An examination of the learning styles of  South African and English undergraduate engineering students and the outcome for a teaching approach.

Dr. Lynn Martin, University of Central England, UK,  Dr. Alison Halstead, Coventry University, UK,  Dr. Lesly Cooke,  Technickon South Africa.

This paper presents an analysis of a pilot study conducted with second and third year undergraduate engineering students at Coventry University, West Midlands, UK and M.L. Sultan Techkinon, Eastern Cape, South Africa and makes recommendations in terms of the teaching approach.

The majority of the content of undergraduate engineering courses can be described as being concrete - fact, experimental data or applications or abstract - concepts, theories, mathematical models or equations.  The balance between concrete and abstract material will vary between individual courses and the member of staff delivering the course.   A large number of higher education engineering lecturers are more comfortable with abstract information whilst increasingly undergraduate students prefer concrete information. (1,2,). The problem with the introduction of an abstract concept is that it is not embedded into the students knowledge,it  is not linked to the cognitive structures and is less likely to be transferred to the long term memory. (3). This pilot scheme was established to see if a learning style assessment of the engineering students could be  used to establish an optimum balance between concrete and abstract material   that could assist lecturing staff in the successful design and delivery of

An initial evaluation of the students learning styles was carried out  using a questionnaire developed by Honey and Mumford (4)  The results are discussed in the context of the undergraduate year, country of study and ethnic origin.
Although the higher level students did have slightly more intuitive learners  the majority of the students tended to reflect a more sensory style.  Overall both sensors and intuitive learners make good engineers however sensors are more comfortable with data and facts and intuitive learners work well with concepts and designs.  The results are discussed in terms of the effect on
the teaching strategy that staff employ in the delivery of courses.  Recommendations are made, based on an evaluation of the learning style that will assist staff in establishing if their students have developed the necessary mental infrastructure on which the more abstract topics can be built.

R.M. Felder 'Matters of Style' ASEE Prism, 6 (4), 18-23 (December 1996)
J.E. Stice et al ' The future of Engineering Education: IV Learning How To Teach' Chem. Engr. Education, 34 (2), 118-127 (2000)
(3)  D.R. Woods 'Three trends in Teaching and Learning' Chem.Engr.Education 32 (4), 296-301 (1998)
P. Honey and C. Mumford (1994) 

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