Title: Learning/cognitive styles and learning preferences of students and instructors as related to achievement in respiratory therapy educational programs /
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099566/00001
 Material Information
Title: Learning/cognitive styles and learning preferences of students and instructors as related to achievement in respiratory therapy educational programs /
Physical Description: xi, 196 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Banner, Michael J
Publication Date: 1989
Copyright Date: 1989
Subject: Respiratory therapy -- Study and teaching   ( lcsh )
Academic achievement   ( lcsh )
Cognitive styles   ( lcsh )
Learning   ( lcsh )
Teacher-student relationships   ( lcsh )
Educational Leadership thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- Educational Leadership -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1989.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 183-194)
Statement of Responsibility: by Michael J. Banner.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00099566
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 001487025
oclc - 21115527
notis - AGZ9173


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This work is dedicated to my wife Tina Banner--a gentle

and thoughtful lady who is my best friend. Thank you

for your love, support, and understanding.


The author wishes to thank the members of his

doctoral committee for their guidance and assistance in

the writing of this dissertation. Dr. James W. Hensel,

chairman of the committee, was always available when I

needed feedback and provided sound advice. His input and

insightful comments were crucial and I will always be

grateful to him. Dr. Lois J. Malasanos, a lady and a most

respected professional in the fields of nursing and allied

health education, was very helpful in reading drafts of

the dissertation and providing feedback. Dr. C. Arthur

Sandeen, a gentleman and a scholar, asked pertinent

questions which forced me to think critically and


Although not a member of the doctoral committee, the

author would like to especially acknowledge Dr. Linda M.

Crocker who was most helpful when things seemed to be

going wrong. Dr. Crocker provided feedback and made

suggestions that improved the study protocol as well as

providing expert advice regarding the statistical

analyses. The author would also like to acknowledge Mr.

David N. Yonutas, MS, RRT, Director of the Respiratory

Therapy program at Santa Fe Community College in

Gainesville, Florida. Mr. Yonutas was very cooperative by

allowing me access to his students for both the pilot

study and for the larger study. He also provided many

helpful suggestions and, in general, his assistance was


Finally, the author would like to acknowledge Ms.

Leila R. Cantara for her excellent typing work and

editorial assistance.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .................................. iii

LIST OF TABLES .................... ................ vii

LIST OF FIGURES ....................... ............. viii

ABSTRACT ........................................... ix


1 INTRODUCTION ................ .................. 1

Instructors Teach in Ways That They Like
to Learn ................................ 8
Learning/Cognitive Styles and Learning
Preferences in Allied Health Education ... 10
The Problem .................................. 13
Hypotheses .................................. 14
Delimitations ................................ 16
Limitations .................................. 17
Need for the Study .... ..................... 18
Assumptions .................................. 21
Definition of Terms ....................... 21

2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ................... 26

Introduction ............................... 26
Learning/Cognitive Styles ................. 29
Neurologic Basis of Learning/Cognitive
Styles: Left and Right Brain Hemispheric
Differences ............................... 50
Learning Preferences ....................... 55
Congruency--Student and Faculty Learning/
Cognitive Styles and Preferences ......... 68
Summary ...................................... 74

3 MATERIALS AND METHODS ...................... 76

Instrumentation .............................. 77
Pilot Study .................................. 80
Subjects and Study Design .................. 83
Collection of Data ......................... 85

4 RESULTS .................................... 86

Population ................................... 86
Analysis of Data .................... ......... 86

5 SUMMARY ...................................... 116

RECOMMENDATIONS .......................... 122

Introduction ................................. 122
Discussion ................................... .. 124
Implications for Respiratory Therapy
Education .................................. 135
Recommendation for a Future Study ........... 136
Accommodating Various Student Learning/
Cognitive Styles ...... .................. 137
"Student-Driven" Teaching-Learning Process
Model .................................. 142
Recommendations ................ ............ 149
Leadership Implications ..................... 153




STUDENTS ................................... 166

STUDY ... .................................. 178

ANALYSIS OF ALL VARIABLES ................ 181

REFERENCES ......................................... 183

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ...... ........................ 195


Table Page

2-1 Cognitive Characteristics of Left and
Right Brain Hemispheres ............... 52

4-1 Student Demographic Data .................. 87

4-2 Multiple Regression of Learning/Cognitive
Styles Model (Reduced Model--Omitting
Learning Preference Dimensions) ........ 91

4-3 Beta Coefficients for the Learning/
Cognitive Styles Dimensions ............ 94

4-4 Multiple Regression of Learning Preferences
Model (Reduced Model--Omitting Learning/
Cognitive Style Dimensions) ............ 102

4-5 Beta Coefficients for the Learning
Preferences Dimensions ................ 104

4-6 Multiple Regression of Complete Learning/
Cognitive Styles and Preferences Model 108

4-7 Student Achievement Score by Program ...... 113

4-8 Step-wise Multiple Regression Model ....... 115


Figure Page

1-1 Kolb's Experiential Learning Model ......... 5

1-2 A Model of Rezler's Learning Preference
Dimensions ............................. 7

4-1 Relationship Between Student Achievement
Score and Abstract Conceptualization
Discrepancy Score ....................... 95

4-2 Relationship Between Student Achievement
Score and Active Experimentation
Discrepancy score ....................... 96

4-3 Students Who Were "Matched" and "Mismatched"
With Their Instructor's Learning/
Cognitive Style Type .................... 98

4-4 Distribution of Student Learning/Cognitive
Style Types ............................. 99

4-5 Relationship Between Student Achievement
Score and Concrete Discrepancy Score .... 105

4-6 Relationship Between Student Achievement
Score and College Grade Point Average ... 112

6-1 Teaching-Learning Process Model .......... 144


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Michael J. Banner

August 1989

Chairman: James W. Hensel
Major Department: Educational Leadership

The purpose of the study was to determine whether a

relationship existed between achievement and the degree of

matching between students and their instructors based on

learning/cognitive style theory or learning preference

theory, and whether one of these learning theories was

better in predicting student achievement.

Learning/cognitive style is the manner in which an

individual acquires, perceives, and processes information in

the learning situation. Learning preference is the choice

that an individual makes for one learning situation over


At the conclusion of a major course in the respiratory

therapy curriculum, students and their instructors from 11

respiratory therapy programs completed Kolb's Learning Style

Inventory (LSI) and Rezler's Learning Preference Inventory

(LPI); students also completed an achievement test.

Student-instructor discrepancy scores (student's score minus

instructor's score) calculated from the LSI and LPI

dimension scales were used to determine the degree of

matching, i.e., the lower the discrepancy scores the greater

the match. Multiple regression was used to analyze the

relationships between the degree of matching and the

students' achievement test scores.

Higher achievement scores correlated with greater

degrees of matching between students and their instructors

for the abstract conceptualization and active

experimentation dimensions of Kolb's theory and for the

concrete learning dimension of Rezler's theory. Using

Kolb's typology, students who were the same learning/

cognitive style type as their instructor had significantly

higher achievement scores than students who were a different

learning/cognitive style type. The learning/cognitive style

variables, as a group, accounted for a significant amount of

variance in predicting student achievement compared to the

learning preference variables. Thus, it may be inferred

that Kolb's theory of learning/cognitive style was better

than Rezler's theory of learning preferences in predicting

student achievement.

These data reveal that a learning environment congruent

with a student's predispositions for learning should be

provided to enhance learning and achievement. A

learning/cognitive style-responsive approach to education is



Knowledge of the ways that individuals perceive and

process information and their predispositions for specific

types of learning situations is relatively new.

Consequently, college faculty members and administrators

have not considered using this knowledge as a possible

means to improve the quality of higher education.

Specific cognitive processes affecting one's

learning/cognitive style vary from student to student.

Learning/cognitive style is the manner in which an

individual acquires, perceives, and processes information

in the learning situation (Cahill & Madigan, 1984).

Students also have preferences in the ways in which they

learn. Learning preference is the choice that an

individual makes for one learning situation over another

(Rezler & Rezmovick, 1981).

Levine (1978) contended that one of the major

problems in higher education is that student differences

are not adequately taken into consideration. "Uniform

types of instruction produce widely divergent results in

different students" (p. 205). Levine stated that

different types of instructor relationships work best for

different types of students, and implied that students as

well as their instructors have different learning/

cognitive styles and preferences. Cross (1976) made a

series of recommendations regarding student differences:

that instructors and students should be helped to gain

some insight into learning and teaching styles; that most

individuals will be happier and more productive when they

are studying via a method compatible with their

learning/cognitive style and learning preference; that no

one teaching method should be regarded as effective for

all students in all situations; and that educators should

be aware of the cognitive styles of students in order to

provide appropriate kinds of support, motivation, and


At least two schools of thought underlie the

processes of learning strategies and teaching regarding

learning/cognitive styles and learning preferences. One

school may be represented by Kolb (1984) and McKenny and

Keen (1974). This viewpoint is concerned with the

cognitive processes affecting one's learning/cognitive

style. The learner has discrete ways of perceiving,

organizing, and retaining information that are distinctive

and consistent. Two factors identified for human

cognitive processing are information gathering and

information evaluating (Dixon, 1982). Processing has also

been described as how an individual manipulates,

categorizes, and evaluates input information (Dixon,

1982). The basic concept is structuring of the teaching-

learning environment in a manner that is congruent with a

student's learning/cognitive style rather than forcing the

student to accommodate to a given teaching-learning

environment. Individual differences and

learning/cognitive styles are recognized with this


Kolb (1984) developed the Experiential Learning

Theory as a means of identifying learning/cognitive

styles. Kolb's model is portrayed as a cyclical process

with four cognitive dimensions: (a) concrete experience

(learning by feeling), learning from specific experiences,

relating to people, sensitivity to feelings and people,

and involving oneself fully, openly, and without bias in

new experiences; (b) reflective observation (learning by

watching and listening), learning by careful observation

before making a judgement, viewing things from different

perspectives, looking for the meaning of things, and

viewing experiences from many perspectives; (c) abstract

conceptualization (learning by thinking), learning by

logical analysis of ideas, systematic planning, acting on

an intellectual understanding of a situation, and creating

concepts that integrate one's observations into logically

sound theories; and (d) active experimentation (learning

by doing), learning related to the ability to get things

done, risk taking, influencing people and events through

action, and using previously learned theories to make

decisions and solve problems. For fully integrated

learning to occur, all dimensional activities eventually

must be utilized. Learning/cognitive style type is seen

as two-dimensional. One dimension relates to information

acquisition which ranges from concrete to abstract. The

other dimension relates to information processing ranging

from active to reflective. Four learning/cognitive style

types have been described: "diverger," "assimilator,"

"converger," and accommodatorr" (see Figure 1-1).

The other school of thought focuses on learning

preferences and may be represented by Rezler and Rezmovick

(1981) and Dunn and Dunn (1975). Learning preferences

refer to a student's preferred choices of methods of

instruction and relates to the "likes" and "dislikes" that

individuals have for particular modes of learning. This

frame of thinking is concerned with affective,

environmental, and, to some respect, cognitive aspects of

learning. Improvement and individualization of

instruction are accomplished by first identifying and then

providing methods of instruction that are appealing to the

learner. The same content of a course may be taught in


(learning by doge) (IlfnTg by watching
& ring)

I---- N ABSTmACT -4e
(lenming thinking)

Figure 1-1. Kolb's Experiential Learning Model. Learning
is a cyclical process of four cognitive dimensions:
concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract
conceptualization, and active experimentation (see text).
Note. From the Learning Style Inventory (p. 9) by D. A.
Kolb, 1985, Boston: McBer and Company. Copyright 1981 by
D. A. Kolb. Adapted by permission.

several ways to make it more palatable to the learner.

Students have a predilection for specific learning

preferences which may influence the degree of learning

that occurs. It is believed that efforts should be made

to provide methods of instruction that match student

preferences in order to promote student satisfaction and

achievement in the learning situation.

