PERGAMON

Personality and Individual Differences 26 (1999) 129±140

The relation between learning styles, the Big Five personality traits and achievement motivation in higher education
Vittorio V. Busato a, *, Frans J. Prins b, Jan J. Elshout a, Christiaan Hamaker a
a

University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Psychology, Department of Psychonomics, Amsterdam, The Netherlands b University of Leiden, Developmental and Educational Psychology, Leiden, The Netherlands Received 22 January 1998

Abstract In his dissertation, Vermunt [Vermunt, J. D. H. M. (1992). Leerstijlen en sturen van leerprocessen in het hoger onderwijs. (Learning styles and guidance of learning processes in higher education). Amsterdam/ Lisse: Swets and Zeitlinger] postulated four di€erent learning styles: a meaning directed, a reproduction directed, an application directed and an undirected style. Aim of this project is to investigate the relation between these learning styles, the big ®ve personality traits and achievement motivation. Subjects were about 900 university students. Extraversion correlated positively with the meaning directed, reproduction directed and application directed learning style. Conscientiousness was associated positively with the meaning, reproduction and application directed learning style, and negatively with the undirected learning style. Openness to experience correlated positively with the meaning and application directed learning style, and negatively with the undirected learning style. Besides, it was found that neuroticism correlated positively with the undirected learning style and negatively with the meaning and reproduction directed learning style. Agreeableness was associated positively with the reproduction and application directed learning style. Positive correlations were found for achievement motivation with the meaning, reproduction and the application directed learning style, and a negative one with the undirected learning style. Regression analyses con®rmed these patterns. Although there was some systematic overlap for the four learning styles with personality variables and achievement motivation, the conclusion is that it certainly makes sense to measure these three groups of variables separately in educational settings. # 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Learning style; Learning strategies; Personality; The Big Five personality traits; Achievement motivation; Higher education

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +31-20-525-6724; Fax: +31-20-639-1656; e-mail: pn_busato@macmail.psy.uva.nl S0191-8869/98/$19.00 # 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 1 9 1 - 8 8 6 9 ( 9 8 ) 0 0 1 1 2 - 3

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1. Introduction In 1992 the Dutch psychologist Jan Vermunt published a dissertation study about the ways university students learn, that received a lot of attention in the Dutch educational community (e.g. Schouwenburg and Groenewoud, 1995; Kaldeway et al., 1996; Prins et al., 1996, 1998; Kallenberg and van den Brink, 1997; Busato et al., 1998). Vermunt considers the way a student learns as a learning style. In literature, learning styles are very often considered as a kind of general strategy, for example characterized as surfacelevel or deep-level processing (Marton and Saljo, 1976), a holistic vs a serialistic style (Pask, È 1976), deep processing, elaborative processing, fact retention and methodical study (Schmeck, 1983). But learning styles are also described as types of learning like, for example, concrete experience, re¯ective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation, resulting in four learning styles: divergers, accommodators, convergers and assimilators (Kolb, 1984), as orientations like achieving, meaning, reproducing and nonacademic (Entwistle, 1988), or as approaches to learning like surface, deep and achieving (Biggs, 1993). (See Riding and Cheema (1991), Rayner and Riding (1997) and Sadler-Smith (1997) for more thorough reviews.) Elaborating on these theories, Vermunt (1992, 1996, 1998) describes the concept of a learning style as consisting of four aspects: processing strategies, regulation strategies, mental models of learning and learning orientations. Processing strategies are thinking activities students use to process information in order to obtain certain learning results like, for example, knowing the most important points in the study material. (Metacognitive) regulation strategies are activities students use to monitor, to plan and to control the processing strategies and their own learning processes. Mental models of learning are conceptions and misconceptions students have about learning processes. Learning orientations are personal aims, intentions, expectations, doubts, etcetera, students may experience during their educational career. Vermunt (1992) distinguishes four di€erent learning styles: an undirected, a reproduction directed, an application directed and a meaning directed learning style. Students characterized by an undirected learning style have, for example, problems to process the material for study, experience diculties with the amount of study material and with discriminating what is important and what is not. Students with a reproduction directed learning style are characterized by study behaviour directed mainly at reproducing what is learnt at examinations, in order to pass these successfully. Students with an application directed learning style try to employ what they learn to actual, real-world settings. Finally, students with a meaning directed learning style wish to ®nd out what is meant exactly in their study material, interrelate what they have learned and try in a critical sense to develop their own view. To measure these learning styles, Vermunt (1992) developed the inventory of learning styles (ILS), a diagnostic instrument intended to measure aspects of study method, study motives and mental models about studying in higher education (see for the English version Vermunt (1994)). With this questionnaire, it is possible to express each of the four styles in a single score. Students, therefore, show characteristics of each style but, as Vermunt assumes, one style dominates. With a di€erent sample of university students, Busato et al. (1995) and Schouwenburg (1996) replicated the ®ndings of Vermunt (1992) with remarkable exactness.

