Cultural implications of learning styles

Joanne Smailes, Catherine Montgomery, Delia Wakelin

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Learning theories propose that an individual's awareness of their learning style facilitates their learning, creates a more positive attitude towards their learning and makes their learning more effective. Oxford and Anderson (1995) suggest that more research is required into comparison of learning styles across cultures and ‘clashes’ of learning styles involving both students and teachers in culturally diverse classrooms. The authors are undertaking a project which addresses this recommendation. Northumbria University are existing partners in a FDTL 4 CLaSS project. This project aims to allow students to identify their cognitive learning strategies, and then to provide opportunities for reflection and meta-analysis in order for students to enhance their learning in different contexts. During the project students were assessed with a wide range of questionnaires: 1. Entwistle: Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST) 2. Felder and Soloman: Index of Learning Styles 3. Sternberg: Thinking Styles Inventory 4. Sternberg: Students about themselves 5. Warr and Downing (2000): Learning Strategies 6. Briggs, Kember and Yeung (2001): Study Process Questionnaire 7. Fleming: VARK: Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic However on the basis of reliability and validity three of the more common learning styles instruments – Entwistle’s ASSIST, the LSQ and VARK – were retained and have now been used on over a thousand UK psychology students. Total student population is made up of around 3,300 international students mostly students who originate from Eastern Asia, around 10% of total cohort. Within learning styles literature there is a well-recognised “Chinese paradox” (Marton and Trigwell, 2000; Kember, 2000) where Haggis (2003) indicates the ‘lack of fit’ between learning styles models and this cultural paradox may be an indication of deeper problems. At Northumbria, we recognise that although international students may understand the various concepts described by the questionnaires, the interpretation and value placed in the concepts may differ. Therefore by utilising the knowledge gained from the FDTL experience, this research aims to examine international students’ self-knowledge of cognitive learning styles in order to investigate whether we can learn from the students themselves more about ‘cultural paradoxes’. Firstly, a small group of international students have volunteered to complete ASSIST, LSQ and VARK in an observational setting to examine language and concepts used within the questionnaires. Supplementary materials based on outcomes will be produced to assist large groups of international students in completinf the three questionnaires online. By utilising existing FDTL4 data as a control group, statistical comparisons will be made between the styles of international and UK students. All knowledge gained throughout the research project is intended to feed directly to a deliverable outcome of training materials for tutors with a guidance role outlining whether and/or how learning styles information (particularly with international students) may be effectively used as a platform for promoting student autonomy and self-evaluation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2006
EventImproving student learning through teaching: the 14th Improving Student Learning Symposium - University of Bath, Bath
Duration: 1 Sept 2006 → …


ConferenceImproving student learning through teaching: the 14th Improving Student Learning Symposium
Period1/09/06 → …


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