Rezler's approach consists of identifying a person's

learning preference profile based on six dimensions: (a)

individual, a preference for learning or working alone,

with emphasis on self-reliance and solitary tasks such as

reading; (b)interpersonal, a preference for learning or

working with others, with emphasis on harmonious relations

between students and teacher and among students; (c)

student-structured, a preference for learning via student

organized tasks, with emphasis on autonomy and self-

direction; (d) teacher-structured, a preference for

learning in a well-organized teacher-directed class, with

expectations, assignments, and goals that are clearly

identified; (e) abstract, a preference for learning

theories and generating hypotheses with focus on general

principles and concepts; and (f) concrete, a preference

for learning tangible, specific, practical tasks, with

focus on skills. One's learning preference profile is

determined by the six dimension scores (see Figure 1-2).

It is recommended that appropriate methods of instruction






Figure 1-2. A Model of Rezler's Learning Preference
Dimensions. Six dimensions are used to identify one's
learning preference profile: individual, interpersonal,
student-structured, teacher-structured, abstract, and
concrete (see text). As an example, the above profile is
indicative of a student who prefers learning abstract
concepts, learns without the aid of others, and who is
independent, autonomous, and learns best with minimal
guidance provided by the instructor.

should be provided on the basis of this profile. Because

of individual differences in learning preferences, one

method of instruction may be effective and please some

students but alienate others. Thus, it is felt that

learning is facilitated when methods of instruction are

provided that are compatible with one's learning


Instructors Teach in Ways That They Like to Learn

Witkin (1976) suggested that instructors teach in a

manner similar to the way in which they prefer to learn.

An instructor's teaching style appears to be influenced by

his or her learning/cognitive style and learning

preferences (Smith, 1982). Teaching style refers to an

instructor's characteristic behavior in the teaching-

learning situation (Smith, 1982). Smith (1982) contended

that teachers conduct instructional sessions with the

kinds of learning activities that they prefer when

learning. Giunta (1984) noted that instructors' teaching

styles were congruent with their own learning/cognitive

styles. Brillhart and Debs (1982) evaluated the learning

preferences of classroom instructors and reported there

was a direct correlation between how instructors taught

and how they learned. It would seem, therefore, that the

manner by which an instructor acquires, perceives, and

processes information in the learning situation

(learning/cognitive style) and the choice of a particular


method of instruction (learning preference) are related to

how an instructor perceives, processes, interprets, and

articulates information in the teaching situation

(teaching style).

Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Lawrence

(1982) noted that the kinds of questions and the ways in

which they were stated reflected an instructor's

preference for sensing (emphasis on sense perception,

facts, details, and concrete events) or intuition

(emphasis on possibilities, imagination, meaning, and

seeing things as a whole). Sensing types asked questions

seeking facts and details to which responses were

predictable. In contrast, intuitive instructors asked

questions which called for synthesis and evaluation, as

well as imagination and hypothesis formulation. It was

noted also that sensing instructors neglected synthesizing

and evaluating, while intuitive types gave little

importance to facts and details.

As previously stated, instructors as well as students

have different learning/cognitive styles and learning

preferences (Levine, 1978). It was noted also that

different types of instructor relationships work best for

different types of students. In a study involving

undergraduate students, Brown (1978) noted that when the

instructor's teaching style complemented the

learning/cognitive style of the students, achievement

(i.e., grade point average) was greater. Kuchinskas

(1979) reported that matches of learning/cognitive style

between the instructor and student and complementary

methods of instruction resulted in increased achievement,

whereas mismatches resulted in the reverse. Blagg (1985)

showed that when there was a mismatch between the

learning/cognitive styles of students and instructors,

students were not sufficiently motivated and the necessary

involvement in learning (study/homework time) did not

occur. Using a learning preference approach, Adams (1983)

reported greater student satisfaction and achievement

(i.e., higher grade point average) when the learning

preferences of students and their instructors were

matched. A prior, this would suggest that the greater

the degree of matching or congruency between students and

their instructors on the basis of learning/cognitive style

theory or learning preference theory, the greater might be

the communication and understanding between them. This

might subsequently result in greater student involvement,

satisfaction, and enjoyment in the teaching-learning

situation, and ultimately higher student achievement.

Learning/Cognitive Styles and Learning Preferences
in Allied Health Education

Interest in learning/cognitive styles and learning

preferences and their impact on the teaching-learning

process in allied health education has been described

(Edge, 1988). Educators in allied health professions have

focused most of their attention on curriculum design and

establishment of educational programs leading to

professional certification. Interest has been

demonstrated in increasing teacher effectiveness and

student learning efficiency. A major problem in allied

health education is the lack of knowledge about how people

prefer to learn (Llorens & Adams, 1976). In many allied

health professions (nursing, occupational therapy,

physical therapy, medical technology, dental hygiene, and

medical dietetics) formal evaluations of student and

faculty learning/cognitive styles, learning preferences,

and their relationships to educational outcomes have been

conducted (Barris, Kielhofner, & Bauer, 1985; Blagg, 1985;

Carrier, Newell, & Lange, 1982; Highfield, 1988; Hodges,

1988; Merritt, 1983; O'Kell, 1988; Payton, Hueter, &

McDonald, 1979).

Individuals aspiring to practice in many of the

allied health professions generally matriculate into

community colleges or four-year college programs.

Graduates of such programs are qualified to take state

and/or national board licensure examinations to become

registered or certified in their respective fields.

Respiratory therapy is one allied health profession, for

example, in which graduates are qualified to take a

national board certification examination in order to

become certified respiratory therapy technicians (CRTT).

The examination certifies technical competency in

respiratory therapy and allows one to practice at the

clinical level.

Reviewing pass/failure statistics from 1977 through

1987 revealed that candidates attempting the respiratory

therapy board examination passed at an average rate of

approximately 50% (Filippi, 1988). It is disconcerting

that a large percentage of graduates of respiratory

therapy programs fail the board examination resulting in a

shortage of certified respiratory therapy technicians

(O'Daniel, 1987). Hospital administrators and medical

staffs are in a potentially precarious position, i.e.,

being forced to consider hiring noncertified respiratory

therapy technicians to meet burgeoning manpower demands.

It is difficult to assess whether less than optimal

patient care will result when administered by non-

certified respiratory therapy personnel unable to pass

their own societal board examinations. Professional

certification achieved through a standardized examination

process assures at least a minimal level of competency

which is designed to protect the general public. Ideally,

all graduates of respiratory therapy programs should be

able to pass the board examination to become certified

respiratory therapy technicians.

A study of the teaching-learning approaches used in

respiratory therapy educational programs and the effects

on student achievement may have implications relating to

the low pass rate on the board examination. Such a study

could result in the identification of problematic areas,

according to Dr. Robert M. Kacmarek, Chairman of the

National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), Clinical

Simulation Examination Committee (personal communication,

March 9, 1987). A study of this nature had never been

conducted, and the results of such a study should indicate

weaknesses in respiratory therapy educational programs and

provide a basis for redress.

The Problem

The degree of matching between students and their

instructors based on Kolb's theory of learning/cognitive

styles and Rezler's theory of learning preferences is a

factor which may influence student achievement in

respiratory therapy educational programs. Various degrees

of matching may predispose to differential levels of

student achievement. It was contended that the greater

the degree of matching, the greater the level of student

achievement and vice versa. However, it was not clear

whether a relationship between student achievement and the

degree of matching between students and their instructors

differs when based on learning/cognitive style theory or

learning preference theory. The problem centered on two

key questions: (a) is there a relationship between

student achievement and the degree of matching between

students and their instructors based on Kolb's theory of

learning/cognitive styles and Rezler's theory of learning

preferences, and (b) which of the two learning theories

involving the degree of matching between students and

their instructors is a better predictor of student

achievement. The study was designed to determine if a

significant relationship between student achievement and

the degree of matching based on learning/cognitive style

theory of learning preference theory would be demonstrated

for students enrolled in a major course in respiratory

therapy. It may then be hypothesized that greater overall

learning for the entire respiratory therapy program might

result if efforts are made to teach students in ways that

are compatible with their learning/cognitive styles or

learning preferences. Pedagogic and administrative

implications are that the application of one or both of

these learning theories may be appropriate in facilitating

and promoting greater learning.


The following hypotheses were tested in this study:

Hypothesis 1. There is no significant relationship

between the actual level of student achievement and the

predicted level of achievement as a function of the

weighted linear combination of grade point average (GPA),

number of hours of homework per week, program, and the

concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract

conceptualization, and active experimentation

learning/cognitive style dimension discrepancy scores.

Hypothesis 2. There is no significant relationship

between student achievement and the student-instructor

discrepancy score (degree of matching between student and

instructor) on any of the four learning/cognitive style


Hypothesis 3. There are no differences in the actual

level of achievement for students who are the same

learning/cognitive style type ("matched") compared with

students who are a different learning/cognitive style type

("mismatched") from their instructor.

Hypothesis 4. There is no significant relationship

between the actual level of student achievement and the

predicted level of achievement as a function of the

weighted linear combination of GPA, number of hours of

homework per week, program, and the interpersonal,

individual, teacher-structured, student-structured,

abstract, and concrete learning preference dimension

discrepancy scores.

Hypothesis 5. There is no significant relationship

between student achievement and the student-instructor

discrepancy score (degree of matching between student and

instructor) on any of the six learning preference


Hypothesis 6. There is no significant change in the

proportion of explained variance (R2) in student

achievement when the learning/cognitive style set of

variables, as a group, are removed from the complete (all

variables) regression model.

Hypothesis 7. There is no significant change in the

proportion of explained R2 in student achievement when the

learning preference set of variables, as a group, are

removed from the complete (all variables) regression



This study was confined to students enrolled in

Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science respiratory

therapy educational programs. A cluster sampling of 143

students and their instructors from 11 respiratory therapy

programs in the northern, southern, eastern, and western

regions of the United States was studied. The major

variables in the study were student achievement and the

degree of matching of students and their instructors on

the basis of Kolb's learning/cognitive style dimensions

and Rezler's learning preference dimensions for a major

course in respiratory therapy.


1. In this descriptive, correlational, ex post facto

study, the researcher identified subjects in whom changes

in the independent variables had already taken place and

the researcher studied them in retrospect for their

possible effects on the dependent variable. The key

independent variables were the degree of matching between

students and their instructors on the basis of several

learning/cognitive styles and learning preference

variables. The dependent variable was the level of

student achievement for a major course in respiratory

therapy theory. The ex post facto design of this study

and the fact that learning/cognitive style and learning

preference inventories and an achievement test were

administered only once, precluded the advantages of an

experimentally designed study. The researcher was not

able to control all extraneous variables or to manipulate

the independent variables.

2. The results of this study were interpreted within

the limitations imposed by the validity and reliability of

the inventories and the achievement test used in the


3. Factors that may affect the external validity,

generalizability, or representativeness of the data

include variations in the data base that could possibly

occur with different groups of students at different

colleges and in a different academic year.

Need for the Study

A study identifying factors which may be influencing

student achievement in respiratory therapy educational

programs and also affecting the low pass rate on the

respiratory therapy board examination was needed so that

corrective interventions could be made. One may predict,

a prior, that the degree of matching between students and

their instructors based on learning/cognitive style or on

learning preference theories may be causal factors

affecting the student achievement. The greater the degree

of match between students and their instructor on the

basis of learning/cognitive style or learning preference

theory throughout the entire length of a respiratory

therapy program, the greater may be the degree of

achievement and possibly the greater likelihood of passing

the board examination. Results of this study should be

helpful in explaining the low pass rate on the board

examination. Respiratory therapy curriculum planners and

policy makers at the national and local levels could

benefit from the results of this study by using

information obtained from learning/cognitive style and

preference inventories to match students with appropriate

methods of instruction to improve student achievement.

