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Phi Management Articles: Catering for Different Learning Styles in eLearning


Learning design is all about designing the right learning for the right audience, catering for different learning styles and maximizing the opportunities for effective learning.
Effective learning design helps create engagement, and leads to emotional and intellectual connection with content to build practical, valuable skills which can be immediately applied in relevant situations.


Learning styles 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.”


Peter Honey and Alan Mumford developed their learning styles system as a variation on the Kolb Learning Cycle model.
Although many people exhibit clear preferences for one of these styles most have a combination of two or more. The benefit for those supporting learning of knowing learners’ preferred styles is that learning experiences can be tailored to maximize their impact.


People who prefer the Experience stage of Kolb’s cycle, ‘Activists’, enjoy involving themselves fully and without bias in new experiences.

There needs to be plenty to look at and with video and audio segments as well as animation, activists won’t get bored. The experience isn’t passive, activist learners will be clicking around exploring conversations and taking quizzes and exercises as the work through the material, giving them the opportunities they need to discover new experiences and place themselves at the center of their learning.
eLearning also helps activists to guard against their weaknesses. By trying out new ideas in the safe environment offered by a well-designed eLearning framework they can learn about the risks inherent in situations, and discover the benefits of planning and preparation.


When they act, it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others' observations as well as their own.
People who prefer the ‘Review’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Reflectors, like to sit back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives before making a move.

Reflectors can take information on board in bite-sized chunks or work through larger sections before taking a break. This allows learners to think about what they’ve discovered, looking for examples in their own lives, and forming their own views before returning to the Module. There’s no rush, and the system remembers how far the learner has got so they can return directly to the last topic they studied. A Learning Journal facility allows learners to jot down notes as they go along, which they can return to later.
eLearning can help reflectors to make the most of their learning style, building confidence in their skills and knowledge at their own pace, allowing them to take more informed decisions independently.


People who prefer the ‘Conclude’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Theorists, adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won't rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme. They like to analyze and synthesize.

eLearning needs to have modules with clear concepts and theories which can be tested and remembered. Where additional research may help theorists to gain additional knowledge reading lists are been included to assist theorists to explore concepts in greater detail. Key thinkers on each topic can be identified so that learners can anchor their knowledge to academic research. By including models, acronyms, and clear logical concepts well designed eLearning gives theorists the structure and clarity they need. Warnings can be included to identify the limitations of theories and their application in the real world, helping theorists to build their knowledge whilst maintaining their ability to take a contingency approach.


People who prefer the ‘Apply’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Pragmatists, are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice.

For pragmatists, the content should be arranged in clear, easily identifiable modules designed to deal with everyday challenges. Within each module the material can be accessed at an element level, allowing pragmatists to access the sections they need to address the issues they are facing now. Practical examples of how to apply new knowledge are included, along with handy downloadable forms and checklists to enable easy application.
Exercises allow pragmatists to take the concepts and profile themselves and their teams against them, and strategies for dealing with individual situations are included to keep the learning real. By including case studies and anecdotes well designed eLearning enables pragmatists to better retain and apply information about concepts.


After seeing how to apply eLearning to each learning style we should ask the question: What should instructional designers do?
When Instructional Designers get down to design an eLearning course, they get a broad idea of their target audience (who they are designing the course for) and should assume that people use a combination of learning styles and design courses that incorporate all these elements in fair balance. Therefore, instead of being bothered about the learning styles of the audience, it is best to focus on the subject and present the content through a judicious mixture of learning styles. The main idea is that the instructional design should fulfill the objective of learning in the best possible manner.