learning styles – overview and sample questionnaires

Learning Styles – questionnaires and instruments

Many theories

There are many theories surrounding adult learning styles. On this page we attempt to summarise some of the more popular ones used in organizations for adult learning and training and development activities.

While there are many arguments on the web and in the corners of academia, the key for us is that there is no right or wrong approach, just more effective and less effective styles for individuals, content and the context in which the learning takes place. Using a learning style methodology can help provide a community with a common and consistent language within which individuals can state their needs and trainers, facilitators etc can ensure that their sessions and learning interventions are reasonably balanced and likely to provide something for everyone.

Go straight to:

Kolb and Lewin

Honey and Mumford

LSQ – learning Style Questionnaire

NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming




Free on-line inventories and tests

How to use learning styles in business

Sample Learning Styles Questionnaire – new

Sample VAK Learning Styles Inventory– new

In organizations and business we tend to focus on cognitive approaches to supporting our employees and learners.

Adult Cognitive/Learning Styles

Cognitive styles refer to the preferred way an individual processes information. Unlike individual differences in abilities (e.g., Gardner, Guilford, Sternberg) which describe peak performance, styles describe a person’s typical mode of thinking, remembering or problem solving.

Styles are usually considered to be bipolar dimensions whereas abilities are unipolar (ranging from zero to a maximum value). Having more of an ability is usually considered beneficial while having a particular cognitive style simply denotes a tendency to behave in a certain manner. Cognitive style is a usually described as a personality dimension which influences attitudes, values, and social interaction.

A large number of cognitive styles have been identified and studied in the past. Field independence versus field dependence is probably the most well known style.

It refers to a tendency to approach the environment in an analytical, as opposed to global, fashion. At a perceptual level, field independent personalities are able to distinguish figures as discrete from their backgrounds compared to field dependent individuals who experience events in an undifferentiated way. In addition, field dependent individuals have a greater social orientation relative to field independent personalities. Studies have identified a number connections between this cognitive style and learning. For example, field independent individuals are likely to learn more effectively under conditions of intrinsic motivation (e.g., self-study) and are influenced less by social reinforcement.


Theories and models

Kolb & Lewin

Learning styles specifically deal with characteristic styles of learning. Kolb (1984) proposes a theory of experiential learning that involves four principal stages: concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.

The CE/AC and AE/RO dimensions are polar opposites as far as learning styles are concerned and Kolb postulates four types of learners (divergers, assimilators, convergers, and accommodators) depending upon their position on these two dimensions. For example, an accommodater prefers concrete experiences and active experimentation (AE, CE).

A common approach to viewing learning styles is linked to a learning cycle of experience, observation and reflection, formation and then testing of concepts. Although commonly referred to as the Kolb Learning Cycle this cycle was proposed by Kurt Lewin who got the idea from control engineering. David Kolb (1984) popularized Lewin’s proposal (hence the common title).

The four stages of the Experiential Learning Cycle are:-

  1. Concrete experience
  2. Observation and Reflection
  3. Abstract Conceptualization
  4. Testing concepts in new situations

The cycle is a continuous process with the current ‘concrete experience’ being the basis for observations and reflections, which allow the development of a ‘theory’. The ‘theory’ is then tested in new situations to lead to more concrete experience.

Kolb developed from the Lewin model the idea that students have a dominant phase of the cycle during which they prefer to learn and therefore will have preferred modes of learning. In order to identify the preferred study and learning styles, Kolb developed a Learning Style Inventory that identified student’s preference for the four modes corresponding to the stages in the learning cycle.

Kolb learning theory model


Honey and Mumford – LSQ

The LSQ (learning Style Questionnaire) is a self-administered questionnaire determines your preferred learning style.

Knowing your learning style can accelerate your learning as you undertake activities that best fit your preferred style.

Knowing your learning style can also help avoid repeating mistakes by undertaking activities that strengthen other styles For example, if you tend to “jump in at the deep end”, consider spending time reflecting on experiences before taking action.

Activitists (Do)

  • Immerse themselves fully in new experiences
  • Enjoy here and now
  • Open minded, enthusiastic, flexible
  • Act first, consider consequences later
  • Seek to center activity around themselves

Reflectors (Review)

  • Stand back and observe
  • Cautious, take a back seat
  • Collect and analyze data about experience and events, slow to reach conclusions
  • Use information from past, present and immediate observations to maintain a big picture perspective.

