– Overview Statement –

1. Cognitive style in life-long learning and management education and development: a European perspective

Steven J. Armstrong

Department of Organisation Analysis, Lincoln School of Management, UK.


1.1 Introduction and Background

From the 1970's there has been a growing interest in applying the concept of cognitive/learning styles to educational settings, particularly to methods of teaching and learning (Newstead, 1992) and this has led to the formation of strategies designed to enhance the learning process. Whilst most studies have been confined to the realm of educational psychology, it has also been recognised as a concept that has the potential to make an important contribution to management practice (Streufert & Nogami, 1989; Hayes & Allinson, 1994). Recent years have, in fact, witnessed a burgeoning interest in this area, and there is evidence that earlier educational research is making an important contribution to this emerging field (Hayes & Allinson, 1997). Whilst trainers, developers and educators extend their interests in how to use the concept to maximise management learning, cognitive psychologists continue to investigate the validity of a considerable number of measures and to differentiate between the concepts of learning style and cognitive (personality) style. Principally because of the growing interest in these areas, a group of UK scholars formed the European Learning Styles Information Network (ELSIN). ELSIN is an association of researchers, trainers and educationalists actively involved in the theory and application of cognitive/learning style and the year 2000 will see its fifth annual international conference, drawing in delegates from as far afield as Australia. ELSIN has developed this symposium in order to bring together researchers and practitioners from around the world interested in exploring the potential of applying the cognitive style construct to the field of management.

1.2 Theoretical Framework

The concept of individual differences in quality of cognitive functioning has been around for a long time. For example Armstrong (1999a) cites Cattell (1890), Jung (1923), Lewin (1935) and Witkin (1948) as just a few of the early pioneers. Riding & Cheema (1991) point out that Allport used the term 'cognitive style' as far back as 1937. Since then, a series of definitions has emerged and some of these refer to cognitive style, whereas others refer to learning style, which Jensen (1987) regards as a rather recent phenomenon. Learning style, as the name clearly suggests, had its origins in educational research and Keefe (1979) differentiates it from cognitive style by referring to it in broad terms as including cognitive, affective and physiological preferences. Campbell (1991) points out that whilst the two terms mean different things, they are nevertheless used synonymously in the professional literature which leads to considerable confusion. Curry (1983) attempted to bring order to this chaos by proposing a structure that organised various models of style into strata resembling layers of an onion. The extreme outer layer, labelled instructional preference, is believed to be the least stable and easily influenced by the surrounding environment. The middle layer, referred to as information processing style, is relatively de-coupled from the environment and is believed to be more stable than the outer layer, though it can still be modified to a degree by learning strategies. The inner layer is labelled 'cognitive style', which is believed to be a relatively permanent personality dimension. It is this level which holds the primary interests of the panel participants in this symposium. Style in this context may be defined as a self-consistent mode of functioning which individuals show in their perceptual and intellectual activities (Witkin et al, 1971). It has been suggested that this relates to the characteristic and habitual way in which an individual organises, processes and evaluates information (Goldstein & Blackman, 1978; Messick, 1984) and individual differences in these characteristics manifest themselves as alternative approaches to problem solving, decision making and the communication of ideas (Kalsbeek, 1989). This in turn also affects interpersonal functioning and the way one interacts with and relates to others (Witkin, 1977). Riding et al (1993) suggested that cognitive style differences may be due to differences in left/right hemispheric specialisation of the brain which is a commonly held view shared by other researchers in the field (Mintzberg, 1976; Ornstein, 1977; Doktor, 1978; Robey & Taggart, 1981; Agor, 1984; Taggert et al, 1985; Waber, 1989; Sonnier, 1990; Allinson & Hayes, 1996). This connection between neuro-physiology and cognitive psychology stems from the pioneering work of Sperry (1964), Luria (1966), Gazzaniga (1967) and Bogen (1969). Their studies demonstrated the human left cerebral hemisphere to be specialised for primarily analytic, rational and sequential information-processing and the right cerebral hemisphere to be specialised for primarily intuitive, holistic, and simultaneous information-processing. Whilst some now regard this split-brain formulation as an oversimplification (Rao et al, 1992), others (e.g. Languis, 1998; Languis & Miller, 1992) continue to report patterns of brain mapping research which are consistent with Luria's (1980) theory of brain functioning. Irrespective of whether the left brain/right brain analogy is scientifically correct, it does nevertheless serve as a useful metaphor for describing cognitive differences of this nature.

