The Internet TESL Journal

The Importance of Learning Styles in ESL/EFL

Tatyana Putintseva
Koryo International College, (Nisshin, Japan)
This article reminds the teachers of the need to be aware of individual learning styles and learner diversity.  While the Multiple Intelligences Theory of Howard Gardner is the most popular and readily used by teachers (Currie, 2003), there are other ideas about learning styles, which also can be useful for EFL/ESL teachers.


EFL/ESL teachers, just like all other educators, have to bear in mind that:
      But are classroom teachers always prepared to try matching their teaching styles with learning styles of their students? Do they always remember to cater to different learning styles?

      The growing popularity of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1985) among language teachers shows that many of them are aware of learner diversity. But not all teachers find the Multiple Intelligences(MI) theory attractive enough or easy to implement. There might be two reasons for this.   

      Various Perspectives on Learning Styles

      There is no agreement on the number or variety of learning styles. A number of learning style models can be found in the research on this subject. These fall into general categories such as information processing, personality patterns, and social interaction (Conner, 2004).

      Information Processing

      This distinguishes between the way learners sense, think, solve problems, and remember information. Kolb's Learning Styles inventory and Gregorc's Mind Styles Model are those most frequently mentioned in this category.

      Learning Styles inventory (Kolb, 1984) includes:
      A. F. Gregorc's Mind Styles Model identifies four major learning types (Gregorc, 1985):

      Personality Patterns

      These focus on attention, emotion, and values. Understanding these differences allows predicting the way learners react and feel about different situations. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter are two of the most well-known personality pattern evaluations.

      The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator measures preferences on four scales derived from Jung's Theory of Psychological Types (Myers & McCaulley, 1985).  People are classified according to their preference for:
      On this basis, some claim that an individual learning type can be made out of sixteen possible combinations of these preferences (Felder, Felder, and Dietz, 2002). For example, an ENTP would have a preference for extroversion, intuition, thinking, and perception.  A preference for one or the other category of a dimension may be mild or strong. Students with different type preferences tend to respond differently to different teaching styles. Extroverts like activity and group work; introverts prefer working alone.  Sensors like concrete learning experiences and clearly defined expectations and dislike instruction heavy in abstractions such as theories and mathematical models; intuitors like instruction based on understanding concepts rather than on memorization of facts, rote substitution, and repetitive calculations. Thinkers like logically organized presentations of course material and feedback related to their work. Feelers like those teachers who establish a personal rapport with them and show appreciation of their efforts. Judgers like well-structured instruction with clearly defined assignments, goals, and milestones. Perceivers like to have choice and flexibility in their assignments and dislike rigid timelines (Felder et al., 2002).

      David Keirsey identifies the following temperament types (Keirsey, 1998):
      Among other models that could be considered as belonging in the personality-based category are those built by
      B. McCarthy and H. Gardner.  McCarthy (1990) identified four learning styles:
      H. Gardner's (1985) concept of multiple intelligences', as mentioned earlier, is commonly viewed as, in fact, a model of learning styles. According to this point of view, the following types of learning styles can be identified (Gardner, 1985):   

      Social Interaction

      This looks at likely attitudes, habits, and strategies learners will take toward their work and how they engage with their peers when they learn. The Reichmann-Grasha model, for instance, focuses on student attitudes toward learning, classroom activities, teachers, and peers. This model identifies the following types and their characteristics (Reichmann & Grasha, 1974):


      The models listed above can prove applicable in some situations and not applicable in others. A critical and careful approach is obviously required when deciding which theory one should follow.  First, it is important to take into account the specific characteristics of the educational institution: age group of students (determines how flexible  their learning styles can be), the nature of education provided by the school (general or specialized).  Second, teachers also have their own approaches to the classroom and their own teaching styles. Thus, it is important to consider not just one, but  a variety of approaches to learning styles and select the most appropriate from both objective and personal perspectives.


      The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XII, No. 3, March 2006