Kolb's learning/cognitive style theory and Rezler's

learning preference theory were evaluated in this study.

A comparison of these related, but different viewpoints

could have important academic and practical implications.

Academically, such a study contributes to the scholarly

knowledge in the area of teaching-learning strategies used

in higher education. First, the relationship between the

degree of matching of students and their instructors,

based on Kolb's and Rezler's theories, and student

achievement had not been compared. If the degree of

matching based on one of these theories is associated with

greater student achievement, it could then be identified.

Second, if student achievement is favorably influenced by

matching students and instructors on the basis of

learning/cognitive style or learning preference theory,

then it may be possible to predict academic achievement

using multiple regression analysis. Predicting academic

achievement using Kolb's learning/cognitive style or

Rezler's learning preference variables is a novel approach

that heretofore had not been researched. Third, another

unique aspect of this research was the use of discrepancy

scores derived from the learning/cognitive style and

learning preference dimension scale scores as a means of

determining the degree of match between students and their

instructors. This technique allowed for various degrees

of matching to be recorded as a continuous variable based

on the discrepancy score, i.e., the smaller the

discrepancy score, the better the match (discrepancy score

= student's score on each dimension scale minus

instructor's score on each dimension scale). A fourth

point is that it may be possible, using step-wise

regression analysis, to select dimensions from Kolb's and

Rezler's theories which are significantly related to

student achievement. Thus, by combining select dimensions

from these two schools of thought, a new model may be

developed that is better than using either theory alone in

predicting student achievement. A fifth point was that

there was no reference in the literature describing the

learning/cognitive styles and learning preferences of

respiratory therapy students and their instructors and the

relationship these factors might have on student

achievement. In other allied health professions,

learning/cognitive styles and learning preferences had

been documented, but not in this major allied health

profession. Practically speaking, if student achievement

in respiratory therapy educational programs is related to

the degree of matching between students and their

instructors on the basis of learning/cognitive style or

learning preference theory, then application of one or

both of these approaches could have educational

implications. Such information would be useful in

evaluating current instructional practices and assessing

student achievement and the overall learning outcome in

respiratory therapy educational programs (i.e., pass/fail

rate on the national board examination).


The assumptions for this study were as follows:

1. The testing of the hypotheses relied on self-

reported data and it was assumed that subjects answered

all questions honestly. Systematic error caused by method

bias, therefore, may have affected any relationships that

were questioned.

2. It was assumed that the learning/cognitive style

and learning preference inventories used in this study

were appropriate for use with respiratory therapy

personnel and were applicable to this sample.

3. It was assumed that the published validity and

reliability data for the above inventories were correct.

4. It was assumed that, because of the study design,

generalizations to all students in the programs

represented could be made.

Definition of Terms

Allied health personnel are specially trained

individuals representing a variety of health related

professions who fulfill necessary functions, including

those of assisting, facilitating, and complementing the

work of physicians and other specialists in health care


The American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC)

is a national association of respiratory therapy personnel

formed to encourage, develop, and provide educational

programs for those persons interested in respiratory

therapy and diagnostics; advance the science, technology,

ethics, and art of respiratory care through institutes,

meetings, lectures, publications, and other materials;

facilitate cooperation and understanding among respiratory

care personnel, allied health professions, hospitals,

service companies, industry, government organizations, and

other agencies interested in respiratory care; and provide

education of the general public in pulmonary health

promotion and disease prevention.

The American Medical Association (AMA) is a national

association of medical practitioners and concerned

individuals which functions to promote standards of

medical and general health care. One function authorized

to this national association is to evaluate and approve or

disapprove graduate medical and undergraduate allied

health care educational programs.

Certification/registration is the process by which

states and professional bodies recognize the particular

competence of individual practitioners.

A certified respiratory therapy technician (CRTT) is

a graduate of an AMA accredited associate or bachelor of

science degree respiratory therapy program who has

successfully written the CRTT examination provided by the

National Board for Respiratory Care.

Degree of matching on the basis of learning/cognitive

style and learning preference dimensions refers to the

various degrees of matching between a student and his or

her instructor which are recorded as a continuous variable

based on the learning/cognitive style and learning

preference dimension discrepancy scores (discrepancy score

= student score on each dimension scale minus instructor

score on each dimension scale, i.e., the smaller the

discrepancy score, the better the match and vice versa).

Learning preference refers to the choice that an

individual makes for one learning situation over another.

The learning preference dimensions, as posited by

Rezler, refer to six dimension scales which describe an

individual's learning preferences: individual,

interpersonal, student-structured, teacher-structured,

abstract, and concrete.

The Learning Preference Inventory (LPI) is an

inventory developed by Rezler (1981) designed specifically

to identify the learning preferences of allied health

students. Results from the LPI may be used to match

learner preferences with learning conditions. An

individual's learning preferences are measured on six

scales representing three bipolar dimensions: individual

and interpersonal, student-structured and teacher-

structured, and abstract and concrete (see Figure 1-2 and

Appendix B).

Learning/cognitive style is the manner in which an

individual acquires, perceives, and processes information

in the learning situation.

The learning/cognitive style dimensions, as posited

by Kolb, refer to four dimension scales which describe an

individual's learning/cognitive style: concrete

experience, reflective observation, abstract

conceptualization, active experimentation.

The Learning Style Inventory (LSI) is an inventory

developed by Kolb (1985) to assess individual

learning/cognitive styles and is derived from Experiential

Learning Theory. The inventory measures an individual's

relative emphasis on four learning abilities: concrete

experience, reflective observation, abstract

conceptualization, and active experimentation (see Figure

1-1 and Appendix A).

Learning/cognitive style type is determined on the

basis of an individual's learning/cognitive style

dimension scale scores. Each person's learning/cognitive

style type is a combination of the four basic learning

modes of learning/cognitive style dimensions. Four

dominant learning/cognitive style types described by Kolb

are seen as two-dimensional: Diverger (concrete and

reflective), Assimilator (abstract and reflective),

Converger (abstract and active), and Accommodator

(concrete and active) (see Figure 1-1).

Licensure is the process by which states authorize

individuals to practice an otherwise restricted


"Matched" and "mismatched" on the basis of

learning/cognitive style types refer to either those

students who are of the same learning/cognitive style type

as their instructor and are thus classified as "matched,"

or those who are a different learning/cognitive style type

than their instructor and are classified as "mismatched."

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the

national certifying agency established by the AARC in

charge of administering the CRTT examination to graduates

of AMA accredited associate and bachelors in science

degree respiratory care programs.

Respiratory therapy (occupational description) is an

allied health specialty employed with medical direction in

the treatment, management, control, diagnostic evaluation,

and care of patients with deficiencies and abnormalities

of the cardiopulmonary system.



The notion that people learn differently is not a new

idea (Fizzell, 1984). Over 2,500 years ago, the ancient

Hindus viewed people as active or passive and as emotional

or thoughtful. Based on these characteristics, the Hindus

speculated that individuals needed four ways of practicing

religion that were congruent with their personality types-

-the four yogas or pathways--which are described in the

Bhagavad Gita. In the early 1900s, psychologists in

Germany were exploring the concept of cognitive style.

Carl Jung's work on "psychological types" was described in

1921. Gordon Allport used the word "style" to refer to

consistent patterns in individual behavior (Guild &

Garger, 1985). Allport (1937) described attitude,

interest, concept, and ideal as forms of mental

organization that result in and affect learning. In the

early 1940s, "concrete" and "abstract" styles of cognitive

functioning were described by Goldstein and Scheerer

(1941). Witkin and Asch (1948) postulated the bipolar

characteristic of being dependent or independent of

structure when discriminating figures against a background

relief as the manner in which individuals perceive and

relate to the world. Thurstone (1948) and later Guilford

(1959) recognized individual perceptual abilities and

flexibility as important factors in the teaching-learning


In the 1920s Thorndike reported that a student's

achievement was highly correlated with intelligence

(Henson & Borthwick, 1984). Yet the conditions set for

these studies were such that all students were given the

same type of instruction and the same amount of time to

learn. Years later, in 1963, John B. Carroll provided

students with a variety of teaching approaches and as much

time as they needed (Henson & Borthwick, 1984). The

results were that students' aptitudes proved not to be a

major factor in determining academic achievement. A major

implication of Thorndike's and Carroll's data is that

given sufficient time and correct teaching methods, most

students can learn or master the material set before them

and achieve at a high level (Henson & Borthwick, 1984).

This approach to learning recognizes that individual

learners have their own learning/cognitive style and

preferences and that a responsible approach for teachers

is to modify their teaching styles to accommodate

students' learning/cognitive styles and preferences so as

to promote academic achievement.

Learning/cognitive style is the manner in which an

individual acquires, perceives, and processes information

in the learning situation (Cahill & Madigan, 1984; Rezler

& Rezmovick, 1981). Learning preference is the choice

that an individual makes for one learning situation over

another (Cahill & Madigan, 1984; Rezler & Rezmovick,

1981). Learning/cognitive styles and preferences are the

result of personality characteristics that distinguish

individuals in a teaching-learning situation. Such

characteristics include a variety of attitudes and values

individuals have about learning, how they think, and how

they want information presented. One approach to

individualizing instruction is to accommodate the

learners' styles and preferences for various instructional

methods. It is useful to determine whether learners with

different styles prefer different instructional

activities. Such information might be helpful in

modifying instructional activities in order to optimize

the teaching-learning environment. Within a course, for

example, two or three options might be provided to

accommodate different preferences.

Congruency between student and faculty

learning/cognitive styles and preferences for methods of

instruction are thought to improve the learning

experience. Thus, the learning/cognitive styles and

preferences of students appear to be relevant factors that

should be considered in the development of a curriculum.

When there is a mismatch between the learning/cognitive

styles or preferences of students and faculty, students

are not sufficiently motivated and the necessary

involvement in learning does not occur (Blagg, 1985).

Learning/Cognitive Styles

Learning/cognitive styles or thinking styles are

information-processing regularities that are related to

underlying personality traits (Corno & Snow, 1986;

Messick, 1984). As Corno and Snow (1986) pointed out,

learning/cognitive styles are conceptually at the overlap

between individual differences in intellectual abilities

and personality characteristics. When a person

demonstrates a predisposition to favor a particular

cognitive strategy while learning, then he or she is

manifesting a learning/cognitive style. Because a

cognitive strategy is defined as a pattern of information-

processing activities that a person engages in when

confronted with a learning task, then learning/cognitive

style refers to cognitive strategies that one uses with

some cross-situational consistency (Schmeck, 1986). A

variety of learning/cognitive styles have been

investigated (e.g., convergence-divergence and

assimilation-accommodation, field independence-dependence,

deep and surface processors, etc.).

Learning/cognitive style is the unique way each

individual gathers and processes information, i.e., how an

individual manipulates, categorizes, and evaluates input

information (McKenny & Keen, 1974). Learning/cognitive

style differs from ability or intelligence. One style is

not presumed better than another. When using scores from

intelligence tests, it is obviously preferable to have a

higher score. This is not true with learning/cognitive

style instruments. For example, a high score on a scale

of "independent learning/cognitive style" is not presumed

to be better than a high score on a scale of "dependent

learning/cognitive style" (Fuhrmann & Jacobs, 1980).

The notion of learning/cognitive style attempts to

integrate learning theory in such a way as to make it

applicable to the educational process. Hilgard and Bower

(1966) discussed the concept of learning/cognitive style

and provided a means for integrating and differentiating

the major learning theories, i.e., cognition, motivation,

personality, and stimulus-response theories. Principles

emphasized in cognitive theory that apply to the learning

process include the following: (a) perceptual features,

how the individual takes in information from the

environment; (b) organization of knowledge for the

learning situation; (c) learning with understanding

(believed to be more permanent and more transferable than

rote learning by formula); (d) cognitive feedback, needed


to confirm whether knowledge is correct and to correct

faulty learning; (e) goal setting by the learner

(important motivator for learning, with successes and

failures determining future goals); and (f) divergent and

convergent thinking (divergent thinking leads to inventive

solutions to problems, while convergent thinking leads to

logically correct answers).

