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Learning styles are various approaches or ways of learning. They involve educating methods, particular to an individual, that are presumed to allow that individual to learn best. Most people prefer an identifiable method of interacting with, taking in, and processing stimuli or information. Based on this concept, the idea of individualized "learning styles" originated in the 1970s, and acquired "enormous popularity".
Proponents say that teachers should assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student's learning style, which is called the "meshing hypothesis".
The basis and efficacy for these proposals are extensively criticized. Although children and adults express personal preferences, there is no evidence that identifying a student's learning style produces better outcomes, and there is significant evidence that the widespread "meshing hypothesis" (that a student will learn best if taught in a method deemed appropriate for the student's learning style) is invalid. Well-designed studies "flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis".
The David A. Kolb styles model is based on the Experiential Learning Theory, as explained in his book Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (1984). The ELT model outlines two related approaches toward grasping experience: Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualization, as well as two related approaches toward transforming experience: Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation. According to Kolb's model, the ideal learning process engages all four of these modes in response to situational demands. In order for learning to be effective, all four of these approaches must be incorporated. As individuals attempt to use all four approaches, however, they tend to develop strengths in one experience-grasping approach and one experience-transforming approach. The resulting learning styles are combinations of the individual's preferred approaches. These learning styles are as follows:
Convergers are characterized by abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. They are good at making practical applications of ideas and using deductive reasoning to solve problems.
Divergers tend toward concrete experience and reflective observation. They are imaginative and are good at coming up with ideas and seeing things from different perspectives.
Assimilators are characterized by abstract conceptualization and reflective observation. They are capable of creating theoretical models by means of inductive reasoning.
Accommodators use concrete experience and active experimentation. They are good at actively engaging with the world and actually doing things instead of merely reading about and studying them.
Kolb's model gave rise to the Learning Style Inventory, an assessment method used to determine an individual's learning style. An individual may exhibit a preference for one of the four styles—Accommodating, Converging, Diverging and Assimilating—depending on their approach to learning via the experiential learning theory model.
Two adaptations were made to Kolb's experiential model. Firstly, the stages in the cycle were renamed to accord with managerial experiences of decision making/problem solving. The Honey & Mumford stages are:
Secondly, the styles were directly aligned to the stages in the cycle and named Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist. These are assumed to be acquired preferences that are adaptable, either at will or through changed circumstances, rather than being fixed personality characteristics. The Honey & Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ) is a self-development tool and differs from Kolb's Learning Style inventory by inviting managers to complete a checklist of work-related behaviours without directly asking managers how they learn. Having completed the self-assessment, managers are encouraged to focus on strengthening underutilised styles in order to become better equipped to learn from a wide range of everyday experiences.
A MORI survey commissioned by The Campaign for Learning in 1999 found the Honey & Mumford LSQ to be the most widely used system for assessing preferred learning styles in the local government sector in the UK.
Dennis W. Mills discusses the work of Anthony F. Gregorc and Kathleen A. Butler in his article entitled "Applying What We Know: Student Learning Styles". Gregorc and Butler worked to organize a model describing how the mind works. This model is based on the existence of perceptions—our evaluation of the world by means of an approach that makes sense to us. These perceptions in turn are the foundation of our specific learning strengths, or learning styles.
In this model, there are two perceptual qualities 1) concrete and 2) abstract; and two ordering abilities 1) random and 2) sequential. Concrete perceptions involve registering information through the five senses, while abstract perceptions involve the understanding of ideas, qualities, and concepts which cannot be seen. In regard to the two ordering abilities, sequential involves the organization of information in a linear, logical way and random involves the organization of information in chunks and in no specific order. Both of the perceptual qualities and both of the ordering abilities are present in each individual, but some qualities and ordering abilities are more dominant within certain individuals.
There are four combinations of perceptual qualities and ordering abilities based on dominance: 1) Concrete Sequential; 2) Abstract Random; 3) Abstract Sequential; 4) Concrete Random. Individuals with different combinations learn in different ways—they have different strengths, different things make sense to them, different things are difficult for them, and they ask different questions throughout the learning process.
