Module 1: planning for learning at work: learner's workbook

Identifying your personal learning style

Page last updated: 2004

How people learn
Preferred styles of learning

How people learn

We're now going to spend some time thinking about how we, as individuals, learn. It is important to distinguish between learning and training. Training is often conceived as something that is 'done to' the learner whereas learning is the process by which the learner takes responsibility for the 'doing'.

People differ from one another in maturity, knowledge, motivation, responsibility and learning skills. This impacts on the way that they learn. Think about some of the training courses that you have attended with a group of colleagues, all with similar experiences and a desire to learn as much as possible. At the end of the course, some may have thought that it was a most enjoyable and useful experience. Others may have thought that it was a waste of time. How can this be? Different people have different ways of learning. The course would have catered for the preferred learning style of some of the participants but not others.

There are many different models of how people learn. Honey and Mumford (1992) have built on Kolb's model using more everyday language.

The four different ways in which people prefer to learn that Honey and Mumford have identified, relate to a different stage in the learning cycle. These are Activist, Reflector, Theorist and Pragmatist.

In this model Mumford and Honey describe the learning styles as a continuum that one moves through over time. However, over time, people usually come to prefer and rely on one, or more, style(s) above the others. Research has shown that there is no evidence that one preference is better than another – indeed the diversity of our learning styles adds value to team work and organisational functioning.

Diagram: Honey and Mumford learning cycle

Text equivalent below for Diagram: Honey and Mumford learning cycle
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Text version of Honey and Mumford learning cycle

  • Reflector - reviewing the experience. Continues to 'Theorist'.
  • Theorist - concluding from the experience. Continues to 'Pragmatist'.
  • Pragmatist - planning the next step. Continues to 'Activist'.
  • Activist - Having an experience. Continues to 'Reflector'.

Preferred styles of learning

  • Activists - Activists involve themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences.

  • Reflectors - Reflectors like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They collect data, both first-hand and from others, and prefer to analyse them thoroughly and think about them from every possible angle before coming to any definite conclusions.

  • Theorists - Theorists like to analyse and synthesise. They assimilate and convert disparate facts and observations into coherent, logical theories. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic above all.

  • Pragmatists - Pragmatists are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications.
Do you know your preferred learning style? Can you guess your learning type from having read the brief descriptions above? Once you know your areas of strengths and weaknesses, you are in a much better position to choose learning experiences and opportunities that suit you, as well as strengthen your weaker styles.

Diagram: Preferred styles of learning

Text equivalent below for Diagram: Preferred styles of learning
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Text version of Diagram

  • Activists - I'll try anything once. Continue to 'Reflectors'.
  • Reflectors - Be cautious. Continues to 'Theorists'.
  • Theorists - If it's logical, it's good. Continues to 'Pragmatists'.
  • Pragmatists - There is always a better way. Continues to 'Activists'.