners. If one or more of the traits and characteristics of any type of learner sound familiar, you may have identified your learning style. Several   instruments have been devised to obtain learning style information from the learners. The first instrument widely known in second language acquisition was Reid’s Perceptual Learning Style Preference Questionnaire (PLSPQ), which was developed in 1984. Following this, another learning style, Instrument Style Analysis Survey (SAS) was developed by Oxford (1993). Later, Cohen, Oxford and Chi (2001) developed an improved version of SAS, i.e. Learning Style Survey (LSS). There are altogether eleven parts in the survey. The eleven parts are presented in a comprehensive way to help learners identify their own learning style. The framework is briefly presented below:

Part 1: Visual,  auditory and kinesthetic

Part 2: Extroverted vs. introverted

Part 3:  Random-intuitive vs. concrete sequential

Part 4:  Closure-oriented vs. open

Part 5: Global vs. particular

Part 6: Synthesizing  vs. analytic

Part 7: Sharpener  vs. leveler

Part 8: Deductive  vs. inductive

Part 9: Field  independent vs. field dependent

Part 10: Impulsive  vs. reflective

Part 11: Metaphoric  vs. literal

So, we can recognize our own learning styles using the Learning Style Survey which was designed to assess our general approach to learning.


Second language teachers can benefit by assessing the learning styles of their learners   because such assessment leads to greater understanding of styles. “The more teachers know about their learners’ style preferences, the more effectively they can orient their L2 instruction” (Oxford, 2003). Some learners might need instruction presented more visually while others might require more auditory, kinesthetic types of instruction. It is false to state that a single L2 methodology fits an entire class of learners having different stylistic preferences. If the teachers have adequate knowledge about their individual learners’ style preferences, they can employ a broad   instructional approach instead of choosing a specific instructional methodology. They could incorporate the things to be taught in accordance with their learners’ style preferences. If the learners have the knowledge of their own learning styles, it can be used to increase self- awareness about their strengths and weaknesses as learners. Their preferred styles guide the way they learn. Understanding their learning style is crucial to their personal growth and success. Thus, the major  implication is that an awareness of  individual   differences in learning  makes  the  ESL/ EFL teachers  more sensitive to their roles in  matching teaching and  learning styles to develop the  learners’  potentials in second language learning.

Concluding Remarks

There are different types of learners in a single classroom. If teachers know what their learners’ predominant learning styles are, they can incorporate multiple teaching methods. Identifying  learners’  style preferences  certainly facilitates  teaching  learning process but it does not  mean  that we should divide the  learners  into a set of categories  (i.e. visual, auditory, etc). The main aim is just to allocate a person on some point on a continuum. In other words, we cannot pigeonhole learners as they are capable of learning under any style, no matter what their individual preferences are.


Cohen, A, Oxford, R. and Chi, J.C. (2001). Learning  style  survey. Retrieved October 13, 2011, from http://www.carla.umn.edul/.

Cornett, C. (1983). What you should know about teaching and learning styles. Bloomington: IN.

Dunn, R. and Griggs, S. (1988). Learning styles: Quiet revolution in American schools. VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Oxford, R.L. (2003). Language learning styles and strategies: An overview. Retrieved April 13, 2010. From http://www.oomroom.ca/

Reid, J. (1995). Learning styles in the ESL/EFL classroom. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Stewart, K.L. and Felicetti, L.A. (1992). Learning styles of marketing majors. Educational Research Quarterly. 15 (2), 15-23.


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