Some critics (Mazza) of today's schools, of the concept of learning disabilities, of special education, and of response to intervention, take the position that every child has a different learning style and pace and that each child is unique, not only capable of learning but also capable of succeeding.
Sudbury Model democratic schools assert that there are many ways to study and learn. They argue that learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you, and that this is true of everyone; it's basic. The experience of Sudbury model democratic schools shows that there are many ways to learn without the intervention of teaching, to say, without the intervention of a teacher being imperative. In the case of reading for instance in the Sudbury model democratic schools, some children learn from being read to, memorizing the stories and then ultimately reading them. Others learn from cereal boxes, others from games instructions, others from street signs. Some teach themselves letter sounds, others syllables, others whole words. Sudbury model democratic schools adduce that in their schools no one child has ever been forced, pushed, urged, cajoled, or bribed into learning how to read or write; and they have had no dyslexia. None of their graduates are real or functional illiterates, and no one who meets their older students could ever guess the age at which they first learned to read or write. In a similar form students learn all the subjects, techniques, and skills in these schools.
Describing current instructional methods as homogenization and lockstep standardization, alternative approaches are proposed, such as the Sudbury Model of Democratic Education schools, an alternative approach in which children, by enjoying personal freedom thus encouraged to exercise personal responsibility for their actions, learn at their own pace and style rather than following a compulsory and chronologically-based curriculum. Proponents of unschooling have also claimed that children raised in this method learn at their own pace and style, and do not suffer from learning disabilities.
Gerald Coles asserts that there are partisan agendas behind the educational policy-makers and that the scientific research that they use to support their arguments regarding the teaching of literacy are flawed. These include the idea that there are neurological explanations for learning disabilities.
One of the most common and widely-used  categorizations of the various types of learning styles is Fleming's VARK model (sometimes VAK) which expanded upon earlier Neuro-linguistic programming (VARK) models:
Fleming claimed that visual learners have a preference for seeing (think in pictures; visual aids such as overhead slides, diagrams, handouts, etc.). Auditory learners best learn through listening (lectures, discussions, tapes, etc.). Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to learn via experience—moving, touching, and doing (active exploration of the world; science projects; experiments, etc.). Its use in pedagogy allows teachers to prepare classes that address each of these areas. Students can also use the model to identify their preferred learning style and maximize their educational experience by focusing on what benefits them the most.
Anthony Grasha and Sheryl Reichmann, in 1974, formulated the Grasha-Reichmann Learning Style Scale. It was developed to analyze the attitudes of students and how they approach learning. The test was originally designed for college students. Grasha's background is in cognitive processes and coping techniques. The concepts of various learning styles are as follows:
The conclusion of this model was to provide teachers with insight on how to approach instructional plans. 
Aiming to explain why aptitude tests, school grades, and classroom performance often fail to identify real ability, Robert J. Sternberg listed various cognitive dimensions in his book Thinking Styles (1997). Several other models are also often used when researching learning styles. This includes the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the DISC assessment.
Chris J Jackson's neuropsychological hybrid model of learning in personality argues Sensation Seeking provides a core biological drive of curiosity, learning and exploration. A high drive to explore leads to dysfunctional learning consequences unless cognitions such as goal orientation, conscientiousness, deep learning and emotional intelligence re-express it in more complex ways to achieve functional outcomes such as high work performance. The model aims to explain many forms of functional behaviour (such as entrepreneurial activity, work performance, educational success) as well as dysfunctional behaviour (such as delinquency and anti-social behaviour). The wide applicability of the model and its strong grounding in the academic literature suggests that this evidence based model of learning has much potential. Latest research is summarized here. Evidence for this model is allegedly impressive. Siadaty and Taghiyareh (2007) report that training based on Conscientious Achievement increases performance but that training based on Sensation Seeking does not. These results strongly support Jackson's model since the model proposes that Conscientious Achievement will respond to intervention whereas Sensation Seeking (with its biological basis) will not. Jackson's papers can be downloaded here.