Theorists (Conclude)

  • Think through problems in a logical manner, value rationality and objectivity
  • Assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories
  • Disciplined, aiming to fit things into rational order
  • Keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking

Pragmatists (Plan)

  • Keen to put ideas, theories and techniques into practice
  • Search new ideas and experiment
  • Act quickly and confidently on ideas, gets straight to the point
  • Are impatient with endless discussion

Honey and Mumford learning styles LSQ

* The LSQ is available from the Peter Honey Web site – The LSQ is © Peter Honey


Guilford/ NLP

In Guilford’s Structure of Intellect (SI) theory, intelligence is viewed as comprising operations, contents, and products. There are 5 kinds of operations (cognition, memory, divergent production, convergent production, evaluation), 6 kinds of products (units, classes, relations, systems, transformations, and implications), and 5 kinds of contents (visual, auditory, symbolic, semantic, behavioral). Since each of these dimensions is independent, there are theoretically 150 different components of intelligence.

The ‘traditional’ VARK style questionnaire attributed to the field of NLP originated as part of Guildford’s work.


Gardner Multiple Intelligence theory


The theory of multiple intelligence’s suggests that there are a number of distinct forms of intelligence that each individual possesses in varying degrees. Gardner proposes seven primary forms: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, intra personal (e.g., insight, meta cognition) and interpersonal (e.g., social skills).

According to Gardner, the implication of the theory is that learning/teaching should focus on the particular intelligence’s of each person. For example, if an individual has strong spatial or musical intelligence’s, they should be encouraged to develop these abilities. Gardner points out that the different intelligence’s represent not only different content domains but also learning modalities. A further implication of the theory is that assessment of abilities should measure all forms of intelligence, not just linguistic and logical-mathematical.

Gardner also emphasizes the cultural context of multiple intelligence’s. Each culture tends to emphasize particular intelligence’s.

The theory of multiple intelligence’s was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner originally proposed seven different intelligence’s to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.

garnet multiple=

These intelligence’s are:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”):
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intra personal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”) – added later…

Are there additional intelligence’s?
Since Howard Gardner’s original listing of the intelligence’s in Frames of Mind (1983) there has been a great deal of discussion as to other possible candidates for inclusion (or candidates for exclusion). Subsequent research and reflection by Howard Gardner and his colleagues has looked to three particular possibilities: a naturalist intelligence, a spiritual intelligence and an existential intelligence. He has concluded that the first of these ‘merits addition to the list of the original seven intelligence’s’ .

Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment. It ‘combines a description of the core ability with a characterization of the role that many cultures value’.

The case for inclusion of naturalist intelligence appears pretty straightforward, the position with regard to spiritual intelligence is far more complex. According to Howard Gardner there are problems, for example, around the ‘content’ of spiritual intelligence, its privileged but unsubstantiated claims with regard to truth value, ‘and the need for it to be partially identified through its effect on other people’.


4MAT framework based on the work of Bernice McCarthy which suggests 4 learning modes.

The four learning styles identified by McCarthy are:

Type 1: Innovative Learners are primarily interested in personal meaning. They need to have reasons for learning–ideally, reasons that connect new information with personal experience and establish that information’s usefulness in daily life. Some of the many instructional modes effective with this learner type are cooperative learning, brainstorming, and integration of content areas (e.g., science with social studies, writing with the arts, etc.).

Type 2: Analytic Learners are primarily interested in acquiring facts in order to deepen their understanding of concepts and processes. They are capable of learning effectively from lectures, and enjoy independent research, analysis of data, and hearing what “the experts” have to say.

Type 3: Common Sense Learners are primarily interested in how things work; they want to “get in and try it.” Concrete, experiential learning activities work best for them–using manipulative’s, hands-on tasks, kinesthetic experience, etc.

Type 4: Dynamic Learners are primarily interested in self-directed discovery. They rely heavily on their own intuition, and seek to teach both themselves and others. Any type of independent study is effective for these learners. They also enjoy simulations, role play, and games.


