Learning Styles: Introduction

Perceiving and Processing Information

Four Major Learning Styles

Applying the Learning Cycle: Teaching Strategies using Water Examples

Learning Styles

Think back to a time when you “had to” learn something new. What was most important to you?

  • Did you want to know why you had to learn it?
  • Did you want to know if the new information was accurate and well documented?
  • Did you need to prove that what you learned really worked?
  • Did you try to figure out how to improve upon the new ideas?

Do you approach each new learning situation in a similar way? For example, do you tend to read the directions before starting to put something together or do you jump right in and only read the directions if you get stuck?


While you probably do not tackle each learning task in exactly the same way, over time you have developed a pattern of behavior that you use for new learning. This is your learning style—your preferred, most comfortable mode of learning. While each of us has a preferred mode, we can also learn in other modes. In fact, people who learn well through different learning styles have an advantage over those who do not. They can select from their repertoire the mode best suited for the task at hand. One of the goals of understanding your learning style is to get to know your preferred pattern of learning behaviors and their appropriate use, and to stretch your abilities in alternative modes.

There are a number of theories that define and describe perceived learning styles. The Wikipedia entry for Learning Styles provides a summary of the major terms along with a brief description of each model. It also includes a summary of several critiques evaluating the impact on the learner of applying learning style theories in learning design. There is a lengthy bibliography. At the least, it is useful to be aware of potential differences between the way one person learns and how another person learns and to adapt the learning environment as possible.

One of the most familiar models, the VARK model, was developed by Neil Fleming (1995). VARK describes 4 primary ways that people learn: V = visual; A = auditory; R = read/write; K = kinesthetic. These are described in greater detail in I’m different; not dumb. Modes of presentation (V.A.R.K.) in the tertiary classroom (PDF), along with implications for its use in learning design.

Bernice McCarthy (2000, 1980) provides one model for how to think about learning styles. Her work is based upon research from learning theorists and brain research.



Fleming, Neil D. (July 1995). “I’m different; not dumb: modes of presentation (VARK) in the tertiary classroom” (PDF). In Zelmer, A. C. Lynn; Zelmer, Amy Elliott. Higher education: blending tradition and technology: Proceedings of the 1995 Annual Conference of the Higher Education and Research Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA).

McCarthy, B. (2000). About Teaching: 4MAT® in the Classroom. Wauconda, IL: About Learning, Inc.

McCarthy, B. (1980). The 4MAT® System: Teaching to Learning Styles with Right/Left Mode Techniques. Barrington, IL: EXCEL, Inc.

About Learning | Official Site of Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT System