Learning Styles and E-Learning

Learning Styles and E-Learning

This post is going to be somewhat different than in the past, specifically a result of the argument of the effectiveness of learning styles and if they even exist.  When I noted this week’s topic on LinkedIn (i.e. the previous week), I received a lot of views and a lot of comments, with well over 90% telling me basically that there is no such thing as learning styles, that it has been debunked, that it lacks empirical evidence, that I myself have no idea on what I am talking about, that I am subjective and opinionated (okay, fair point) and on and on.

No one mentioned e-learning which was part of the reference, specifically related to retention.  Nope, in all the counter-arguments it was focusing on one item, learning styles, which initially was going to make up only a small part of the post.

A few points that I could clearly extract from all the arguments (and I’m sure I will get new retorts arguing this as well)

1. All those who say learning styles do not exist – are basically saying to those who say they exist, as being wrong.  Even though, I know and met plenty of people at LTUK, general conversations with numerous CEOs in our learning system field, ID folks, and learners, who say they have a learning style – congrats, apparently we are all wrong.

I found this odd because many people when I stated about allowing another perspective or be open to a different idea, would retort back that I was being subjective, but if you are someone who says this is the only way, aren’t you being subjective? Perhaps it is a societal angle nowadays, everyone has an opinion, but our opinion counts and yours doesn’t.

2. Noting specific people or evidence to back their claims.  I saw a lot of this, not really a surprise to be honest, but it was interesting that some people, when I noted I had research that said otherwise, retorted that it should be only related to adult learning, even though there were mentions of “researchers” who conducted their study with college students.

3. E-Learning as mentioned earlier, wasn’t noted at all (from the ones I read).  E-Learning is the future of learning, I’d argue it has been for over a decade, and continues to improve. Quality e-learning is interactive and engaging.  A PowerPoint is not an effective means of e-learning, although one person told me what did a PPT have to do with any of this?  Uh, the post was to be about e-learning retention.

I got a vibe that many people who responded never read any of my past blogs, and thus, were basing their entire decisions on a small blurb about an upcoming post, which I should add, I have done for years on LinkedIn.   A couple of people said that by doing this, it was a marketing maneuver for clicks.  No offense to LinkedIn, but I really do not care about clicks.  What I care about is providing insight and information to folks, who might be unaware OR has a general interest in acquiring knowledge.

This post is not going to be

a. A Literature Review – You want that, go to your local college or find a thesis or dissertation online, or even a study and read their lit reviews.  I did one for my thesis, and frankly, no need to do one for this post.

b. A theory discussion.   I will point out some research that indicates that says learning styles exist, but I am not going to focus on some scientific theory thing, which is one reason why I started this blog in the first place – too much theory, and not real world.

c. Written as a Journal Post.  This is not ABA standards or whatever.  Again, you want that, then read an article in a journal. 

Two Data Points

I read one comment (there could have been more) who mentioned Gardner and his theory. Gardner in 2000, said there was little evidence for his theory to be true, and again in 2004.  (Wilson, 2012 citing Waterhouse, 2006)

Gardner himself later stated

““I have come to realize that once one releases an idea… into the world, one
cannot completely control its behavior any more than one can control those products of our genes we call children. ” (Wilson, 2012 citing Howard-Jones)

Coffield, another person who often is cited as validating the non-existence of learning styles,  noted that the following models “proved to be the most psychometrically sound and ecologically valid.” (Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K., (2004)

Those models included:

  • Dunn and Dunn model and instruments of learning styles
  • Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ)
  • Jackson’s Learning Styles Profiler (LSP)
  • Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI)
  • Vermunt’s Inventory of Learning Styles (ILS)

The list below includes the ones above, and additional:


Reality for Folks who do not support learning styles approach and thus this post

As previously mentioned I am not here to write an academic paper, so as I am about to go into the e-learning and  for those folks who disagree that learning styles exist, I strongly recommend the following to avoid you pulling out your hair and screaming at your laptop, computer, mobile or the walls:

  • You are going to totally hate what I am about to write.  Thus, feel free to stop reading at this exact moment.  You won’t hurt my feelings.
  • I am forecasting that some of you will provide your feedback in the comments section of this post on Linkedin and the comments section of this post. I am predicating that if you are “assertive, unprofessional, impolite, aggressive or just rude,” that the probability I will respond, is nil.  I surmise that some individuals will call me “arrogant” and other fun words for even saying this, but that’s what free speech allows, and guess what, I respect that. 
  • Everyone has an opinion, whether you agree or not, is your choice.  A lot of people who are not in the “professionals of research” believe they have a learning style or multiple. 
  • I added further reading at the end of this post, which lists all the articles, etc. that I read. It is not in alphabetical order.

