The development of Total Learning Style Inventory Scores

Dr Iain Garner

Sheffield Hallam University

The underlying assumption of Kolb's (1984) learning styles is that an individual learner has a preferred approach to learning or an approach where they are more able. Although this does emphasise the strengths of an individual's approach to learning it does undervalue or ignore the complementary abilities an individual may have. The total of these other abilities may account for a greater part of their learning capacity than the dominant style alone. Hence Kolb's learning styles may give a false impression of an individual's learning abilities.

Questions have also been raised concerning the stability of Kolb's learning styles across time and hence their predictive validity if used to inform choices or learning environments (Garner, 1997; Garner, 1999; Grippin, 1988; Homan, Pavlica and Thorpe, 1997). However, Kolb's learning styles do give an insight into the cyclical nature of learning and the basic processes and skills needed to effectively learn (Kruzich, Friesen and Van Soest, 1986; Nulty and Barrett, 1996 and Raschick, Maypole and Day, 1998). What appears to be needed is a realigning of how learning style information is interpreted and exploited, rather than abandoning of the concept all together.

One possible way of achieving this realignment is to use Kolb's inventory data to produce Total Learning Style Scores (TLSS) rather than learning styles. TLSS reflects an individual's total inventory score across all four of Kolb's dimensions of learning. Using a group of 38 participants it was found that although constitution of TLSS varied, TLSS were stable across time, unlike Kolb's learning styles (Curry, 1991; Garner, 1997, Homan, Pavlica and Thorpe, 1997) indicating that TLSS reflects a more essential quality of learning. TLSS of the participants were then mapped onto academic performance as reflected by degree course grades. It was found that students with high TLSS performed significantly better than those with low TLSS (P< 0.05). This result clearly indicates that TLSS assess an individual's ability within the learning domain. The implications of TLSS for learning style theory and measurement are discussed. Finally the implication for learning style theory of the potential relationships between IQ and TLSS is presented.

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