According to Mitchell (1994) more than 100 instruments have been developed for measuring individual differences of this nature and Armstrong (1999a) identified 54 dimensions on which cognitive style has been differentiated. Although certain authors (e.g. Zelniker, 1989) argue that this multiplicity of constructs reflects the sheer complexity of cognition, others have suggested that they are merely different conceptions of a superordinate dimension (Messick, 1976; Kogan, 1983; Miller, 1987; Rayner & Riding, 1997). On this basis, Riding and Douglas (1993) defined a principal cognitive style group comprised of multiple dimensions and labelled these the Wholist-Analytic cognitive style. These poles are also commonly labelled Intuitive-Analytic (Zeleny, 1975; Doktor, 1978; Agor, 1986; Hammond et al, 1987; Allinson & Hayes, 1996). In a work context, analytic individuals tend to be compliant, their thinking relies on logical sequences and vertical reasoning, they prefer structured approaches to decision making, apply systematic methods of investigation, and are especially comfortable when handling problems requiring a step by step solution. Wholist/intuitive individuals, on the other hand, tend to be nonconformist, their thinking relies on impulsive synthesis and lateral reasoning, they prefer rapid, open-ended approaches to decision making, they rely on random methods of exploration and work best on problems favouring a holistic approach (Allinson, Armstrong & Hayes, forthcoming; Zeleny, 1975; Lynch, 1986). Whilst this super-ordinate dimension represents the main focus of the studies reported in this symposium, other important dimensions are also considered. These include the Verbal-Imagery style of whether an individual is inclined to represent information during thinking either verbally, or in mental images (Riding & Cheema, 1991). This is thought to be independent of the superordinate wholist/intuitive-analytic dimension (Riding et al, 1993). Another very important dimension considered in this symposium is the Creative Person Profile (Martinsen, 1999) which predicts types of creative activity deemed to be valuable and even necessary in many business settings.

1.3 Aims of the Symposium

Against this background and theoretical framework, the aims of the proposed symposium are three-fold. Firstly, it will seek to disseminate information and research findings in order to promote a cross-fertilisation of knowledge in this area. Secondly, it will explore opportunities for international collaboration in research and development. Finally, it will seek to engage the nexus of theory and practice between participants, and encourage a dialectic process in the resolution of differing opinions.

1.4 Submitted Divisions

We believe that a symposium of this nature would be of specific interest to members of the Management Education and Development (MED) division. For MED this symposium provides an opportunity to examine important factors influencing national and cross-national differences in managerial decision making and managerial learning and development strategies. It will also consider the effects of cognitive style on individual performance in management education, and the importance of taking account of individual differences when designing instructional strategies; particularly when promoting learning via computer-mediated communication. The need for business education to focus more on the value of creativity and the possibilities of profiling style differences in management for the benefit of leadership will also be discussed.

We also believe that the symposium will be of significant interest to the Managerial and Organisational Cognition (MOC) division, whose specific domain includes the major topics of decision making, information processing, learning, mental representations and images, and perceptual and interpretative processes. All of these are potentially affected in multiple and important ways by individual differences in cognitive style.

1.5 Session Format

It is proposed that this symposium be a 120 minute programme. It will begin with an introductory session (15 minutes) where the origins and history of ELSIN will be presented. The importance of cognitive style for the new age of life-long learning will also be discussed in the context of management education, development and training. This will be followed by four short presentations (10 minutes each) of current research. Collectively, these look at the implications of cognitive style (micro-level) for:

individual performance in management education,

instructional techniques for teaching and learning via a hypertext environment

characteristics associated with creativity in business settings

profiling management style for the benefit of educational leadership

At this point, 55 minutes into the program, one of the discussants will summarise the proceedings and facilitate a discussion with audience participation lasting a further 15 minutes. This will be followed by three more presentations (10 minutes each) of current research associated with the implications of cognitive style for management education and development at a national (macro) level as follows:


facilitation of learning strategy development with evidence from the UK

cross-national differences in managerial decision-making

new models of management education, development & training in Poland

The second discussant will summarise and facilitate a general discussion (with the audience) for the remaining 20 minutes.

1.6 Conference Theme Associations

Time: differential cultural tempos in decision-making; time for reflection in decision-making; new epochs; Poland's time urgency in addressing change; accelerated learning; changing views of time within organisations; new age of life-long learning.

