Learning style can be defined as the usual or characteristic manner in which a learner goes about the task of learning (More 1987). There are various approaches to learning style that can be described as processes on a continuum. Theses approaches are not mutually exclusive; they represent different ways of viewing complex phenomena. Among these processes are:

(a) global/analytical (More 1984)
(b) impulsive/reflective (More 1976)
(c) field dependence/field independence (Witkin et al.1977)
(d) simultaneous/sequential processing (Kirby 1984)

As style is concerned with very complex issues involving cognition, conceptualization, affect, and behavior (Guild & Gerger 1985), it is not surprising that various learning styles models exists. Each model typically focuses on a single aspect within this multidimensional set of factors (Guild & Gerger 1985). Given the diverse learning styles models and instruments (Keefe, et al. 1979), a model that was sought had a practical as well as conceptual value. Kolb's experimental learning model meets both requirements because of the availability of an excellent classroom application of the model by Bernice McCarthy (1980) in The 4MAT® System: Teaching to Learning Styles with Right/Left Mode Techniques.

Kolb (1984) acknowledges that his theory is eclectic, and that its applications are drawn from the work of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Carl Jung, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. He states further that "learning styles are the result of our hereditary equipment, our particular past life experiences and the demands of present environment." Kolb found that "it is the combination of how people perceive and how people process that forms the uniqueness of 'learning style'-the most comfortable way to learn". By combining two dimensions of concrete experience and abstract conceptualization ("how we perceive") with two dimensions of active experimentation and reflective observation ("how we process"), Kolb established four categories of learning styles based on four learning modes (Kolb 1984).

According to Kolb, effective learning involves four phases: from getting involved (Concrete Experience) to listening/observing (Reflective Observation) to creating an idea (Abstract Conceptualization) to making decisions (Active Experimentation). (See Figure 1.) A person may become better at some of these learning skills than others; as a result, a learning style develops.

Learning styles applications

Bernice McCarthy (1980) took Kolb's learning style descriptions and amplified these to construct the 4-matting system of developing lesson plans for grades K-12. This system incorporates Kolb's four learning modern and recent research on right/left brain hemispheric processing. It should be remembered that each person's learning style is a combination of perceiving and processing information as McCarthy describes four major styles:

Type One "Innovative Learners"

Type Two "Analytic learners"

Type Three "Common Sense Learners"

Type Four "Dynamic Learners"

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. CITY, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

An excellent book for understanding Kolb's conceptual model on learning.


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