Hilgard and Bower (1966) pointed out that from

motivation and personality theory, these principles apply

to the learning process: (a) learners' abilities are

important and provisions must be made for differences in

these abilities; (b) postnatal development may be as

important as hereditary and congenital determiners of

ability and interest, the learner must be understood in

terms of the influences that have shaped the individual's

development; (c) learning is culturally relative; (d)

anxiety level may affect the learner's ability to learn;

(e) the same situation may tap different motives for

learning from one learner to another (situation

dependent); (f) organization of motives and values within

the learner are relevant to the learning situation; and

(g) atmosphere of learning, whether by competition versus

cooperation, authoritarianism versus democracy, or

individual versus group identification--affects both

learning satisfaction and the products of learning.

Concepts emphasized in stimulus-response theory, as

explained by Hilgard and Bower (1966), that may be

observed in the learning process follow: (a) active and

passive learning environments, whereby the learner is an

active doer rather than a passive listener; (b)

repetition, whereby the learner needs repetition to

acquire skill to a level that guarantees retention; (c)

reinforcement, whereby the learner needs reinforcement to

promote learning and retention; (d) practice, whereby

practice is needed in a variety of situations in order to

develop the ability to generalize and discriminate; (e)

models, whereby the learner needs models to imitate; and

(f) drive, whereby the intrinsic drive conditions of the

learner are important for the learning.

Jung (1976) explored the differences in the way

people perceive and process information. He defined four

categories: (a) feelers, transfer value for themselves to

what they experience; (b) thinkers, are more classically

rational, they engage in direct thinking and arrange what

happens and what they perceive into rational categories;

(c) sensors, they perceive consciously, but beyond reason,

and they apprehend the world by what they sense, see,

know, feel, smell, and reason; and (d) intuitors, they are

the reverse of sensors in that they unconsciously impose

control on perceptions, and also understand what they see

and feel in a whole and complete way.

Kolb, Rubin, and McIntyre's (1974) model of

learning/cognitive styles (see Figure 1-1) is based on

Experiential Learning Theory and is composed of four

dimensions or abilities: (a) concrete experience

(learning by feeling), (b) reflective observation

(learning by watching and listening), (c) abstract

conceptualization (learning by thinking), and (d) active

experimentation (learning by doing).

Experiential Learning Theory provides a model that

conceptualizes the learning process in such a way that

allows users to identify differences among individual

learning/cognitive styles and corresponding learning

environments (Kolb, 1984). The model is founded on the

Jungian concept of styles or types. The model's core is a

simple description of the learning cycle, showing how

experience is translated into concepts that, in turn,

guide the choice of new experiences. In this model

learning is conceived as a four-stage cycle. Immediate

concrete experience forms the basis for observation and

reflection. These observations are assimilated into

concepts from which new implications for action can be

deduced. These implications or hypotheses then serve as

guides in creating new experiences which the learner can

then test in more complex situations. The result is

another concrete experience, but this time at a more

complex level. Thus, the Experiential Learning Theory

model may be thought of as a "helix," with individuals

having new experiences, reflecting on them, deducing

generalizations about the experiences, and then using the

experiences as guides to further action at higher levels

of complexity (Claxton & Murrell, 1987).

The Experiential Learning Theory model may also be

viewed as a means to distinguish between what Kolb

describes as the two key elements in the learning process

(Kolb, 1984). The first is acquiring or grasping

information. Some people prefer acquiring information in

concrete ways (e.g., relating to people), while others

prefer abstract ways (e.g., logically sound concepts and

theories). The second element is processing or

transforming the information. Some people prefer to

reflect on experiences (e.g., contemplation, evaluation,

and judgment), while others transform experiences through

active experimentation (e.g., practical, "hands-on," doing


Kolb (1984) found that the four abilities described

combine to form four learning/cognitive style clusters.

Individuals who acquire information by relying on abstract

conceptualization and then process it through active

experimentation are classified as "convergers." They are

called convergers because such individuals like to find

specific, practical answers, and when presented with a

task they move quickly (converge) to find an answer. They

are relatively unemotional and prefer dealing with things

rather than people. "Assimilators" acquire information

through abstract conceptualization and process it through

reflective observation. Such individuals are called

assimilators because they like to assimilate disparate

pieces of information into a logical and integrated whole.

They are more interested in theoretical concerns and have

little interest in the practical application of ideas and

concerns about people. Their primary strength is their

ability to create conceptual and theoretical models.

Individuals who like to acquire information through

concrete experience and process it through reflective

observation are classified as "divergers." These

individuals are called divergers because they are good at

generating ideas and brainstorming. Their major strength

is their imaginative ability. Such individuals enjoy

working with people and tend to be emotional. Divergers

excel at examining concrete situations from many

perspectives and at generating ideas. Finally,

"accommodators" acquire information through concrete

experience and process it through active experimentation.

These individuals are called accommodators because they do

well in situations where they must adapt to meet new

experiences. These individuals are risk-takers, focus on

doing things, and having new experiences. They are

intuitive and often use a trial-and-error strategy when

solving problems. They are often impatient, and even

pushy, when confronted with a theory that does not match

the facts as they see them, whereby they tend to discard

theory (see Figure 1-1).

Kolb (1984) found that specific learning/cognitive

style types tend to gravitate to certain career fields.

He asserted that occupational disciplines attract

individuals with learning/cognitive styles congruent with

the structure of knowledge within the discipline.

Convergers typically have rather narrow interests and

often specialize in careers in technology, e.g.,

engineering, medicine, computer science, and physical

science. Assimilators are particularly good at research

and planning activities and usually gravitate toward

careers in science, e.g., teaching, mathematics, physical

sciences, and biology. Because of their people

orientation and ability to generate ideas, divergers enter

careers in service organizations, e.g., social work,

psychology, nursing, police, personnel management, and

organization development. Accommodators like a "hands-on"

approach and prefer action-oriented jobs such as careers

in business and promotion, e.g., marketing, government,

business, and retail.

These learning/cognitive style types suggest that

certain classroom procedures will fit certain student

types better than others (Baker & Marks, 1981; Baker,

Wallace, Bryans, & Klapthor, 1985; Carrier, Newell, &

Lange, 1982; Wunderlich & Gjerde, 1978). Convergers

probably would find laboratory experiments and problems

that have specific answers satisfying learning

experiences. Assimilators may make observations of

concepts in naturalistic settings, watch role plays and

simulations in class, and then generate concepts that

describe and tie together what has occurred. Divergers

may benefit more from discussion groups and working on

group projects. Accommodators may prefer problem-solving

activities and be good candidates to participate in

classroom role plays and simulation.

Kolb (1985) developed the learning style inventory

(LSI) (see Appendix A) to assess the four modes of

learning defined in his model of learning/cognitive style.

He suggested that the degree to which a person favors

particular stages of the cycle, indicated the

learning/cognitive style of that individual. Kolb's LSI

has been used extensively as the preferred

learning/cognitive style inventory for assessing the

learning/cognitive styles for both medical and allied

health personnel. The Kolb LSI has been examined as a

predictor for medical students' specialty choices

(Plovnick, 1975; Wunderlich & Gjerde, 1978) and has also

been used to determine the instructional preferences of

family practice physicians and internists (Leonard &


Harris, 1979; Sadler, Plovnick, & Snope, 1978; Whitney &

Caplin, 1978), as well as describing the

learning/cognitive styles of surgeons (Andrassy & Torma,

1982). Analyses of the learning/cognitive styles of

anesthesiologists have been reported in several reports

(Baker & Marks, 1981; Baker, Wallace, & Cooke, 1987;

Baker, Wallace, Cooke, Alpert, & Ackerly, 1986;

Eisenkraft, Reed, Eisenkraft, & Kaplin, 1985).

Highfield (1988) used the LSI to determine the

learning/cognitive styles of baccalaureate nursing

students. The assimilative style was the most dominant

learning/cognitive style type (55%), while a divergent

style (31%) was the second most frequently occurring type.

In a related study using Kolb's LSI to determine the

learning/cognitive style types of nursing students,

Laschinger and Boss (1984) found that divergers were the

most frequently occurring learning/cognitive style type.

Hodges (1988) indicated that the highest percentages of a

group of nursing students were divergers and

accommodators. O'Kell (1988) used the LSI to identify the

learning/cognitive styles of British nursing students.

Results indicated that approximately 66% of the students

had active learning/cognitive styles, characteristic of

accommodators and convergers. In a study designed to

assess the learning/cognitive styles of practicing nurses,

Christensen, Lee, and Bugg (1979) identified accommodation

and divergence as the predominant styles. The Kolb LSI

was used to determine the learning/cognitive styles of

nonregistered baccalaureate nursing students and

registered nurses enrolled in baccalaureate nursing

programs (Merritt, 1983). Results indicated that mean

score for reflective observation was significant for both

groups, suggesting divergent and assimilative types.

Thomas (1986) used the LSI to identify the

learning/cognitive style types of nurse administrators as

a means of assessing the nursing management team in one

institution. The director, associate, and assistant

directors of nursing who formed the top management group

were mostly convergers with some assimilators. In

contrast, the clinical coordinators were predominantly

accommodators while the clinical specialists and educators

were convergers, accommodators and divergers. In a study

of dental hygiene students and dental hygiene faculty,

Carrier, Newell, and Lange (1982) used Kolb's LSI to

determine the relationship of learning/cognitive styles to

preferences for instructional activities. The results

indicated that most students and faculty were located in

Kolb's accommodator and diverger categories. In a study

of occupational therapy students, the LSI was used to

examine the relationship between learning/cognitive styles

and student performance in academic and in clinical course

work (Cunningham & Trickey, 1983). Results showed no

significant correlation between the four

learning/cognitive style types and academic course work.

McKenney and Keen (1974) developed a cognitive style

model for the purpose of applying it to managerial

processes. Problem-solving and decision making are

conceptualized in the model. The authors "view problem-

solving and decision making in terms of the processes

through which individuals organize the information they

perceive in their environment, bringing to bear habits and

strategies of thinking" (p. 80). McKenney and Keen's

model addresses itself specifically to information

gathering and information evaluation. The information

gathering dimensions refer to individuals who are

predominantly perceptive or receptive. Perceptive

individuals focus on relationships between items and look

for deviations from or conformities with their

expectations. Receptive thinkers are sensitive to the

stimuli itself and focus on detail rather than

relationships. They derive the attributes of the

information from direct examination rather than from

fitting it into their precepts. The information

evaluation dimensions are related to problem-solving and

are identified as systematic and intuitive. The

systematic individual approaches a problem by structuring

it into some logical procedure or method. Intuitive

thinkers usually avoid committing themselves to a



formalized structure. They are more sensitive to cues and

are willing to jump from one method to another and to

discard information if the cues seem to indicate a change

would be advantageous.

McKenney and Keen's cognitive style model provides

some explanation of the ways individuals perceive and

process information in their environment. From a

managerial standpoint, the model describes a person's

unique cognitive style regarding problem recognition and

definition. The authors asserted that, ideally, the style

of the manager should "match" with the environment:

"There needs to be a fit between the decision maker's

cognitive style and the information-processing constraints

of his task. Given this fit, the manager is more likely

to gather environmental information that leads to

successful problem finding" (p. 82). As previously

described, "matching" a person's innate style to the

appropriate environment facilitates one to perform to his

or her full capability.

