The 'Lone Researcher', minus Tonto: how far can an understanding of

learning styles inform successful outcomes at doctoral level?



Sally Gibbs

School of Information Management, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK



Although learning styles are one of a number of factors that affect doctoral students, an understanding of these could contribute to more positive outcomes for many students. Given the low completion rate of PhDs, this research is exploring the question of whether the lengthy PhD thesis is the most appropriate means of recognising academic excellence since it continues to reward only those who can learn effectively in this way. There are also questions of whether it is appropriate for all subject disciplines, and whether ways of learning differ between and/or within disciplines.

Approximately 100 students from the three subject areas of English, physics, and business/management have completed a questionnaire, including the Honey & Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire. 18 of this sample have also been interviewed. Early indications suggest that first degrees are poor indicators of a student's ability to learn in the way required for doctoral work, although class of degree is still used to grant research awards. Masters degrees seem to be more important in terms of learning development. These at least introduce students to the need to develop a greater range of learning styles in order to cope with the challenges of doctoral work at both an academic and a personal level.

A smaller scale survey was done of the author's colleagues on the EdD at the University of Bristol. An earlier paper produced by the author for the EdD found that many of these students had rejected the idea of the 'lonely researcher', and stressed the need for a research environment that accommodates differences in learning styles, and develops a climate of collaboration, i.e. they needed Tonto.

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