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Not very much is known yet about the relation between learning styles, personality and achievement motivation (Miller, 1991; de Raad and Schouwenburg, 1996; Ackerman and Heggestad, 1997). For the ILS, no published studies exist which deal explicitly with the relation between learning style and personality, or with the relation between learning style and achievement motivation. In this study we investigate the relations of the four learning styles, as measured by the ILS, with the big ®ve personality traits and achievement motivation. For a relatively young science like psychology, there is nowadays a more or less unique consensus about the description of personality based on ®ve universal traits (e.g. Elshout and Akkerman, 1973, 1975; Digman, 1990; Goldberg, 1990; Hofstee and de Raad, 1991; Costa and McCrae, 1992, 1995; Furnham, 1996a; de Raad and Schouwenburg, 1996), although there are, of course, also theorists who have doubts on the validity of this so called ®ve factor approach (e.g. Eysenck, 1991, 1992; Zuckerman, 1992; Block, 1995). These ®ve personality factors are usually named extraversion, agreeableness (also referred to as sociability), conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to Experience (also referred to as intellect or culture). A few studies exist which deal explicitly with the relation between learning style and personality. Furnham (1992), for example, investigated the relation between three learning style instruments, the Honey and Mumford learning style questionnaire (LSQ), the Whetten and Cameron cognitive style instrument (CST), the Kolb learning style inventory (LSI) and the personality traits extraversion, neuroticism, psychoticism and lie (dissimulation), measured by the Eysenck personality questionnaire (EPQ). For the LSQ, Furnham found positive correlations between extraversion and the learning styles ``activist'' and ``pragmatist''. Extraversion correlated negatively with the learning style ``re¯ector''. For the CST, Furnham reported that the more active cognitive style correlated positively with extraversion, while extraversion correlated negatively with the more re¯ective cognitive style. For the LSI, Furnham found a positive correlation between extraversion and the learning styles ``converger'' and ``accomodator''. Neuroticism correlated negatively with the learning styles ``assimilator'' and ``accomodator''. Psychoticism correlated positively with the learning style ``diverger''. (For a description of the above terms, we refer to Furnham (1992).) Jackson and Lawty-Jones (1996) replicated the correlations reported by Furnham (1992), suggesting the same substantial overlap between personality and learning style. Jackson and Lawty-Jones agree with Furnham there is no need to measure both personality and learning style. In another investigation, Furnham (1996b) studied the relation between the big ®ve inventory NEO-PI, developed by Costa and McCrae, and the learning style questionnaire. He reported modest correlations between these instruments, similar though overall lower than the correlations between the Eysenck personality questionnaire and the LSQ (Furnham, 1992), suggesting less overlap between these two measures. The activist learning style correlated with agreeableness, conscientiousness and extraversion. Neuroticism did not correlate systematically with any of the learning styles. So, considering these publications, some overlap might also be expected for the ILS and the big ®ve personality factors. It is well known that achievement motivation and the related concepts positive or negative fear of failure are important variables in learning and education (e.g. Atkinson and Feather, 1964; Dweck, 1984; Pintrich and Schunk, 1996; de Raad and Schouwenburg, 1996). As far as we are aware, though, no studies are published to date which systematically examine the

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relation between learning style, achievement motivation and fear of failure. So, as a ®rst attempt and for explorative purposes, we will study this relation for the ILS. The aim of this project is as follows. In a correlational design we want to investigate the relation between learning style, personality and achievement motivation. Considering the similarities in description between the meaning-directed learning style and the re¯ector (LSQ) and the more re¯ective cognitive style (CST), one might expect this learning style to correlate negatively with extraversion. For the application-directed learning style, considering the similarities with the pragmatist (LSQ), the more active cognitive style (CST) and the converger and assimilator (both LSI), one might expect a positive relation with extraversion (see again Furnham, 1992). According to de Raad and Schouwenburg (1996), the big ®ve factors extraversion, conscientiousness and openness to experience are educationally relevant. So, we will analyse how these factors relate to the four learning styles as proposed by Vermunt (1992). Exploratively, we expect a negative relation between the undirected learning style and conscientiousness and a positive one with neuroticism. Also exploratively, we expect fear of failure negative to correlate positively with the undirected learning style and fear of failure positive to correlate negatively with this learning style. We expect achievement motivation and fear of failure positive to correlate with the meaning directed learning style.