Regarding learning/cognitive style, an approach was

advanced by Pask (1976) who described two types of

learners: holists and serialists. Holists learn a topic

in a holistic manner or a global approach (seeking an

overall understanding). Such learners use a broad

framework of understanding into which they can fit more

detailed information. Holists study a subject from the

"top down"; i.e., they examine parts of the topic at the

higher levels of complexity and make connections between

them. Serialists focus their attention more narrowly on

pieces of information low in the hierarchial structure and

learn in a step-by-step manner (attempting to fully

understand each step before proceeding to the next). Such

learners use links to relate different aspects of the

subject, thus working in a "bottom up" approach so that

the overall picture is developed slowly, thoroughly, and

logically. The learning curve of the holist shows almost

no increase for a period of time and then makes a steep

incline as full understanding is achieved. The serialist

or step-wise learner has a more gradual and steady

increase in the learning curve. As each new understanding

builds upon the previous one, the curve gradually rises to

full understanding (Pask, 1976).

Witkin's (1977) dimensions of field-independence and

field-dependence are also important information processing

considerations. Individuals who are relatively

uninfluenced by the surrounding environment or field are

called "field-independent"; those who are heavily

influenced by the surrounding field are called "field-

dependent." Field-independent students perceive things

clearly from the background, while field-dependents are

influenced by the overall background and see parts of the

field as "fused" (Keefe, 1986). The field-independent

learner tends to be highly analytic and systematic, while

the field-dependent learner is more holistic in his or her

approach to learning. Field-dependents are more strongly

influenced by authority figures and by peer groups than

are field-independents. Witkin (1976) posited that field-

independent persons were encouraged at an early age to be

autonomous. Thus, child-rearing experiences appear to be

important factors causing individuals to be field-

independent or field-dependent.

Witkin (1977) developed the Group Embedded Figures

Test to identify field-independent and field-dependent

information processing types. His research revealed that

field-independent persons learned more if allowed to place

their own structure on information, while field-dependent

persons were dependent on the context in which the

material was embedded to provide structure. Thus, a

student who is field-independent may have a strong dislike

for self-paced modules which allow little room for the

learner to reorganize the ideas into his or her framework.

As with most learning/cognitive style considerations,

individuals who are field-independent are not better

learners than those who are field-dependent, although each

is more proficient at certain types of tasks.

Witkin (1976) described the concepts of field-

independence and field-dependence as important factors in

a student's selection of a major area of study, a course,


and a career. Field-independent students favored areas of

study that called for analytic skills, such as

mathematics, engineering, and science. Whereas field-

dependent students favored subject areas that involved

extensive interpersonal relations, such as social

sciences, humanities, counseling, teaching, and sales.

Among nursing students, for example, the more field-

independent students chose surgical nursing, while the

more field-dependent students chose psychiatric nursing

(Witkin, 1976). Regarding careers in teaching, Witkin

noted that teachers in the areas of mathematics and

science were more likely to be field-independent. Field-

independent teachers preferred the lecture method, while

field-dependent teachers preferred discussion methods of


Hill (1976) developed a comprehensive approach to

assessing the cognitive components of learning/cognitive

styles known as cognitive mapping. This approach is based

on the fact that individuals have certain preferences for

the processes used to gather information, think and make

inferences, and make decisions. The individual's

learning/cognitive style includes the following

categories: (a) gathering information refers to the

sensory modalities that individuals prefer to use; (b)

thinking and making inferences refers to how individuals

process information; (c) decision making processes is the

extent to which individuals make decisions for themselves,

rather than consulting others; and (d) interest in self,

others, and objects. These four general categories are

expanded into 27 specific cognitive characteristics in

Hill's Cognitive Style Mapping Inventory. These aspects

have been used to assess classroom procedures and courses

compatible with a student's style.

Sims and Ehrhardt used Hill's cognitive style mapping

approach on community college students and subsequently

informed the students of their results (Claxton & Murrell,

1987). The students felt that their maps had given them

helpful information on how they learned, helped them adapt

to different teaching approaches, and many had actually

changed the way they studied. Using Hill's cognitive

style mapping, Fourier (1980) conducted a study to

determine whether undergraduate students who were mapped

and had their learning/cognitive style explained to them

would achieve better grades. The results were that the

students who had their learning/cognitive styles explained

to them achieved significantly higher grades than students

who were not aware of their learning/cognitive styles.

Ehrhardt (1983) discussed the possibility of using Hill's

cognitive style mapping approach as an aid to medical

students experiencing difficulty to help them deal with

their studies, and also an aid to the faculty by providing

them with a way to counsel the students. In another

study, Flippo and Terrell (1984) applied Hill's cognitive

style mapping to undergraduate students and subsequently

informed each student of his or her learning/cognitive

style type. The students indicated that knowledge of

their learning/cognitive styles was useful to them in

gaining greater skill in studying and college work in


In other studies of student learning/cognitive

styles, Marton (1975) found two distinctive

learning/cognitive style approaches: deep level and

surface processing. The "deep level processing approach"

may be characterized as an active search for meaning. For

example, users of this learning/cognitive style approach

start with the intention of understanding an article; they

question the author's arguments and conclusions and try to

relate them to previous knowledge and previous experience

to enable them to appraise the validity of the author's

conclusions. In contrast, users of the "surface level

processing approach" try to memorize those parts of the

article on which they think they might be questioned.

They tend to focus on specific facts which may not be

connected and they seem anxious about the conditions of

the learning experience. The deep level processing

approach was found to be associated with deeper

understanding, and even after a five-week interval the

users of this approach had better recall of detail than

those who use the surface approach (Marton & Saljo, 1976).

Using GPA as an index of academic achievement in college

students, Miller, Alway, and McKinley (1987) tried to

identify the learning/cognitive styles associated with

high academic performance. It was found that the deep

processing style (which focuses differences and

similarities among subjects, organization of information,

and a critical analysis of relationships) and related

strategies seem to be the most efficient learning styles

in obtaining higher GPAs. An implication of this paper is

that programs designed to improve academic achievement

should address the relationships between

learning/cognitive styles and achievement.

Schmeck (1983) defined a learning/cognitive style

model as "a predisposition on the part of some students to

adopt a particular learning strategy regardless of the

specific demands of the learning task" (p. 233). Similar

to Marton's classification, two learning/cognitive styles

were identified in terms of how people process

information: "deep elaborative" information processors

and "shallow-reiterative" information processors. Deep-

elaborative information processors spend more of their

time thinking and less time repeating. They classify,

contrast, analyze, and synthesize information from

different sources. They elaborate by thinking of personal

examples and restating information in their own words.

They draw upon the depth and breadth of their experiences.

Shallow-reiterative information processors spend much of

their study time repeating and memorizing information in

its original form. They prefer to assimilate information

as given rather than rewording, restating, or rethinking

it (Schmeck, 1981). In terms of academic achievement,

Schmeck (1981) reported that students who were deep-

elaborative processors demonstrated faster learning,

better memory, and higher grade point averages.

Lawrence (1986) posited that learning/cognitive style

is one reflection of personality type. In describing the

relationship of personality type and learning/cognitive

style, he contended that the key element is the dominant

mental process in each personality. Using Jungian theory,

Myers (1962) developed an approach for identifying

personality types. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

identifies four matched sets of variables, or bipolar

characteristics related to personality type

identification, and is used to identify individuals

according to 16 different personality types. An

"extroversion/introversion" scale indicates the way in

which an individual directs interest and attention,

whether to the outer world of objects, people, and action

or to the inner world of ideas, theorizing, and

contemplation. A "sensing/intuitive" scale indicates an

individual's preference for perceiving things, either

through input through sensory modalities or through

intuition. A "thinking/feeling" dimension provides

information as to whether an individual prefers to analyze

and apply impersonal logic or prefers to be guided by

personal values and feelings. Lastly, a

"judging/perceptive" preference reflects one's attitude

toward approaching the outer world. Those who demonstrate

the judging component prefer to live in an organized,

planned, orderly manner; those with a perceptive component

prefer a more flexible, spontaneous, and open manner.

Lawrence (1986) described Myers's approach to

personality identification as one that can be related to

learning/cognitive style. If a student is "thinking"

dominant, learning occurs best when activities are

organized in a logical manner. In a "feeling" dominant

type, a caring relationship with the instructor is

essential to maintain motivation and achievement.

"Sensing" dominant individuals learn best in environments

where the subject matter is presented as practical and

functional. Lacking imagination, such individuals may

become lost if the instructor omits steps in his or her

explanation. These students lack the ability to make

conceptual leaps. For such students, concrete learning

activities are most appropriate. "Intuitive" dominant

individuals desire inspiration from the instructor more

than other types. Such students enjoy learning through


new ideas, projects, and planning. "Extrovert" dominant

individuals process information predominantly through

"thinking" or "feeling," while "introvert" dominant

personality types rely on "sensing" or "intuition" (Myers,


Lawrence (1982) reported that teachers of different

Myers-Briggs types are attracted to different levels and

different subject matter. Sensing teachers choose lower

levels of education and are more likely to teach practical

skills with facts and details, while intuitive teachers

are more likely to be found in colleges and universities

teaching courses rich in abstraction and theory.

McCaulley and Natter (1980) stated that "in essence,

teachers tend to understand and appreciate students whose

minds are like their own" (p. 185).

Neurologic Basis of Learning/Cognitive Styles:
Left and Right Brain Hemispheric Differences

The essence of how different people think and solve

problems and how individuals differ regarding

learning/cognitive styles as influenced by the left and

right hemispheres of the brain is captured in Blakeslee's

(1986) statement:

One can have a "feel" for throwing a ball which
involves many subtle, and intuitive corrections
for movement of the receiver, wind, sloping
terrain, etc. This is possible without any
verbal or analytical knowledge of the equations
or principles involved. On the other hand, the
mathematician who programs gunnery computers may
be an expert in the left brain knowledge of

trajectory--yet have no "feel" whatsoever for
throwing a ball. (p. 190).

The human brain is a composite of two interacting

systems--the left and right hemispheres--each capable of

it's own processing approach and mode of memory

functioning (Sinatra, 1986). Investigations of brain

function in normal people reveal that the two hemispheres

may be differentiated on the basis of cognitive processing

characteristics (see Table 2-1). The left hemisphere was

determined to be inductive, sequential, detailed, and

analytical in nature, storing and retrieving information

in code such as numbers or words. While the right

hemisphere was found to be deductive, observing whole

concepts, filling in gaps and storing and retrieving

information as images and pictures (Tipps, Sanders, &

Languis, 1982). It is felt that the learning process

cannot be accomplished by either side of the brain alone,

but represents an integrated activity of both hemispheres.

Levy (1986) described this style of information processing

as "interhemispheric integration." Both hemispheres play

critical roles in organizing the perceptual and cognitive

processes that are prerequisite to understanding and

learning (Levy, 1986). Zenhausern (1986) applied the term

"neuroeducation" to that aspect of education that focuses

on the interaction of brain behavior in the learning


Table 2-1

Cognitive Characteristics of Left and Right Brain
Hemispheres (Keefe. 1986)

Left Hemisphere

sequential processing style (organizes one fact after

inductive (going from the parts to the whole)

analytic, parts-specific thinking style and mode of
problem solving



verbal understanding of concepts

field-independent (perceives things clearly from a
background field)

Right Hemisphere

parallel processing style (all facts conceptualized
at once, as a whole)

deductive (going from the whole to the parts)

global or holistic mode of problem solving




nonverbal perceptual understanding (hunches or "feel"
for something)

field-dependent (influenced by the overall
organization of the background and sees parts of the
field as "fused")

There is evidence that individual differences among

people exist to the extent that one hemisphere is more

differentially aroused or active in the learning situation

(Zenhausern, 1986). Physiologic evidence supporting the

notion of hemispheric dominance has revealed that people

differ in the asymmetry of blood flow to the two sides of

the brain, and that those having an asymmetric flow in

favor of the right hemisphere perform better in learning

situations favoring right hemispheric activities (Levy,

1986). Bradshaw and Nettleson (1981) differentiated the

two hemispheres in terms of their respective processing

styles: sequential for the left hemisphere (organizes one

fact after another) and parallel for the right hemisphere

(all facts conceptualized at once, as a whole). The

learning/cognitive style of some students may favor

sequential processing while parallel processing may be

used more frequently by others (Zenhausern, 1986).