Pask has described a learning style called serialist versus holist. Serialists prefer to learn in a sequential fashion, whereas holists prefer to learn in a hierarchical manner


On-line: assessments, inventories,and tests

NOTE: the validity of these tests is not endorsed. One should be careful when considering how to action the self-awareness these instruments profess to offer. USE WITH CAUTION.


A ‘lite’ version of a learning styles questionnaire:

Learning Styles Questionnaire

Look at the following statements – if they are usually true for you tick the appropriate white box

I find it easy to meet new people and make new friends
I am cautious and thoughtful
I get bored easily
I am a practical, “hands on” kind of person
I like to try things out for myself
My friends consider me to be a good listener
I have clear ideas about the best way to do things
I enjoy being the centre of attention
I am a bit of a daydreamer
I keep a list of things to do
I like to experiment to find the best way to do things
I prefer to think things out logically
I like to concentrate on one thing at a time
People sometimes think of me as shy and quiet
I am a bit of a perfectionist
I am enthusiastic about life
I would rather “get on with the job” than keep talking about it
I often notice things that other people miss
I act first then think about the consequences later
I like to have everything in its “proper place”
I ask lots of questions
I like to think things through before getting involved
I enjoy trying out new things
I like the challenge of having a problem to solve








Total number of ‘ticks’

The higher scores on the learning styles format questionnaire suggest this is an area of preference. All of us use all of the styles to a greater or lesser extent, using your profile you can better identify learning methodologies suited to your preferences.

While this simple (unscientific) instrument can be a useful discussion tool, we would highly recommend using Honey and Mumford’s LSQ instrument, this questionnaire contains 80, well researched questions and effective analysis. www.peterhoney.com


‘Lite’ version of an AVK style learning instrument

Learning Styles Questionnaire – AVK

Please tick the white box if the statement is usually true for you.


When I make things for my studies, I remember what I have learned better.
I learn better if someone reads a book to me than if I read silently to myself.
Having assignment directions written on the board makes them easier to understand.
When I do number problems in my head, I say the numbers to myself.
I understand a number problem that is written down better than one I hear.
I remember things I hear, better than I read.
I would rather read a story than listen to it read.
If someone tells me three numbers to add I can usually get the right answer without writing them down.
Written number problems are easier for me to do than oral ones.
Writing a spelling word several times helps me remember it better.
I find it easier to remember what I have heard than what I have read.
I like written directions better than spoken ones.
When I hear a phone number, I can remember it without writing it down.
Seeing a number makes more sense to me than hearing a number.
I like to do things like simple repairs or creative things with my hands.
I would rather read things in a book than have the trainer tell me about them.
When I have a written number problem to do, I say it to myself to understand it better.
Seeing the price of something written down is easier for me to understand than having someone tell me the price.
I like to make things with my hands.
I understand more from a group discussion than from reading about a subject.
I remember the spelling of a word better if I see it written down than if someone spells it out loud.
It makes it easier when I say the numbers of a problem to myself as I work it out.
When someone says a number, I really don’t understand it until I see it written down.
I understand what I have learned better when I am involved in making something for the subject.
I do well on tests if they are about things I hear in the training situation (training room).

My strongest preference is: __________

My second preference is: __________

My least favourite preference is: __________

The following are descriptions of VAK learning styles which can be found in every learner to some extent.  These descriptions will help you evaluate a persons learning style on the basis of observation.  This VAK based learning styles instrument is a tool which facilitates identifying our preferences of these learning styles.  Each of the five style areas are described here as if the individual showed a strong preference in that particular style.


Auditory Language: This is the person who learns from hearing words spoken.  You may hear them vocalizing or see their lips or throat moving as they reads, particularly when they are striving to understand new material.  They will be more capable of understanding and remembering words or facts they could only have learned by hearing.

Visual Language: This is the person who learns well from reading words in books, on the chalkboard, charts or workbooks.  The individual may even write words down that are given orally, in order to learn from seeing them on paper.  They tend to remember and use information better if they have read it themselves.

Auditory Numerical: This person learns from hearing numbers and oral explanations.  They may remember phone and locker numbers with ease, and be successful with oral numbers, games and puzzles.  Written materials are not as important.  They can probably work problems in their head.  You may hear them saying numbers to themselves, or see their lips moving as they try to understand a problem.

Visual Numerical: This person has to see numbers, on the board, in a book, or on a paper — in order to work with them.  They are more likely to remember and understand number facts if they have seen them.  They don’t seem to need as much oral explanation.