2. Method 2.1. Sample Participants were ®rst-year psychology students at the University of Amsterdam. These students participated obligatorily in the so-called ``test-week'', which is held every year for freshmen psychology students at this university. During this ``test-week'', a great variety of psychological tests are administered, including the tests measuring the variables under consideration. For this research project, data on learning styles were available from psychology students who started their study in 1993, in 1994 and in 1995. The data of 1994 and 1995 were gathered in the respective ``test-week'', the data of 1993 were gathered in the Busato et al. (1995) study. Altogether, from 1072 students' data on learning styles were known. Data on the big ®ve personality factors and achievement motivation were available from psychology students who started their study in 1992, 1993, 1994 and in 1995, all gathered in the respective ``test-weeks''. Altogether, data on personality and achievement motivation of 1701 students were known. 2.2. Learning style The learning styles were measured by the ILS (Vermunt, 1994). This questionnaire consists of 20 subscales, containing 120 statements, measuring di€erent aspects of processing strategies, regulation strategies, mental models of learning and learning orientations. Of each statement, a student has to indicate on a ®ve point scale to what extent the statement is descriptive of his or her study behaviour. Depending on the formulation of the item, answers can range from 1 ``I do this seldom or never'' to 5 ``I do this almost always'', or from 1 ``disagree entirely'' to 5

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``agree entirely''. An example of a processing strategy statement, belonging to the subscale ``relating and structuring'' is: ``I try to combine the subjects that are dealt with separately in a course into one whole''. An example of a regulation strategy statement, belonging to the subscale ``self-regulation of learning processes and results'' is: ``to test my learning progress, I try to answer questions about the subject matter which I make up myself''. An example of a learning orientations statement, belonging to the scale ``certi®cate directed'' is: ``the main goal I pursue in my studies is to pass exams''. An example of a mental models of learning statement, belonging to the scale ``stimulating education'' is: ``the teacher should motivate and encourage me''. Vermunt (1992) reported good internal consistencies for the di€erent scales of the ILS, with alpha coecients varying in between 0.68 and 0.93. Principal components analyses of the twenty subscales of the ILS by Vermunt (1992) and by Busato et al. (1995) resulted in identical factor structures, with four factors. These factors correspond to Vermunt's four learning styles. Fig. 1 lists the ILS-subscales loading on each of the four learning style factors, as well as the subscales which are not speci®c for one learning style. 2.3. Personality The ``vijf persoonlijkheids-factoren test, 5PFT'', developed by Elshout and Akkerman (1975), is the ®rst published personality questionnaire ever, speci®cally designed to measure the personality factors now known as the big ®ve, that were ®rst discovered by Tupes and Christal (1992). Within the Dutch psychological community, it has been in successful use ever since (see for example Evers et al., 1992). The 5PFT consists of 70 items, 14 for each of the factors extraversion, sociability (or agreeableness), conscientiousness, neuroticism and culture (or openness to experience). Each item consists of a short description, e.g. ``cultured, reads a lot and has widely reaching intellectual interests''. The subject has to indicate on a seven-point scale how well this description ®ts him or her. It's a reliable instrument, with alpha coecients found in the ``test-week'' usually above 0.80. 2.4. Achievement motivation The ``prestatie±motivatie±test, PMT'', developed by Hermans (1976), measures achievement motivation, fear of failure positive and fear of failure negative. The items contributing to the positive score refer to feelings of thrill when challenged, while the items referring to the negative score deal with habitual feelings of worry, unpleasant tension and lack of con®dence about future performance. These two scores correlate negatively, so they can be regarded as di€erent measures for the same construct. The PMT is just like the 5PFT (Elshout and Akkerman, 1975) one of the standard and most often used psychological tests in the Netherlands (see again Evers et al., 1992). The PMT consists of 89 items, 47 for achievement motivation, 26 for fear of failure negative and 16 for fear of failure positive. On a dichotomous scale, the subject has to indicate how well the description ®ts him or her (e.g. ``most people feel tension when taking an intelligence-test. I think this tension will rather improve/worsen my performance on such a test''). It's a reliable instrument, with alpha coecients found in the ``test-week'' usually above 0.80.

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Fig. 1. The ILS-subscales loading on Vermunts four learning styles and the subscales not speci®c for one learning style.

3. Results In Table 1, the relevant statistics are given for the scores on learning styles, the big ®ve personality factors and the achievement motivation variables. Table 2 shows modest correlations between learning styles and the big ®ve personality factors, as well as modest correlations between learning styles and the achievement motivation variables. The meaning directed learning style correlated low but positively with extraversion, while we predicted a negative relation. This learning style also correlated positively with conscientiousness and surprisingly high with openness to experience. A negative relation was found between the meaning directed learning style and neuroticism. The meaning directed