Along this line of thinking an indictment of our

school system has arisen; the traditional approach to

education is geared too much in favor of the left-brained,

analytic, inductive learner (Blakeslee, 1986; Brennan,

1986; Levy, 1986; Sinatra, 1986; Zenhausern, 1986).

Brennan (1986) noted that in any given classroom there are

probably an approximately equal number of left-brained

dominant and right-brained dominant students. "We present

all parts of a given lesson and expect students to be able

to piece the puzzle together and 'get the picture'" (p.

212). Thus, it is not surprising that right-brained

dominant learners fail to develop in such an educational

environment. In order to improve the quality of

education, consideration should be given to meet the

learning predispositions and needs of all students. Hart

(1978) stated that on the basis of neurologic studies, all

students cannot be expected to learn in traditionally

structured classrooms. In another report, Hart (1986)

stated that "to expect that the brain is to be comfortable

with typical schooling is absurd. We need brain-

compatible schools that accept the brain as it is" (p.

199). It has been well established that people do not

process information in the same way (Kolb, 1984). A goal

of education based on learning/cognitive styles should

therefore be to make the teaching strategies of the

instructor compatible with the learning/cognitive styles

of the students (Zenhausern, 1986).

Blakeslee (1986) pointed out a potential complication

of employing an educational approach that attempts to

match too closely the teaching strategies and educational

environment to the learning/cognitive styles of the

student. He contended the possibility of "one-sided

development" of the brain using the learning/cognitive

styles concept. He stated that

because a student tends to favor a left- or
right-brain approach does not mean that we

develop only the favored approach. To do so
is to reinforce habit. The ideal would be
to develop both halves of the brain and their
ability to work together. (p. 191)

Further, he posited that educators should not classify

students as left-brain or right-brain types and then teach

accordingly, for such an approach would allow the weaker

mode of brain processing to atrophy--a grievous mistake.

Sinatra (1986) contended that "the development of the

diverse potential of both brain hemispheres is preferable

to the development of one hemisphere" (p. 205). If one

accepts this position, then it would seem that if one side

of the brain was overlooked, the student may never realize

his or her full potential.

Learning Preferences

Learning preference models have been an emerging area

in the study of student learning. Investigators in this

area have been interested in discovering the preferences

that students have for study methods, instructional media,

course format, general environmental and sociological

learning preferences, and other dimensions of classroom-

related learning. The instruments that have been

developed to identify these learning preferences are

grounded directly in the classroom experiences of the

students. Many authors have described student learning

preference models by inappropriately referring to them as

"learning style" models. Such a designation is misleading

because these authors do not base their theoretical

premises on discernable cognitive patterns of information

acquisition and processing, but rather on preferred

classroom-related learning activities. Thus, the scales

on learning preference inventories refer to specific

aspects of the classroom and do not have the general

nature of the items found in Kolb's, Witkin's, or Hill's

models for example.

A learning preference theory developed by Rezler and

Rezmovick (1981) gives a specific classroom frame of

reference to several learning preference dimensions.

Their approach is based on six dimensions or three bipolar

pairs of dimensions to register preferences for the

following kinds of learning: (a) individual, (b)

interpersonal, (c) student-structured, (d) teacher-

structured, (e) abstract, and (f) concrete (see Figure


Rezler and Rezmovick's learning preference theory is

a potentially useful approach whereby health professions

educators could identify the learning preferences of their

students. Assessment of learning preferences would help

to match students with learning conditions that they find

rewarding. Health professions educators could also use

information about student learning preferences to assign

the same task under different conditions to different

students. For example, the same problem solving task may

be addressed by some students individually and by others

in small groups. By the same token, some students may be

given complete freedom in selecting a task while others

may prefer highly structured assignments given by the


The Learning Preference Inventory (LPI) was

constructed specifically to measure the affinity for

different modes of learning of allied health students

(Rezler, 1983; Rezler & French, 1975) (see Appendix B).

Rezler and French (1975) used the LPI to assess the

learning preferences of students in six allied health

professions (i.e., medical art, medical dietetics, medical

laboratory sciences, medical record administration,

occupational therapy, and physical therapy). The primary

conclusion was that it is more important to identify

individual differences within a health profession than to

identify differences among the professions, if teachers

wish to adjust their teaching styles to student

preferences in learning. The majority of all six groups

preferred to devote their attention to concrete tasks

assigned by the teacher. In a related study using a

learning preference inventory similar to that described by

Rezler, Ostmoe (1984) evaluated the learning preferences

of students in various allied health programs. It was

found that most students preferred learning strategies

which were traditional in nature, teacher-directed, and

highly organized with learning experiences of a concrete

rather than an abstract nature. Ferrell (1978)

investigated the learning preferences of adult learners

returning to school to earn an associate degree in

nursing. The findings were that the students preferred

traditional strategies of drill, recitation, and lecture.

Rogers and Hill (1980) administered Rezler's LPI to

students enrolled in bachelor's and master's degree

programs in occupational therapy and found that both

groups of students preferred learning experiences that

were teacher-structured, concrete, and interpersonal. In

another study involving baccalaureate students in

occupational therapy (Cahill & Madigan, 1984), the

influence of curriculum format on the stability of

learning preferences was examined. It was found that

learning preferences (as identified by the LPI) remained

stable over a prolonged period of time, even though the

students were exposed to different modes of instruction.

Barris, Kielhofner, and Bauer (1985) administered the LPI

to undergraduate and graduate occupational therapy

students and to undergraduate physical therapy students in

order to assess the relationships between learning

preferences, values, and student satisfaction. Although

all three groups conformed to a profile of preferring

teacher-structured, concrete, interpersonal learning, the

graduate occupational therapy students appeared to give

greater emphasis to universal social values and to have a

stronger preference for abstract learning than both groups

of undergraduates. The results revealed that learning

preferences of individual students should be considered

when designing learning experiences in order to match

teaching methods with learning preferences which may

result in greater learning and retention.

Dunn and Dunn (1975) advocated matching various

student learning preferences with appropriate teaching

approaches. When students learned in ways that were

natural to them, the outcomes usually were increased

academic achievement, improved self-esteem, a liking for

learning, improved basic skills, stimulated creativity,

and gradually increased learner-independence. Conversely,

when students were forced to adjust their learning

preferences to whatever teaching approaches were used,

learning was made more difficult. This caused frustration

and a decrease in students' confidence in themselves.

Dunn and Dunn devised a learning preferences model based

on student preferences for environmental stimuli (sound,

light, temperature, and classroom design); emotional

stimuli (motivation, persistence, responsibility, and

structure); sociological stimuli (prefers to work alone,

with another peer, with a small group of peers, with the

teacher or with another adult); and physical stimuli

(perceptual preferences, food intake, time of day, and


Canfield's (1980) model of learning preferences deals

with learners' preferences in formal instructional

situations for various aspects of the conditions under

which learning takes place and some sensory system modes

of learning. Four conditions of learning are seen as

influencing individual responsiveness to the teaching-

learning situation: (a) affiliation, a desire for

friendly relations with peers and instructors; (b)

structure, a desire for orderly and well-defined course

structure and detailed information relative to

requirements; (c) achievement, a desire for freedom to set

one's own goals and work independently in a study

situation; and (d) eminence, a desire for opportunities to

compare one's performance with others, have order strictly

maintained, and learn from a knowledgeable instructor.

The four sensory modes of learning or learning preferences

are defined as (a) listening, a desire to learn through

hearing content presented; (b) reading, a desire to learn

through examining print media; (c) iconics, a desire to

learn through viewing content presented in media such as

slides and films; and (d) direct experience, a desire to

learn through handling content-related material or active

participation in exercises.

Llorens and Adams (1976) used Canfield's model on

undergraduate and graduate occupational therapy students

and showed that students preferred teaching conditions

that permitted more personal relationships with

instructors. In addition to having opportunities to set

their own objectives and to work alone and independently,

the students showed a high preference for working with

people and for direct experience in their learning modes.

Using Canfield's model, Ommen, Brainard, and Canfield

(1979) compared the learning preferences of older (greater

than or equal to 28 years of age) and younger (less than

or equal to 23 years of age) college students. Older

students preferred traditional instructional formats

(listening, reading, organized and detailed materials, and

less independence), while younger students preferred

iconics and direct experience as learning modes.

Grasha and Riechmann (1974) developed a social-

interaction approach to learning preferences based on how

students interact with their instructor, other students,

and the methods of instruction used. Six types of

students were identified: (a) competitive, exhibited by

students who learn material in order to perform better in

the class, such individuals feel they must compete with

other students in class for rewards, they regard the

classroom as strictly a win-lose situation in which they

must win; (b) collaborative, typified by students who feel

they can learn the most by sharing ideas and talents with

others, they cooperate with teachers and peers, such

students see the classroom as a place for learning and for

interacting with others; (c) avoidant, demonstrated by

students who are not interested in learning course content

in the traditional classroom, they do not participate with

students and teachers in the classroom, (d) participant,

manifested by students who want to learn course content

and like to go to class, they assume responsibility for

learning from classroom activities, such students

participate with others when told to do so; (e) dependent,

manifested by students who show little intellectual

curiosity and who learn only what is required, they see

the teacher and peers as sources of structure and support,

these students look for authority figures for guidelines,

and want to be told what to do; and (f) independent,

exhibited by students who like to think for themselves,

they prefer to work on their own but will listen to the

ideas of others in the classroom, such people learn the

content they feel is important and are confident in their

learning abilities. Most individuals are seen as having a

learning preference profile composed of all roles with

some used more often than others.

Subsequently, Riechmann and Grasha (1974) determined

classroom activity learning preferences for teaching

methods for each student type. Competitive students were

comfortable with a variety of teaching methods, so long as

the focus is instructor-centered rather than student-

centered. These types of students enjoyed serving as

group leaders in classroom projects and discussions.

Collaborative students preferred lectures with class

discussion in small groups. Avoidant students were

generally negative about any classroom activities. Such

students preferred self-evaluation and did not like

enthusiastic instructors. Participant students preferred

lectures with discussions and enjoyed instructors who

could analyze and synthesize material well. Dependent

students preferred the instructor to outline all

assignments and always use instructor-centered classroom

methods. Independent students preferred self-paced

instruction, assignments that gave them a chance to think

for themselves, and a student-centered rather than an

instructor-centered classroom setting.

Eison and Moore (1980), using Grasha and Riechmann's

model, asked the question whether the learning preferences

of traditional college age students (18 to 22 years of

age) differed from those of adult students. It was found

that younger students were more likely to experience

greater tension and anxiety than older students. Adult

students were more likely to be oriented toward the

pursuit of knowledge than for course grades. Further,

traditional age students were more of the avoidant

(uninterested or overwhelmed by what goes on around them)

and competitive types (view the classroom as a win-lose

situation, in which they must always win). These students

generally had lower levels of interest in the course and

decreased interest in getting the most out of class. In

contrast, adult students scored higher on the participant

scale and indicated that they wanted to participate as

much as possible in classroom activities. In terms of

learning activities, traditional age students preferred

short and frequently administered quizzes drawn from

clearly specified study questions, graded assignments, and

extra credit activities. Adult students were less

concerned with the instructor's testing policy, enjoyed

less structured learning opportunities, and worried less

about grades.

Milton, Polio, and Eison (1986) identified learning

preferences in terms of students' attitudes toward

learning and grading and devised a typology consisting of

four student types: (a) high learning orientation/high

grade orientation, such students are highly motivated both

to learn and to achieve high grades, e.g., pre-medicine

and pre-law students; (b) high learning orientation/low

grade orientation, these students are interested in

educational enrichment and personal growth; (c) low

learning orientation/high grade orientation, the primary

interest of these students is to achieve a good grade; and

(d) low learning orientation/low grade orientation, such

students attend college to have a good time or to avoid

getting a job.