Auditory-Visual-Kinaesthetic Combination: The A-V-K person learns best by experience — doing, self-involvement.  They definitely needs a combination of stimuli.  The manipulation of material along with the accompanying sight and sound (words and numbers seen and spoken) will make a big difference to them.  They may not seem to be able to understand, or be able to keep their mind on work unless they are totally involved.  They often seek to handle, touch and work with what they are learning.  Sometimes just writing or a symbolic wiggling of the finger is a symptom of the A-V-K learner.



How to use learning styles in business?

Learning styles can help us ensure that we offer something for everyone.

We need to recognize that each of us has different learning preferences, and no matter which model we use, we need to ensure that we combine a mix of methods and preferences.

To help learning be more effective in your organisation chose a model… any model.  Then check that all of your learning interventions have something for all – be it the VAK – Visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or the Activist, pragmatist, theorist or reflector preference.


Main learning theories:

ACT* (J. Anderson)
Adult Learning Theory (P. Cross)
Algo-Heuristic Theory (L. Landa)
Andragogy (M. Knowles)
Anchored Instruction (J. Bransford & the CTGV)
Aptitude-Treatment Interaction (L. Cronbach & R. Snow)
Attribution Theory (B. Weiner)
Cognitive Dissonance Theory (L. Festinger)
Cognitive Flexibility Theory (R. Spiro)
Cognitive Load Theory (J. Sweller)
Component Display Theory (M.D. Merrill)
Conditions of Learning (R. Gagne)
Connectionism (E. Thorndike)
Constructivist Theory (J. Bruner)
Contiguity Theory (E. Guthrie)
Conversation Theory (G. Pask)
Criterion Referenced Instruction (R. Mager)
Double Loop Learning (C. Argyris)
Drive Reduction Theory (C. Hull)
Dual Coding Theory (A. Paivio)
Elaboration Theory (C. Reigeluth)
Experiential Learning (C. Rogers)
Functional Context Theory (T. Sticht)
Genetic Epistemology (J. Piaget)
Gestalt Theory (M. Wertheimer)
GOMS (Card, Moran & Newell)
GPS (A. Newell & H. Simon)
Information Pickup Theory (J.J. Gibson)
Information Processing Theory (G.A. Miller)
Lateral Thinking (E. DeBono)
Levels of Processing (Craik & Lockhart)
Mathematical Learning Theory (R.C. Atkinson)
Mathematical Problem Solving (A. Schoenfeld)
Minimalism (J. M. Carroll)
Model Centered Instruction and Design Layering (A.Gibbons)
Modes of Learning (D. Rumelhart & D. Norman)
Multiple Intelligences (H. Gardner)
Operant Conditioning (B.F. Skinner)
Originality (I. Maltzman)
Phenomenonography (F. Marton & N. Entwistle)
Repair Theory (K. VanLehn)
Script Theory (R. Schank)
Sign Theory (E. Tolman)
Situated Learning (J. Lave)
Soar (A. Newell et al.)
Social Development (L. Vygotsky)
Social Learning Theory (A. Bandura)
Stimulus Sampling Theory (W. Estes)
Structural Learning Theory (J. Scandura)
Structure of Intellect (J. Guilford)
Subsumption Theory (D. Ausubel)
Symbol Systems (G. Salomon)
Triarchic Theory (R. Sternberg)

based on a list by Greg Kearsley


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  5. […] Reflective processors take the new information and think about it or reflect upon it. The traditional public school model tends to favor students who are abstract perceivers and reflective processors, while other combinations aren’t nearly as well addressed in the way curriculum, instruction and assessment are developed. Educators who understand the basic concepts of the learning styles theory can more effectively teach students by developing curriculum that places more emphasis on feeling, sensing, intuition and imagination along with the traditional skills of reason, sequential problem solving and analysis. In the same vein, teachers should try to design instructional methods that connect with all four of the learning styles. They can do this by combining conceptualization, experience, experimentation and reflection into the process.  Introducing a wide assortment of experiential elements into the learning environment is also a great way to reach different types of learners. Finally, when coming up with assessment methods, instructors should use a variety of techniques so that they focus on developing the “whole brain.” Further Reading: Student Learning Styles Adult Learning Styles […]

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