What Determines Learning Preference?

It would seem that the learning preference expressed by an individual is the result of the combined influence of both nature and nurture. While categorizing these differences through observed trends in gender or race is a dubious and unfounded method of approaching this study, by considering the cultural, socioeconomic, and familial influences on an individual, it is possible to better understand the reasons behind the development of learning preference.

The aforementioned study suggests a very unique corollary to the diversity of learning preference. According to the study, a major influencing factor is the type of material that the subjects are, at the time, expected to be learning. David Kolb, who created the Kolb Learning Style Inventory based on the research of Jean Piaget, John Dewey, and J.P. Guilford, explains, "The learning process is dynamic and based on the learners' needs for different abilities at different times." (Russian). As a result, learners can be expected to convey a mixture of different learning styles, and that mixture can theoretically change. This is a revolutionary concept. Learning preference can adapt to suit the material that is to be learned. Research performed on Respiratory Care students at Texas State University set out to confirm or refute this hypothesis.

The study was conducted among 82 subjects, including 23 freshman, 21 sophomores, 24 juniors, and 14 seniors. The study showed that there was a near even distribution among the four learning preferences categorized by the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (Converger, Accommodator, Assimilator, Diverger). When the results were divided among classes, however, the the most notable results showed that most juniors preferred the Converger and Accomodator styles, indicating partiality towards active experimentation, and most seniors preferred the Converger and Assimilator styles, indicating a preference for abstract conceptualization. Freshman and sophomores had yet to develop a distinct learning preference. The Discussion section of the study explained that the results were consistent with the type of learning that was occurring at the different years of study. It highlighted that the junior students' preference is consistent the fact that juniors in the program are learning to implement critical thinking to assess patients. The preference of the senior students is consistent with their stage of learning, involving thinking and analyzing problems. (Russian).

While the study does not definitively explain the reason for these differences, it suggests an intriguing concept: our learning preference can change. This is perhaps not so surprising in light of the understanding of neural plasticity, but it is nonetheless a fascinating discovery. The human brain is not only able to learn new concepts throughout its lifetime, but it is also able to learn new ways to learn.