Friedman and Stritter (1981) developed a learning

preference inventory focusing entirely on preferences for

various types of instructional processes. The

Instructional Preference Questionnaire is a 57-item

instrument on which students are asked to agree or

disagree with certain items or to indicate how beneficial

they would be to their learning. Five primary dimensions

are measured by the instrument: (a) involvement in

determining course content, (b) preferred instructional

media, (c) formal course structure, (d) discovery

learning, and (e) reality testing.

Gregorc (1979) developed a four-scale dimensional

model to determine preferences for learning approaches:

concrete sequential, concrete random, abstract sequential,

and abstract random. The concrete sequential learning

preference is characterized by a finely turned ability to

derive information through direct, hands-on experience.

These students exhibit a high level of sensory

sensitivity, they prefer touchable concrete materials in

the classroom and specific step-by-step directions. Such

individuals prefer order and logical sequence in the

presentation of material. These students prefer

workbooks, demonstration teaching, programmed instruction,

and well-organized field trips. The concrete random

learning preference is characterized by an experimental

trial-and-error attitude in which the individual

demonstrates an uncanny ability to make intuitive leaps in

exploring unstructured problem-solving experiences. These

students do not prefer step-by-step learning methods that

deny them opportunities to find their own way. Such

individuals work well independently or in small groups and

prefer games, simulations, independent study projects, and

problem-solving activities. The abstract sequential

learning preference exhibits excellent decoding abilities

in the areas of written, verbal, and image symbols. These

types of learners tend to think abstractly and use

conceptual "pictures" as they learn. They prefer to learn

through reading and listening and desire orderly, rational

presentations. The abstract random learning preference is

distinguishable by the attention given human behavior and

an extraordinary ability to sense and interpret

"vibrations." This type of student is "tuned" to nuances

of mood and atmosphere. This type of learner associates

the medium with the message in that the speaker's manner

of presentation and personality is closely tied to the

message being delivered. Thus, these students globally

evaluate the learning experience. Such students prefer to

learn in an unstructured manner and like group

discussions, question-and-answer sessions, movies, and

television (Gregorc & Ward, 1977).

Fuhrmann and Jacobs (1980) developed a model that

discriminates three classroom learning preference styles:

(a) dependent style refers to the learner's needs for

structure, direction, external reinforcement, and

encouragement; (b) collaborative style refers to the

learner's needs for interaction, practice, probing self

and others, observation, participation, peer challenge,

peer esteem, and experimentation; and (c) independent

style refers to the learner's needs for internal

awareness, experimentation, time, and nonjudgmental

support. In a situation where students have little or no

prior experience, a dependent learning preference style is

appropriate. In a course or curriculum that emphasizes

group problem solving, a collaborative style is suitable.

Students with an independent style may opt for courses

where options are available to choose independent means of

accomplishing learning objectives. Fuhrmann and Jacobs

(1980) stated that individuals learn in all three styles

but may prefer a particular style in a given situation,

based on personal preferences and the unique

characteristics of the subject to be learned or the

activity in which to be engaged. In this model, no one

style is better than another, although one may be more

appropriate for a given individual or in a given


In addition to describing the learner's needs,

Fuhrmann and Jacobs described the instructor's role and

the appropriate teaching behavior for each learning

preference style (Fuhrmann & Grasha, 1983). For the

dependent style learner, the instructor's role is one of

expert and the teaching behavior is lecturing,

demonstrating, and assigning. For the collaborative style

learner the instructor's role is co-learner, environment-

setter, and one of participation and the teaching behavior

is interacting, questioning, providing resources,

modeling, providing feedback, coordinating, evaluating,

and managing. Regarding the independent style learner,

the instructor's role includes internal awareness and

nonjudgmental support and the teaching behavior includes

allowing, providing requested feedback, providing

resources, consulting, negotiating, and evaluating.

Congruency--Student and Faculty Learning/Cognitive
Styles and Preferences

Greater learning appears to result when teaching

styles of the faculty are congruent with the

learning/cognitive styles and preferences of the students

(Eisenkraft, Reed, Eisenkraft, & Kaplin, 1985). Cafferty

(1981), using Hill's cognitive style mapping approach,

reported a higher GPA for students who were more closely

matched to the learning/cognitive styles of their

instructors. Conversely, the greater the dissonance

between the two, the lower the GPA. In another study

using Hill's cognitive style matching approach, Terrell

(1976) found that students whose learning/cognitive style

matched the instructional mode tended to achieve higher

grades and experienced greater reduction in anxiety than

nonmatched students. Fiske (1981) described how "teachers

adjusted schooling to fit the students "individuality" by

responding to students' learning/cognitive styles. Using

this approach, significant gains in reading scores and

other traditional measures of academic performance

resulted. Others demonstrated that when faculty and

students had similar learning/cognitive styles and

preferences, the faculty were more attuned to the needs of

the students and greater learning resulted (Carrier,

Newell, & Lange, 1982). Deep (1988) indicated that when

there is a mismatch between the teaching style used and

the learning/cognitive styles and learning preferences of

students, the result is a loss of motivation (less

study/homework time) and a failure to achieve (GPA).

Baker, Wallace, Cooke, Alpert, and Ackerly (1986), using

Kolb's model, reported that resident physicians

(anesthesiologists) enrolled in a formal postdoctoral

training program scored higher in clinical skills and

knowledge when matched with faculty members of the same

learning/cognitive style type. Hunt (1975) and Witkin

(1977), using Witkin's model, indicated that greater

learning took place when the learner was matched with the

appropriate process, and that time needed for learning was

reduced. Witkin (1976) noted that when students and

teachers were matched and mismatched in terms of field-

dependence and field-independence, the matched students

described each other positively, and the mismatched

subjects described each other negatively. When the

teachers described their students' abilities, they placed

greater value on the attributes of students who were like

themselves. Similarly, the students felt more positively

about the teachers who were like themselves in terms of

learning/cognitive styles. Douglass (1979) identified

students who favored inductive or field-independent (left

hemisphere) and deductive or field-dependent (right

hemisphere) processing styles and then matched and

mismatched instruction accordingly. When inductive

students used inductive materials and when deductive

students used deductive materials, achievement increased;

when the students and the resources were mismatched, lower

academic achievement was realized. Pask (1976) showed

that by assessing students' learning/cognitive styles with

a learning/cognitive styles inventory and providing

complementary materials, that individuals learned more

quickly and thoroughly and retained information much

longer. Conversely, when mismatched, learning time was

increased and thoroughness and retention decreased.

Sadler, Plovnick, and Snope (1978), using Kolb's model,

noted that the faculty at one institution had an abstract,

more reflective learning/cognitive style while the

students preferred learning situations which offered

concrete examples and active participation in the learning

process. Role-playing, simulation, participation in the

clinical area, and learning exercises which place students

in positions of active learning appeared to be preferable

to the more passive and abstract features of lectures and

literature reviews.

The research on learning preference models reveals

that matching instructional methods and the learning

environment to students' learning preferences leads to

improved learning. Rezler and French (1975) posited that

students may be more motivated to study (hours

study/homework time) and achieve at higher levels (GPA) if

given as much opportunity to learn according to their own

learning preferences. Evidence has shown that students

who appear to be admirably suited to function in a health

related field can be deprived of personal and professional

fulfillment because the manner in which they are taught

and tested is incompatible with their most effective

manner of functioning (Rezler & French, 1975). Adams

(1983), using Canfield's model, showed that, for a large

group of community college students, those well matched

with their instructors on the basis of learning

preferences received higher GPAs and fewer lower grades.

Ware and Williams (1975) examined the learning preferences

of podiatry students and found that higher achievement

(GPA) and more satisfaction resulted when instructional

methods matched their learning preferences. Pizzo (1981),

using Dunn's model, indicated that when students were

matched with their learning preferences (their need for

either sound or quiet preferences), significantly higher

reading and attitude scores resulted, and students who

were mismatched achieved significantly below the matched

students. Domino (1971), using Dunn's model, demonstrated

that when college students were taught in ways they

preferred, they scored higher on tests, fact knowledge,

attitude, and efficiency than those taught in a manner

dissonant from their preferred ways of learning. In a

related study, Dunn (1983) noted that academic achievement

increased when students took their most difficult courses

and study during their preferred time of day.

Statistically significant differences in achievement

resulted whenever students were taught in ways that

complimented their learning preference (Dunn, 1983).

Murrain (1983), using Dunn's model, reported that students

performed better in a classroom environment that matched

their thermal preferences. Dunn, Krimsky, Murray, and


Quinn (1985), using Dunn's model, reported on the validity

of students' illumination preferences in the classroom and

academic achievement. In this experimental investigation,

the effects of matching and mismatching students with

their learning preferences for lighting were examined.

Results revealed that predispositions for illumination

significantly affected the reading achievement of students

for whom light was an important learning preference


Using Grasha and Riechmann's model, Andrews (1981)

studied the interrelationship of teaching methods,

learning preferences, and learning outcomes. College

level students in a course were randomly assigned two

types of instruction: instructor-centered (the instructor

provided mini-lectures, answered questions, worked

problems, and questioned students, i.e., the instructor

provided a central role in guiding the class), and peer-

centered (the instructor served more as a facilitator and

a resource, emphasizing student responsibility for

presentations and student-to-student teaching). The

results were that collaboratively-oriented students

learned better using the peer-centered approach, while

competitive individuals learned better using the

instructor-centered type of instruction. Thus, students

learned best and benefited more from classroom methods

that closely matched their learning preferences.


Exhortations to meet the needs of individual learners

are commonplace in the educational literature. Evidence

reveals that when the learning/cognitive styles and

preferences of students and their instructors were

matched, greater learning tended to occur and when they

were mismatched, students appeared to be at a

disadvantage. These studies demonstrated also that for

the teaching-learning process to be successful, faculty

should be sensitive to the needs of students with

different levels of experience and different

learning/cognitive styles and preferences.

Students have different learning predispositions,

needs, experiences, and abilities. If the educational

process is to be successful in helping each student to

achieve the maximum possible growth, educators must first

recognize individual differences. Specific knowledge of

each student is necessary to both individualize and

diversify instruction. This knowledge should be available

and understandable to both the educator and the student,

and should increase the student's awareness of himself or

herself as a learner as well as the teacher's awareness of

individual similarities and differences among students.

The interactions between the teacher and the student are

of critical importance, i.e., different kinds of teacher

behavior and instructional methods influence the learning

and academic achievement of students.


The purpose of the study was to determine whether a

relationship existed between achievement and the degree of

matching between students and their instructors based on

learning/cognitive style theory or learning preference

theory, and whether one of these learning theories was

better in predicting student achievement. A relationship

among these factors may have implications regarding the

low pass rate on the national board examination for

graduates of respiratory therapy programs.

This investigation was descriptive, correlational,

and ex post facto in design. Descriptive research studies

are designed to obtain information concerning the current

status of phenomena. Such studies are directed toward

determining the nature of a situation as it exists at the

time of the study. Correlational studies provide

information on the presence and strength of a relation

between variables. The ex post facto study starts with

groups that are different and tries to determine the

antecedents of these differences. Possible cause-and-

effect relationships are investigated by observing some

existing consequences and searching back through data for

plausible causal factors (Ary, Jacobs, & Razavieh, 1985).