E-Learning And Learning Styles

Peter Phillips, a pioneer in e-learning development tied to instructional design believes that learning styles and perspectives to exist. His takeaway from a learning preference standpoint is based on his experience as a learner.  “I prefer learning by doing, compared to learning by listening.” 

Peter added that learning styles are situational, can change over time, and that was as e-learning professionals need to give learners options.  “Simulations are great for applying learning to a practical situations, but some people might prefer a book.”

A senior executive at one of the most well-known learning systems in the world, equally believed that personal learning styles exist but it stays at the preference level.  She added that it all comes down to the sensitivity in absorbing and encoding information. 

As you can figure out, I do believe in the preferences and styles approach.  I believe it changes over time and that it is situational. 

In college, I was an auditory learner, watching videos or viewing slides bored me.  I never paid attention.  I retained and synthesized from audio to putting it down as notes.  Subjects played a role – i.e. situations, such as Kinetic when working on a journalism article for example,  but in others, I can clearly and honestly state, visual never applied. 

Many people pre-COVID preferred PPTs in their classroom, seminars, and now with ILT and other webinar presentations.  Would this be a learning preference? Tied to a situation and thus a style of preference? Or just show and tell?

Micro-Quick Takeaways

  • Learning Styles/Preferences exist
  • Learning Styles exist in e-learning and that there are factors on why many learners are unaware that they have a learning style or multiple styles
  • If you can identify the learner’s style, you can tailor content to meet that need. I’d add that it is possible to create content that meets numerous learning styles, and that it is doable to create content to match a couple of learning styles and include other content for other styles – if you wish to segment further.  Maybe you have an audio book/e-book on leadership development, while at the same time offer a micro-learning video on leadership development or a mini simulation tying what they learn and apply it to a real-life scenario (Scenario Based Learning).
  • E-Learning has evolved more quickly than classroom training or even the early days of WBT.  As a result, may of the studies I found were back in the early 2000’s or late 90’s.  Of course, there were others I found from the 70’s too.    Thus, focusing on the premise related to classroom shouldn’t be the same as it is for e-learning.  Nor should it be equated to all the different types of e-learning that is now available to anyone.
  • vILT is very new for many folks and is essential in today’s corporate remote workers environment, and it only takes a few minutes to push out a survey to your audience asking them if they have a learning preference – and provide them some options.  There are numerous learning style models out there including:

Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ), Kolb (LSI v3), MBTI, Dun and Dunn and Fielder and Silverman. 

Learning Systems and Learning Styles – It’s doable

I am a fan of systems who offer a personality assessment up-front because it will generate strengths and weaknesses, and thus they could identify preferred learning preferences and styles (depending on how it is construed).  

E-Learning opens up so many more possibilities with learning preferences/styles.  A simulation is doable. eBook? Doable.  Audio versions? Doable.  Video and thus visual? Doable. A combination of all? Doable (think workbook or a doc attachment).  Micro-learning? Doable.  Content curation? Doable.  Digital coaching? Very doable. vILT? Doable. Group collaboration? Doable.  

If a learning system offered an assessment up-front on learning preferences/styles that could be a very useful tool in targeting the right content including formats for those individuals.  After all, if your playlist has content that is 95% video, and the learner prefers to learn with simulations, then it is quite likely that the learning retention and synthesis will be lower than expected.