The Learning Style Inventory (LSI) is connected with Kolb's model and is used to determine a student's learning style. The LSI assesses an individual's preferences and needs regarding the learning process. It does the following: (1) allows students to designate how they like to learn and indicates how consistent their responses are, (2) provides computerized results which show the student's preferred learning style, (3) provides a foundation upon which teachers can build in interacting with students, (4) provides possible strategies for accommodating learning styles, (5) provides for student involvement in the learning process; 6) provides a class summary so students with similar learning styles can be grouped together.
Other methods (usually questionnaires) used to identify learning styles include Fleming's VARK Learning Style Test, Jackson's Learning Styles Profiler (LSP), and the NLP meta programs based iWAM questionnaire. Many other tests have gathered popularity and various levels of credibility among students and teachers.
Learning style theories have been criticized by many.
Some psychologists and neuroscientists have questioned the scientific basis for and the theories on which they are based. According to Susan Greenfield the practice is "nonsense" from a neuroscientific point of view: "Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain."
Many educational psychologists believe that there is little evidence for the efficacy of most learning style models, and furthermore, that the models often rest on dubious theoretical grounds. According to Stahl, there has been an "utter failure to find that assessing children's learning styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning." Guy Claxton has questioned the extent that learning styles such as VARK are helpful, particularly as they can have a tendency to label children and therefore restrict learning.
A non-peer-reviewed literature review by authors from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne identified 71 different theories of learning style. This report, published in 2004, criticized most of the main instruments used to identify an individual's learning style. In conducting the review, Coffield and his colleagues selected 13 of the most influential models for closer study, including most of the models cited on this page. They examined the theoretical origins and terms of each model, and the instrument that was purported to assess types of learning style defined by the model. They analyzed the claims made by the author(s), external studies of these claims and independent empirical evidence of the relationship between the 'learning style' identified by the instrument and students' actual learning. Coffield's team found that none of the most popular learning style theories had been adequately validated through independent research, leading to the conclusion that the idea of a learning cycle, the consistency of visual, auditory and kinesthetic preferences and the value of matching teaching and learning styles were all "highly questionable."
One of the most widely known theories assessed by Coffield's team was the learning styles model of Dunn and Dunn, a VAK model. This model is widely used in schools in the United States, and 177 articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals referring to this model. The conclusion of Coffield et al. was as follows:
Despite a large and evolving research programme, forceful claims made for impact are questionable because of limitations in many of the supporting studies and the lack of independent research on the model.
Coffield's team claimed that another model, Gregorc's Style Delineator (GSD), was "theoretically and psychometrically flawed" and "not suitable for the assessment of individuals."
Mark K. Smith compiled and reviewed some critiques of Kolb's model in his article, "David A. Kolb on Experiential Learning". According to Smith's research, there are six key issues regarding the model. They are as follows: 1) the model doesn't adequately address the process of reflection; 2) the claims it makes about the four learning styles are extravagant; 3) it doesn't sufficiently address the fact of different cultural conditions and experiences; 4) the idea of stages/steps doesn't necessarily match reality; 5) it has only weak empirical evidence; 6) the relationship between learning processes and knowledge is more complex than Kolb draws it.
Coffield and his colleagues and Mark Smith are not alone in their judgements. Demos, a UK think tank, published a report on learning styles prepared by a group chaired by David Hargreaves that included Usha Goswami from Cambridge University and David Wood from the University of Nottingham. The Demos report said that the evidence for learning styles was "highly variable", and that practitioners were "not by any means frank about the evidence for their work." 
Cautioning against interpreting neuropsychological research as supporting the applicability of learning style theory, John Geake, Professor of Education at the UK's Oxford Brookes University, and a research collaborator with Oxford University's Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, commented that
We need to take extreme care when moving from the lab to the classroom. We do remember things visually and aurally, but information isn't defined by how it was received.