Kolb's learning/cognitive style inventory (LSI)

(Kolb, 1985) was used to identify the learning/cognitive

styles of all subjects in the study. This

learning/cognitive style inventory was chosen for this

study because it has been used extensively for assessing

the learning/cognitive styles of medical and allied health

personnel (see Appendix A). Kolb's research has revealed

four distinct learning/cognitive style types which are

labeled as divergers, assimilators, convergers, and

accommodators (see Figure 1-1). The LSI is a self-report

instrument that can be administered in approximately 5 to

10 minutes. The instrument contains 12 items, each

consisting of four words. The respondent is asked to rank

order the words according to how well each characterizes

his or her learning/cognitive style. One word in each

item represents one of the four learning/cognitive style

dimensions, i.e., concrete experience (CE), reflective

observation (RO), abstract conceptualization (AC), and

active experimentation (AE). The LSI was designed to

measure the individual's relative emphasis on the four

learning/cognitive style dimensions (score range per

dimension is 12 to 48) and on two combinations scores that

indicate the extent to which the individual emphasizes


abstractness over concreteness (AC CE) and the extent to

which the individual emphasizes action over reflection

(AE RO). The combination scores are then used to

determine one's learning/cognitive style type.

Reliability and validity data on the LSI have been

determined. Reliability of the four basic scales and the

two combination scores all show very good internal

reliability as measured by Cronbach's alpha. Reliability

coefficients for the scale scores range from .73 to .83,

and for the two combination scores, .81 (AE RO) and .88

(AC CE) (Kolb, 1985). Acceptable levels of construct

and concurrent validities of the LSI have been assessed by

studying the relationship between learning/cognitive style

and several variables including age, educational level,

scores on creativity tests, general aptitude tests,

personality tests, preferences for types of learning

situations, academic specialization, undergraduate

interests, and career choices (Leonard & Harris, 1979).

The Learning Preference Inventory (LPI) devised by

Rezler and French (1975) was selected as the instrument

for measuring learning preferences because it was

constructed with the specific learning requirements of the

allied health fields in mind (Rezler, 1983). The LPI is a

self-report instrument that can be administered in about

10 minutes and requires the respondent to rank order

specific items (see Appendix B). It was designed to

assess an individual's choice for methods of instruction

on six dimensions (or three bipolar pairs of dimensions)

of learning preferences: individual and interpersonal,

student-structured and teacher-structured, and abstract

and concrete (score range per dimension is 15 to 90).

Reliability and validity data for the LPI have been

performed. Internal consistency reliabilities for the six

scales range from .72 to .88. The six scales of the LPI

have been supported by factor analysis, thus establishing

content validity. Construct validity has been

demonstrated in studies with allied health and pharmacy

students (Rezler & Rezmovick, 1981).

Finally, an achievement test was devised to assess

the level of student achievement for a major course in

respiratory therapy theory. The theory and operation of

mechanical life-support ventilators was the subject matter

of the test. (This subject area constitutes a major

section of the respiratory therapy board examination.)

The test consisted of 40 multiple-choice items with five

possible choices per item (see Appendix C).

Content validity for the achievement was assessed by

a group of experts, i.e., two physicians (medical

directors of the respiratory therapy departments at two

university hospitals) and three faculty members of a

community college respiratory therapy program. This group

agreed that the achievement test represented the content

of interest and was content valid for a course on

mechanical life-support ventilators. Test reliability was

determined using the Kuder-Richardson 20 method on a group

of respiratory therapists who were recent graduates of

accredited respiratory therapy programs; the reliability

coefficient was .74.

Pilot Study

A pilot study at a community college respiratory

therapy program (Santa Fe Community College, Gainesville,

Florida) was conducted, in 1988, to assess the

relationship between student achievement and the degree of

matching of students and their instructor based on Kolb's

learning/cognitive style theory and Rezler's learning

preference theory. Whether learning/cognitive style

and/or learning preference variables could be used to

predict academic achievement through multiple regression

techniques was also determined.

The course instructor and participating students (N =

17) of a major course in respiratory therapy (theory and

operation of mechanical life-support ventilators)

completed the LSI and LPI instruments; the students also

completed the aforementioned achievement test at the end

of the course. For all subjects, the learning/cognitive

style and learning preference dimension scores, as well as

the learning/cognitive style types, were determined. The

discrepancy scores for each student were calculated for


all learning/cognitive style and learning preference

dimension scales. The achievement tests were scored and

the student's overall college GPA and number of hours of

homework per week devoted to the course on mechanical

life-support ventilators were obtained. Data were

analyzed using multiple regression and an unpaired t-test.

Alpha level was set at .05 for all tests of significance.

Two multiple regression models were evaluated: one

model used the four learning/cognitive style dimension

discrepancy scores; the other model used the six learning

preference dimension discrepancy scores as variables.

Both models used the variables college GPA and the number

of hours homework per week for the course. The

learning/cognitive styles regression model was significant

(E < .01), while the learning preferences regression model

was not significant. Inspection of the beta coefficients

that were significant for the learning/cognitive style and

learning preference dimension discrepancy scores in both

regression models indicated relationships between student

achievement and the degree of matching between the

students and their instructor. (The lower the dimension

discrepancy score between the student and the instructor,

the better the degree of matching.) Thus, the more

negative the beta coefficient between student achievement

(Y axis) and a dimension discrepancy score (X axis), the

better the relationship between student achievement and

the degree of matching between the students and the

instructor.) The beta coefficients for the "active

experimentation" and "abstract conceptualization"

dimensions in the learning/cognitive styles regression

model were -1 (p < .01) and -.35 respectively.

The relationship between the predicted and actual

levels of student achievement was calculated using the

learning/cognitive styles regression model. When the

predicted and actual values for student achievement were

regressed the relationship was positive and highly

significant (r = .87, E < .0001).

Regarding the learning/cognitive style types, the

course instructor as well as six students were the

"diverger" type (an individual who acquires new

information in a concrete manner and processes it by

observation and reflection). The remainder of the

students were of the accommodatorr" (N = 2), "assimilator"

(N = 3), and "converger" (N = 6) learning/cognitive style

types. Those students who were the same, or of a

different learning/cognitive type from the instructor were

labeled "matched" and "mismatched" respectively. The

achievement scores for students in the "matched" and

"mismatched" groups were compared (unpaired t-test).

Students who were the same learning/cognitive style type

as their instructor scored significantly higher (87.3 +

4.3) than those who were of a different learning/cognitive

style type from their instructor (80.3 7.3) (p < .048).

The results can be viewed as suggesting that students

having similar learning/cognitive styles as their

instructor learned more and performed better on tests than

students having dissimilar learning/cognitive styles as

their instructors. Moreover, the greater the degree of

matching between students and their instructors on the

basis of Kolb's learning/cognitive style theory, the

greater student achievement. Specifically, the greater

the degree of matching for the active experimentation

learning/cognitive style dimension, the greater was the

level of achievement. From these data it may be inferred

that students may not achieve or develop to their full

potential when taught in ways that are different from the

manner in which they innately perceive and process

information (i.e., learning/cognitive style). Based on

the results of the pilot study, it was deemed appropriate

that a study utilizing a larger sample size be conducted.

Subjects and Study Design

Subjects for this study included students and their

instructors from associate and baccalaureate degree

respiratory therapy programs in the United States

(accessible population). A sample size of 115 students

was required to achieve a 95% confidence interval. This

sample size was calculated using the method described by

Marks (1982).

Over 250 respiratory therapy programs based in

community colleges and universities operated in the United

States at the time of this study. In order to obtain the

calculated sample size, 11 institutions (cluster sampling)

from various regions of the country participated in the

study. These 11 institutions were the following:

1. Macomb Community College, Michigan

2. Washtenaw Community College, Michigan

3. Mayo Clinic, Minnesota

4. Jefferson Community College, Kentucky

5. Santa Fe Community College, Florida

6. Valencia Community College, Florida

7. Miami-Dade Community College, Florida

8. Tallahassee Community College, Florida

9. Louisiana State University Medical Center,

(Shreveport and New Orleans campuses), Louisiana

10. Loma Linda University, California

11. Pueblo Community College, Colorado

In each program, students in their final year of study and

their instructor from a major course in respiratory

therapy theory answered the LSI and LPI instruments.

(Final year students were selected since at that stage of

the curriculum they were enrolled in major courses in

respiratory therapy theory.) A major course in

respiratory therapy (i.e., the theory and operation of

mechanical life-support ventilators) that was common to all

programs was selected and an achievement test specific to

that subject matter was prepared. At the end of the

course, students in all programs answered the multiple-

choice achievement test.

Collection of Data

All data were collected in the Fall semester of 1988

and Spring semester of 1989. Near the end of the

semesters, the LSI, LPI, and achievement test forms were

mailed to the directors of all programs. (Prior approval

to use the LSI and LPI in this study was obtained from the

authors of the instruments.) A letter explaining the

purpose of the study and guaranteeing anonymity to all

subjects participating in the study was included (see

Appendix D). The director of each program distributed the

LSI and LPI inventories to all final year students and

their instructor for the major course in respiratory

therapy theory and then collected these materials when

completed. The program director also distributed the

aforementioned achievement test to the students and

collected the tests when completed. The directors then

returned all completed materials to the investigator for

collation and analysis. A data base was developed using

the results from the learning/cognitive styles and

learning preferences inventories and the achievement test.



Directors of 13 respiratory therapy programs in the

United States were contacted and 11 respondents agreed to

participate for an overall response rate of 84%. The

study population consisted of 143 students and their

instructors (one instructor per program). There were 84

males and 59 females in the study. The majority of the

students were white (78.3%), while black, hispanic, and

oriental students comprised the remainder of the study

population (see Table 4-1). Student ages ranged from 18

to 42 years, with a mean age of 24.5. Traditional college

age students (18-22 years) represented 30.8% of the

population; 35% were between 23 and 27 years, while the

remaining 34.2% were 28 years of age or older (see Table


Analysis of Data

All data were analyzed using the data analysis

software SAS (SAS Institute, 1985). Multiple regression

was performed to analyze the data unless indicated

otherwise. Step-wise regression was performed to

determine the best prediction model.

Table 4-1

Student Demographic Data

Category Count Percent
















18-22 years 44 30.8

23-27 years 50 35.0

28-32 years 32 22.4

33-37 years 11 7.6

38-42 years 6 4.2

(Mean age + 1 standard deviation was 24.5 4.3)

From the data base, all hypotheses were tested.

Hypothesis 1. There is no significant relationship

between the actual level of student achievement and the

predicted level of achievement as a function of the

weighted linear combination of GPA, number of hours of

homework per week, program, and the concrete experience,

reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and

active experimentation learning/cognitive style dimension


This was a test to determine if there was a

relationship between the actual level of student

achievement (Y) and the predicted level of student

achievement based on the learning/cognitive styles

(Y'L/CS) multiple regression model. (Using SAS and the

General Linear Model procedure, this hypothesis was tested

using the F-test for the multiple regression model. The

F-test for the hypothesis was that R2 = 0.) The following

variables constituted the learning/cognitive styles

multiple regression model:

Y'L/CS = B1 (GPA) + B2 (Number of hours homework per week

for the course) + B3 (Program) + B4 (Concrete

experience discrepancy score) + B5 (Reflective

observation discrepancy score) + B6 (Abstract

conceptualization discrepancy score) + B7 (Active

experimentation discrepancy score)

In addition to the learning/cognitive style

variables, other variables examined in this study were

college GPA and the number of hours of homework per week.

College GPA is frequently selected as an index and

predictor of student achievement. The number of hours of

homework per week was chosen as an assessment of

motivation in a course. It was contended that the more

enjoyable the student found the teaching-learning

environment, the greater the motivation to study the

subject matter in the course. There may have been other

intervening variables affecting student achievement in

addition to the degree of matching between students and

their instructors based on learning/cognitive styles or

learning preferences, e.g., IQ, level of cognitive

development on entering the program, motivational factors,

personal study habits, previous experience, and the type

of respiratory therapy degree program (e.g., more emphasis

on theory than practice). These variables were not

evaluated because the purpose of this study was to focus

on select variables in the teaching-learning process,

i.e., student and instructor learning/cognitive styles and

learning preferences. Regarding the variable "program,"

because 11 respiratory therapy programs were involved in

the study, the programs were coded as a dummy variable in

the model.

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