Bottom Line

What is stopping you from trying out a different perspective? If you point to saying it is a myth or you inaccurate and not proven:

  • There isn’t any study out there that says if you have a high GPA and Score high in the SAT then you are more than likely to be successful in college and work.  Yet, universities still require the SAT and many use it as a deciding factor.  Why not the outcry? (California system actually announced they will no longer consider the SAT – for the 20-21 and going forward years)
  • For the longest time, people reported seeing a strange hairy animal out in the forests. Experts said it didn’t exist.  In the early 1900’s, the Gorilla was recognized as that “strange animal”.
  • Albert Einstein famously said in 1934 that harnessing nuclear energy wouldn’t ever be attainable.  The USSR, in 1954, was the first country to supply some nuclear energy for electricity purposes. 
  • Air flight, the light bulb even the idea of a black hole, had plenty of people saying it wouldn’t work, doesn’t exist and pointed to research. 

Why then should people who support the premise of learning styles and preferences be placed into a box as though there is no escaping from the close minded attitude of something else, when new technological capabilities such as A.I. (machine and deep learning) are still evolving, which will change learning and training in so many ways?

Allow for others to think differently, is one of the mantras to learning.  We, as educators, training and L&D executives constantly push this message (or at least should).  We embrace out of the box thinking. We in the e-learning field, embrace different ideas and perspectives.

Isn’t it time, to embrace this one?

E-Learning 24/7

Additional reading

  • Delahoussaye, Martin. “The perfect learner: an expert debate on learning styles.” Training, 39 (5) (May 2002)
  • Razzak, F.; Shaikh, S.; Siddiqui, A. Exploring Effects of Learning Styles on Learning Outcomes. New Horizons, 13 (1) (June 30, 2019)
  • Kamal, A., Radhakrishnan, S. Individual learning preferences based on personality traits in an E-learning scenario. Educ Inf Technol 24 (2019).
  • Khamparia, A., Pandey, B. Association of learning styles with different e-learning problems: a systematic review and classification. Educ Inf Technol 25 (2020).
  • Kolekar, S.V., Pai, R.M. & M. M., M.P. Rule based adaptive user interface for adaptive E-learning system. Educ Inf Technol 24 (2019).
  • Willems, J. Using learning styles data to inform e-learning design: A study comparing undergraduates, postgraduates and e-educators. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 27(6) (2011)
  • Coffield, F.; Moseley, D.; Hall, E.; and Ecclestone, K. Should We Be Using Learning Styles? What Research Has to Say to Practice? Learning and Skills Research Centre, 
  • Benyoussef, A.;El Kenz, A.; Elyadari, M.; and Qodad, A.  Toward an adaptive Educational Hypermedia System (AEHS-JS) based on the Overlay Modeling and Felder and Silverman’s Learning Styles Model for Job Seekers. International Journal of Emerging Technology 15(8), (2020)
  • Barros, R.; and Leite, C., ; Monteiro, A. Inmate’s E-Learning Styles, EduLearn Conference, July 4, 2106.  Conference Paper.
  • Rajkumar, R., ; Ganapathy, V., Bio-Inspiring Learning Style Chatbot Inventory Using Brain Computing Interface to Increase the Efficiency of E-Learning. IEEE Access, (March, 2020)
  • Khan, B.H., Microlearning: Quick and Meaningful Snippets for Training Solutions. International Journal of research in Educational Sciences 2 (2), (April, 2019)
  • Maaliw, R., Classification of Learning Styles in Virtual Learning Environment using Data Mining: A Basis for Adaptive Course Design, July 1, 2016, https://bit.ly/3eFgtVs
  • Gulbahar, Y.,; Alper, A. Learning Preferences and Learning Styles of Online Adult Learners, January 2011, https://bit.ly/3eKBYUY
  • Collins, S.; Moderating Effect of Generational Cohorts Between Learning Style and Preferred Instructional Method, Dissertation Paper, May 2020. (Capella University)
  • Wilson, R. (2012) “The Emperor’s New Clothes: Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences,” Colleagues: 8 (2) Article 7, https://bit.ly/3gaDDmU
  • Howard-Jones, P. Neuroscience, technology and learning (14-19) (September, 2009) – Cited by Wilson, R.
  • Waterhouse, L. (2006). Multiple intelligences, the Mozart effect and emotional intelligence: A critical review. Educational Psychologist, 41 (3), (2006) Cited by Wilson, R.