In late 2008, the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) published a report on the scientific validity of learning styles practices (Pashler et al., 2008). The panel was chaired by Hal Pashler (University of California, San Diego); the other members were Mark McDaniel (Washington University), Doug Rohrer (University of South Florida), and Robert Bjork (University of California, Los Angeles). The panel concluded that an adequate evaluation of the learning styles hypothesis—the idea that optimal learning demands that students receive instruction tailored to their learning styles—requires a particular kind of study. Specifically, students should be grouped into the learning style categories that are being evaluated (e.g., visual learners vs. verbal learners), and then students in each group must be randomly assigned to one of the learning methods (e.g., visual learning or verbal learning), so that some students will be "matched" and others will be "mismatched". At the end of the experiment, all students must sit for the same test. If the learning style hypothesis is correct, then, for example, visual learners should learn better with the visual method, whereas auditory learners should learn better with auditory method. Notably, other authors have reached the same conclusion (e.g., Massa & Mayer, 2006).
As disclosed in the report, the panel found that studies utilizing this essential research design were virtually absent from the learning styles literature. In fact, the panel was able to find only a few studies with this research design, and all but one of these studies were negative findings—that is, they found that the same learning method was superior for all kinds of students (e.g., Massa & Mayer, 2006).
Furthermore, the panel noted that, even if the requisite finding were obtained, the benefits would need to be large, and not just statistically significant, before learning style interventions could be recommended as cost-effective. That is, the cost of evaluating and classifying students by their learning style, and then providing customized instruction would need to be more beneficial than other interventions (e.g., one-on-one tutoring, after school remediation programs, etc.).
As a consequence, the panel concluded, "at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number."
The article incited critical comments from some defenders of learning styles. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Robert Sternberg from Tufts University spoke out against the paper: "Several of the most-cited researchers on learning styles, Mr. Sternberg points out, do not appear in the paper's bibliography." This charge was also discussed by Science, which reported that Pashler said, "Just so…most of [the evidence] is 'weak.'"
Various researchers have attempted to hypothesise ways in which learning style theory can be used in the classroom. Two such scholars are Dr. Rita Dunn and Dr. Kenneth Dunn, who follow a VAK approach.
Although learning styles will inevitably differ among students in the classroom, Dunn and Dunn say that teachers should try to make changes in their classroom that will be beneficial to every learning style. Some of these changes include room redesign, the development of small-group techniques, and the development of Contract Activity Packages. Redesigning the classroom involves locating dividers that can be used to arrange the room creatively (such as having different learning stations and instructional areas), clearing the floor area, and incorporating student thoughts and ideas into the design of the classroom.
Their so-called "Contract Activity Packages" are educational plans that use: 1) a clear statement of the learning need; 2) multisensory resources (auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic); 3) activities through which the newly-mastered information can be used creatively; 4) the sharing of creative projects within small groups; 5) at least 3 small-group techniques; 6) a pre-test, a self-test, and a post-test.
Another scholar who believes that learning styles should have an effect on the classroom is Marilee Sprenger in Differentiation through Learning Styles and Memory. Sprenger bases her work on three premises: 1) Teachers can be learners, and learners teachers. We are all both. 2) Everyone can learn under the right circumstances. 3) Learning is fun! Make it appealing. She details various ways of teaching, visual, auditory, or tactile/kinesthetic. Methods for visual learners include ensuring that students can see words written, using pictures, and drawing time lines for events. Methods for auditory learners include repeating words aloud, small-group discussion, debates, listening to books on tape, oral reports, and oral interpretation. Methods for tactile/kinesthetic learners include hands-on activities (experiments, etc.), projects, frequent breaks to allow movement, visual aids, role play, and field trips. By using a variety of teaching methods from each of these categories, teachers offer different learning styles at once, and improve learning by challenging students to learn in different ways.
Research evaluating teaching styles and learning styles, however, have found that congruent groups have no significant differences in achievement than incongruent groups (Spoon & Schell, 1998). Furthermore, learning style in this study varied by demography, specifically by age, suggesting a change in learning style as one gets older and acquires more experience. While significant age differences did occur, as well as no experimental manipulation of classroom assignment, the findings do call into question the aim of congruent teaching-learning styles in the classroom.
Spoon J.C., & Schell, J.W. (1998). Aligning student learning styles with instructor teaching styles. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 35, 41-56.
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