Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Learning Styles Questionnaire

[This is a short assignment for a teaching class I'm taking this summer.]
"A basic grounding in psychological learning theory will allow us to create learning environments that enable all of our learners to get the most out of their instructional experiences." (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 27)
To better understand my own learning styles and get a sense of how other people's styles might be different, I took Felder and Soloman's Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire. A few of the questions were tough choices! Here are the results:

This looks a bit cryptic, but I'll explain the meaning and implications of each of these four learning style spectrums. Felder and Soloman's own Learning Styles and Strategies sheet gives advice according to this precise scheme (no surprise!). Our textbook, Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice by Grassian and Kaplowitz uses a somewhat different approach, but its lessons tie in nicely as well.

Active/Reflective Spectrum

Active learners prefer to immediately do something with a new concept. While this can be hands-on application of a practical subject, active learning can also apply to abstract topics if a person immediately wants to rephrase, explain it to someone else, or try to come up with new examples. Reflective learners may still engage in all of those activities, but the key difference is that they first want some time to mull it over for themselves. Active learners are eager to try out new concepts before they "get it," while reflective learners want to feel they have a decent grasp of the concepts before putting them to use.

The questionnaire measured me as mildly oriented toward active learning. I should hope so, given my propensity to write explanations of new concepts on the Internet precisely because this helps me "get it." As Felder and Soloman (n.d. b) write, "You will always retain information better if you find ways to do something with it." This fits into the Doing(Behaviorist) model of Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009), "Learners do not learn by watching. They learn by interacting with the material itself" (p. 29). To support this learning style, an online educator would be wise to create lessons that "are broken up into manageable chunks and are interspersed with hands-on practice and other types of active learning experiences" with the intention that "the practice periods give the learner time to process information and move it from short- to long-term memory storage" (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 45).

Sensing/Intuitive Spectrum

I understand sensing learners to be oriented toward concrete facts while intuitive learners are oriented toward abstract principles. They could just as easily be called observers and theorizers.

The questionnaire measured me as mildly oriented toward intuitive learning. I'm only surprised I didn't register more strongly in that direction, since I see myself as strongly theory oriented. Felder and Soloman's (n.d. b) advice for intuitive learners to "[t]ake time to read the entire question before you start answering and be sure to check your results" strikes close to home because I do have a dangerous tendency think I know what's going on and miss a detail that inverts the whole thing. Educators in any context can support theory building by "organiz[ing] and present[ing] [...] information in such a way that learners are helped to make these connections" (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 35). In other words, connecting new information to existing knowledge will automatically encourage students to see both as instances of a greater concept.

Visual/Verbal Spectrum

Visual learners may strongly benefit from seeing concepts set down in diagrams that verbal learners consider mostly redundant to a spoken or written explanation.

The questionnaire measured me as moderately oriented toward visual learning. I...seriously question this assessment. While it's true for everyone that good visuals are helpful, I don't believe they're nearly as important to me as they are for many others. Still, I'm curious; what advice do these two sets of authors have for visual learners and their instructors? When material lacks visual components, Felder and Soloman (n.d. b) suggest creating "a concept map by listing key points, enclosing them in boxes or circles, and drawing lines with arrows between concepts to show connections." I bet this means people into argument mapping are visual learners! Online learning through discussion boards tends to lend itself to verbal learners, but educators can be inclusive of visual learners by "asking learners to develop PowerPoint or other presentation software 'shows' to be posted on a course site" (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 53). I know from experience that creating visuals and then seeing what other online classmates created can be helpful to the whole class.

Sequential/Global Spectrum

This distinction has similarities to the sensing/intuitive spectrum. Like a sensing learner, a sequential learner is comfortable jumping right in on parts before seeing the broader picture. Like an intuitive learner, a global learner has a strong need to understand overarching concepts. The difference between these spectrums, as I see it, is that Sensing/Intuitive has to do with drawing connections between separate things, and Sequential/Global is focused in more closely on how people come to understand the inner workings of a single thing, process, activity, etc.

The questionnaire measured me as mildly oriented toward global learning. This is consistent with having a mild orientation toward intuitive learning. I wonder how many questionnaire takers are measured as having wildly divergent tendencies here. Felder and Soloman (n.d. b) suggest global learners should "skim through the entire chapter to get an overview" before starting on sequential start-to-finish reading. Online or face-to-face lessons can be made more effective through the use of advance organizers. "Advance Organizers offer a general overview of the information to be presented in advance of the learning experience and so provide a framework into which the learner can fit new information or material" (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 35). I can definitely relate to looking around for an overall map before wanting to hear details about each component.


Since I like theorizing so much, I want to suggest two categories for the four spectrums: a "just add" category and a "consider both" category. Instructional material almost always focuses on verbal and sequential elements already, so the last two spectrums are more about "add some visuals!" and "add an overview!" to existing lessons. The first two spectrums aren't so simple. Lessons won't necessarily take into account active or reflective learners; students need to be given space to both interact with the material and think through the material. Finally, lessons tend to be either about concrete examples or theories, so educators have to be mindful about enhancing the side they may have neglected on a per lesson basis. All of this makes a helpful mental checklist for evaluating online or face to face lesson plans.


Soloman, B.A., & Felder, R.M. (n.d. a). Index of learning styles questionnaire. Retrieved from http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html

Soloman, B.A., & Felder, R.M. (n.d. b). Learning styles and strategies. Retrieved from http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm

Grassian, E.S., & Kaplowitz, J.R. (2009). Information literacy instruction: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.


  1. Hi Garren,

    Interesting test. I scored very high on reflective, intuitive, and verbal and neutral on sequential/global. (Full 11 on intuitive.)

    I found most of the questions to be easy choices, which confirms my extreme position. Theoretically, you should have found the choices hard. Was this the case?

    One possible disagreement with the author--I don't think that visual learners are the ones who benefit the most from constructing concept maps.  Verbal learners--I use myself as an N of 1--may actually benefit more from constructing diagrams because they need the extra visual support they may have trouble constructing without the aid of paper. The diagrams may tend to be more conceptual than pictorial however. (An example of a diagram by a very-high verbal learner--me--provides an example: http://tinyurl.com/7bvwrl5

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Stephen. I was hoping people would take the hint to test themselves.

    A couple of questions I found especially hard:

    "I understand something better after I…{try it out / think it through}."
    I usually think concepts through by trying them out in some sense.

    "When writing a paper, I am more likely to...{work on the beginning of the paper and progress forward / work on different parts of the paper and then order them}."
    Neither was a good fit because I almost always start by creating a tentative outline and maybe put down specific notes or quotes to use, then start writing start to finish, adjusting the outline as needed.

    Interesting thought about diagrams and verbal learners. I wonder if anyone has done studies in that direction.

  3. Stephen R. DiamondJuly 16, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    I'd posted an entry to my Disputed Issues blog relating the Sequential-Global spectrum to construal-level theory in social psychology and to writing styles.

    "You, too, have an optimal sentence length"

    Thanks for the lead, Garren.

  4. Interesting hypothesis, Stephen.

    Blogger ate my response on your blog, so I'll just report that I measured my average sentence length at 19.5 words on a sample of over 350 sentences taken from recent blog posts without many external quotes. I was +1 Global. Not sure if this data point is helpful.

  5.  Thanks for the data point, Garren. It's entirely consistent with my hypothesis, but it's not striking because you're in the middle on both.