1.7 The Panel Participants

Steve Armstrong recently obtained his PhD (Armstrong, 1999a) on cognitive style and dyadic interaction in working relationships. This work was inspired by observations made in the workplace during his experience as a practising manager in the electronics industry. Since joining the Higher Education profession six years ago, he has co-edited two books, written four book chapters and five journal articles. A large proportion of these publications is concerned with the theory and application of cognitive style (e.g. Armstrong et al, 1997; Armstrong; 1997; Allinson et al, 1999; Armstrong et al, 1999; Armstrong, 1999a; Armstrong, 1999b; Armstrong, 1999c; Armstrong, 1999d; Armstrong & Priola, 1999).

Martin Graff is currently involved in a detailed investigation at the University of Glamorgan into the mapping structure of the various cognitive style labels and the importance of cognitive styles and self-efficacy in using hypertext, and learning via hypermedia. He is also involved in the design of web pages and hypertext-based learning resources which are tailored to the cognitive style of the user.

Jeanne Hill is a Canadian working in the Department of International Business at the University of Central Lancashire who has been studying cognitive/learning style for the past 5 years. The responses of students to her experimentation in alternative curriculum deliveries led to her interest in learning styles; her specialisation in strategic management led to her interest in cognitive style. Her research in the style area has the following main streams: international cultural differences in cognitive styles; style provenance; implications of style for management education and training; style and competency; the role of meta-cognition in learning.

Gerrard P. Hodgkinson is professor of Organisational Behaviour and Strategic Management at Leeds University Business School, The University of Leeds, UK. His main research interests lie in cognitive processes in Strategic Management and over the past decade he has published numerous papers on this topic in a range of scholarly journals including Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Management Studies, and Human Relations. Professor Hodgkinson is especially interested in the nature and significance of actors' mental representations in strategic decision making and the impact of individual difference variables on cognition and choice behaviour. In collaboration with Professor Paul Sparrow of Sheffield University, he is currently co-authoring a book on the Psychology of Strategic Management which is due to be published in 2001. Professor Hodgkinson is general editor of the British Journal of Management, the official Journal of the British Academy of Management.

Patricia Jensen is an Associate Professor of Business and Management at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her research focuses on the connections between individuals' learning styles and the ways they make sense of their experience and learn through conversation. She has taught in ability-based undergraduate, graduate and executive MBA programs in the United States and in the Netherlands. She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behaviour from Case Western Reserve University.

Oyvind Martinsen works at the Institute for Knowledge Management at the Norwegian School of Management in Oslo, and for the Psychometrics Unit in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway. His primary research interests are in the construct of cognitive style and its relationship to creativity and he has published widely in this field (e.g. Kaufmann & Martinsen, 1995; Martinsen & Kaufmann, 1991; Martinsen, 1993a, 1993b; Martinsen, 1994; Martinsen, 1995; Kaufmann & Martinsen, 1995; Martinsen, 1997).

Stephen Rayner works in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham. His research interests reflect a continuing concern for individual differences across the fields of management in special education and emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD). He has published many articles on the subject of cognitive style in journals such as Educational Psychology and has also published books on EBD (e.g. Visser & Rayner, 1999), the management of special education (e.g. Rayner & Ribbins, 1999) and the psychology of education (e.g. Riding & Rayner, 1998; Riding & Rayner, 1999).

Eugene Sadler-Smith Eugene Sadler-Smith is Reader in Human Resource Studies at the University of Plymouth Business School. His research interests include cognitive style and learning style, human resource development and organizational learning. He has published over 25 articles in refereed journals including the International Journal of Human Resource Management, Human Resource Management Journal and Instructional Science. Up until 1994 he was senior training designer with a large public utility in the UK.

Agnieszka Sitko-Lutek holds a PhD in Management and works in the Management Department of the Maria Curie - Skodowska University in Lublin, Poland. Her research interests which have led to more than 20 publications include organizational culture, management development & competencies, and cognitive/learning style. She has held the position of Programme Director at the Lublin Business School and is an active member of the Association of Management Education.

Anna Rakowska holds a PhD in Economics and works in the Department of Management at the Technological University in Lublin, Poland. She is the Dean of Student Education, holds a special interest in managerial skills development and is currently working on a research project involving a sample of 350 practising managers.

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