Students preferentially take in and process information in different ways: by seeing and hearing, reflecting and acting, reasoning logically and intuitively, analyzing and visualizing, steadily and in fits and starts. Teaching methods also vary. Some instructors lecture, others demonstrate or lead students to self-discovery; some focus on principles and others on applications; some emphasize memory and other’s understanding.
When mismatches exist between learning styles of most students in a class and the teaching style of the professor, the students may become bored and inattentive in class; do poorly on tests; get discouraged about the courses, the curriculum, and themselves; and in some cases change to other curricula or drop out of school. Professors, confronted by low test grades, unresponsive or hostile classes, poor attendance and dropouts, know something is not working. They may become overly critical of their students (making things even worse) or begin to wonder if they are in the right profession.
Most seriously, society loses potentially excellent professionals. To overcome these problems, professors should strive for a balance of instructional methods (as opposed to trying to teach each student exclusively according to his or her preferences). If the balance is achieved, all students will be taught partly in a manner they prefer, which leads to an increased comfort level and willingness to learn, and partly in a less preferred manner, which provides practice and feedback in ways of thinking and solving problems which they may not initially be comfortable with but which they will have to use to be fully effective professionals.
The list that follows gives resources for a model of learning styles generally referred to as the Felder-Silverman model. The model was originally formulated by Dr. Richard Felder in collaboration with Dr. Linda K. Silverman, an educational psychologist, primarily for use by college instructors and students in engineering and the sciences, although it has subsequently been applied in a broad range of disciplines.
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- R.M. Felder and L.K. Silverman, “Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education,” Engr. Education, 78(7), 674-681 (1988). The article that originally defined the Felder-Silverman model and identified teaching practices that should meet the needs of students with the full spectrum of styles. The paper is preceded by a 2002 preface that states and explains changes in the model that have been made since 1988.
- R.M. Felder and B.A. Soloman, Learning styles and strategies. A four-page handout that briefly explains the learning style preferences defined by the Felder-Silverman model.
- R.M. Felder, “Learning Styles and Teaching Styles.” History of Dr. Felder’s initial engagement with the sometimes controversial (although it wasn’t at the time) topic of learning styles.
- The Index of Learning Styles is a self-scoring questionnaire for assessing preferences on the four dimensions of the Felder-Silverman model.
- Go to the Index of Learning Styles to obtain more information or to take the questionnaire.
- R.M. Felder and J.E. Spurlin, “Applications, Reliability, and Validity of the Index of Learning Styles.” Intl. Journal of Engineering Education, 21(1), 103-112 (2005). A validation study of the Index of Learning Styles.
- T.A. Litzinger, S.H. Lee, J.C. Wise, and R.M. Felder, “A Psychometric Study of the Index of Learning Styles.” J. Engr. Education, 96(4), 309-319 (2007). Reliability, factor structure, and construct validity of the Index of Learning Styles.
- R.M. Felder, “Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in College Science Education,” J. College Science Teaching, 23(5), 286-290 (1993). An updated presentation of the Felder-Silverman model.
- R.M. Felder and E.R. Henriques, “Learning and Teaching Styles in Foreign and Second Language Education,” Foreign Language Annals, 28(1), 21-31 (1995). Application of the F-S learning style model to language education.
Learning Styles in General and Other Learning Style Models
- R.M. Felder, “Are Learning Styles Invalid? (Hint: No!).” On-Course Newsletter, September 27, 2010. A response to claims that no evidence justifies taking learning styles into account when designing instruction.
- R.M. Felder and R. Brent, “Understanding Student Differences.” J. Engr. Education, 94(1), 57-72 (2005). An exploration of differences in student learning styles, approaches to learning (deep, surface, and strategic), and levels of intellectual development, with recommended teaching practices to address all three categories.
- R.M. Felder, “Matters of Style.” ASEE Prism, 6(4), 18-23 (December 1996). Principles and applications of four learning style models (Felder-Silverman, Kolb, and models based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument). The paper concludes that the choice of a model is almost irrelevant: teaching designed to address all dimensions on any of the models is likely to be effective, and all of the models lead to more or less the same instructional approach.
- R.M. Felder, G.N. Felder, and E.J. Dietz, “The Effects of Personality Type on Engineering Student Performance and Attitudes.” J. Engr. Education, 91(1), 3-17 (2002). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was administered to 116 sophomore engineering students, whose progress through the curriculum for the next two years was monitored. Type differences in various academic performance measures and attitudes were generally consistent with the predictions of type theory. Active and cooperative learning improves the performance of MBTI types (extraverts, sensors, and feelers) found in previous studies to be disadvantaged in the engineering curriculum.
- R.M. Felder, “A Longitudinal Study of Engineering Student Performance and Retention. IV. Instructional Methods and Student Responses to Them.” J. Engr. Education, 84(4), 361-367 (1995). Instructional methods designed to reach the full spectrum of learning styles, as applied in an ongoing longitudinal study of engineering students.
- R.M. Felder, G.N. Felder, and E.J. Dietz, “A Longitudinal Study of Engineering Student Performance and Retention. V. Comparisons with Traditionally-Taught Students.” J. Engr. Education, 87(4), 469-480 (1998). Performance and attitude differences between students taught with an active/cooperative learning model and students taught with a traditional instructor-centered model.
Note: References 15 through 20 focus on individual dimensions of student differences.
- R.M. Felder, “Meet Your Students: 1. Stan and Nathan.” Chem. Engr. Education, 23(2), 68-69 (Spring 1989). The sensing learning and the intuitive learner.
- R.M. Felder, “Meet Your Students: 2. Susan and Glenda.” Chem. Engr. Education, 24(1), 7-8 (Winter 1990). The sequential learner and the global learner.
- R.M. Felder, “Meet Your Students: 3. Michelle, Rob, and Art.” Chem. Engr. Education, 24(3), 130-131 (Summer 1990). Three different approaches to learning (deep, surface, and strategic), and the conditions that induce students to take a deep approach.
- R.M. Felder, “Meet Your Students: 4. Jill and Perry.” Chem. Engr. Education, 25(4), 196-197 (Fall 1991). The judger and the perceiver on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
- R.M. Felder, “Meet Your Students: 5. Edward and Irving.” Chem. Engr. Education, 28(1), 36-37 (Winter 1994). The extravert and the introvert on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and to a good approximation, the active learner and reflective learner on the Index of Learning Styles.
- R.M. Felder, “Meet Your Students: 6. Tony and Frank.” Chem. Engr. Education, 29(4), 244-245 (Fall 1995). The thinker and the feeler on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.