Impact of Learning Styles on the Design of eLearning

Learners types or the learning style preferred by various learner types is an important design consideration. This is a gray area in a lot of ways with many competing theories and models, and there is no conclusive evidence that positions any one theory as being better than another. So what exactly is a learning style anyway? To quote Bill Brandon, “Learning style is usually defined as a set of stable characteristics that affect the way a person perceives and interacts with the environment while learning. As such, learning style is an individual difference that can be taken into account when designing the content in any instructional system.”

There are many popular learning style models such as Kolb’s learning cycle model. In this blog, we will look at framework based on the perceptual model. The perceptual model learning assumes that different people have a different preference for learning through one sensory channel dominantly. This model divides learners into various types based on how they prefer to receive information. Here’s a common categorization (again, the lines are somewhat blurred between the types at times, but for now, let’s assume these differences are distinct).

Impact of Learning Styles on the Design of eLearning

Going by this model, the visual learner would prefer content in visual form. The auditory learner would prefer content he/she can listen to, the read-write learner would prefer content he can read (and correspondingly respond to by writing) and the kinesthetic learner would prefer to learn by doing something.

Ideally, well-designed courses should cater to all learner types by giving learners the option of selecting the sensory mode they would prefer their content in. Unless of course, if your audience analysis shows a marked preference for a specific learning style.

While in theory this sounds like a good thing, one cannot really categorize learners into such water-tight silos. Most of us show a preference for a certain style based on the stage of learning we are in. Without getting into details of that discussion, suffice to say that at the most basic level of application, we need to consider how to provide content and instruction to learners in all possible modes and all stages of learning, without resulting in a cognitive overload. However, it is worthwhile to remember that regardless of the style learners prefer, adult learners learn best when what they learn is immediately relevant to what they need to get done.

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Written By

Shalini Merugu, Director Learning Advocacy

Tags: Instructional Approaches
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3 comments on “Impact of Learning Styles on the Design of eLearning
  1. In instructor-led training, an observant instructor can see the participants flag, or in the extreme non-examples, can hear them snore. Learning style is important, and I agree well-designed and well-produced materials should use both redundancey and variety. However, the learner’s physical environment and state of mind/level of concentration are just as important and a lot harder to design for.

  2. Karen Horner says:

    I find that this blog only addresses the learning styles of the common four. However, you have to take into consideration the multiple intelligences of learning that create a rich learning experience for comprehension. The ones developed by Howard Gardner.
    The intelligences, briefly described, are:

    Linguistic: the intelligence of words.

    Logical-mathematical: the intelligence of numbers and reasoning.

    Spatial: the intelligence of pictures and images.

    Musical: the intelligence of tone, rhythm, and timbre.

    Bodily-Kinesthetic: the intelligence of the whole body and the hands.

    Interpersonal: the intelligence of social interactions

    Intrapersonal: the intelligence of self-knowledge

    The idea is to create a elearning course designed specifically around the intelligences. Any ideas would be greatly shared among the community.

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