V.V. Busato et al. / Personality and Individual Di€erences 26 (1999) 129±140 Table 1 Means, standard deviations, minimum, maximum, alpha coecients and sample sizes Variables Meaning directed Reproduction directed Undirected Application directed Extraversion Agreeableness Conscientiousness Neuroticism Openness to experience Achievement motivation Fear of failure negative Fear of failure positive M 111.06 45.92 69.66 40.18 62.67 69.08 58.54 48.17 64.92 16.52 11.28 10.05 S.D. 19.43 8.79 15.06 6.02 11.1 9.43 10.2 12.25 10.32 6.83 5.37 4.1 Min 36 16 27 11 14 14 14 14 14 0 0 0 Max 180 80 135 55 98 98 98 98 98 47 26 16 a 0.91 0.78 0.88 0.76 0.84 0.85 0.80 0.89 0.85 0.83 0.88 0.89

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N 1010 1051 1025 1051 1701 1701 1701 1701 1701 1697 1682 1671

Deviant sample sizes because of missing values.

learning style indeed correlated with achievement motivation and negatively with fear of failure negative. However, no positive relation was found with fear of failure positive. Higher scores on the reproduction-directed learning style were associated with higher scores on extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and achievement motivation. The reproduction learning style correlated negatively with neuroticism. The undirected learning style correlated, as expected, positively with neuroticism and fear of failure negative and negatively with conscientiousness. Also negative relations with openness to experience, fear of failure positive and achievement motivation were found. The application-directed learning style correlated, as predicted, with extraversion. Higher scores on this learning style were also associated with higher scores on conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience and achievement motivation.

Table 2 Correlations between learning styles, personality traits and achievement motivation Variables Extraversion Agreeableness Conscientiousness Neuroticism Openness to experience Fear of failure negative Fear of failure positive Achievement motivation Meaning directed 0.08* (N = 870) 0.01 (N = 870) 0.07* (N = 870) À 0.10** (N = 870) 0.35*** (N = 870) À 0.11** (N = 869) 0.05 (N = 869) 0.20*** (N = 874) Reproduction directed 0.13*** (N = 909) 0.21*** (N = 909) 0.23*** (N = 909) À0.11** (N = 909) À0.06 (N = 909) 0.03 (N = 908) 0.01 (N = 908) 0.21*** (N = 914) Undirected 0.03 (N = 886) 0.06 (N = 886) À 0.09** (N = 886) 0.21*** (N = 886) À 0.17*** (N = 886) 0.17*** (N = 887) À 0.10** (N = 886) À 0.11** (N = 891) Application directed 0.16*** (N = 910) 0.18*** (N = 910) 0.15*** (N = 910) À 0.02 (N = 910) 0.09** (N = 910) 0.06 (N = 908) 0.01 (N = 909) 0.15*** (N = 914)

*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. Deviant sample sizes because of missing values.

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Table 3 Beta-weights of the big ®ve personality traits, achievement motivation, fear of failure positive and fear of failure negative as predictors of the four learning styles Variables Extraversion Agreeableness Conscientiousness Neuroticism Openness to experience Achievement motivation Fear of failure negative Fear of failure positive R R2 F df Meaning directed Reproduction directed 0.16*** 0.11** 0.33*** 0.15*** 0.38 0.15 73.11 (2,854) À 0.09** 0.15*** 0.31 0.10 23.58 (4,889) Undirected 0.11** 0.09* 0.18*** À0.12*** À0.11** 0.09* 0.31 0.09 15.08 (6,867) Application directed 0.10** 0.14*** 0.08** 0.10** 0.10** 0.26 0.07 13.36 (5,889)

*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001.

Also stepwise regression analyses have been carried out for each learning style separately, with the big ®ve personality traits and the achievement motivation variables as predictors. The results are displayed in Table 3. Students with a meaning directed learning style may be characterized as also having more openness to experience and more achievement motivation. Students with a reproduction directed learning style may be characterized as also having more agreeableness, achievement motivation and conscientiousness and less openness to experience. Students with an undirected learning style may be characterized as also having more neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness and fear of failure and less openness to experience and achievement motivation. Students with an application-directed learning style, ®nally, may be characterised as also having more agreeableness, extraversion, achievement motivation, fear of failure negative and openness to experience. However, the amount of explained variance in learning style based on the predictors is rather small.

4. Discussion The aim of this project was to investigate the relation between learning style, personality and achievement motivation. According to de Raad and Schouwenburg (1996), especially the big ®ve factors extraversion, conscientiousness and openness to experience are educationally relevant. The correlations found in this project might be seen as a con®rmation of this notion. Extraversion correlated positively with the meaning directed, the reproduction directed and the application directed learning style. Conscientiousness was associated positively with the meaning directed, reproduction directed and application directed learning style, and negatively with the undirected learning style. Openness to experience correlated positively with the

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meaning directed and the application directed learning style and negatively with the undirected learning style. Besides, it was found that neuroticism correlated positively with the undirected learning style and negatively with the meaning directed and reproduction directed learning style. Agreeableness was associated positively with the reproduction directed and application directed learning style. The magnitude of these correlations correspond to those between learning style and the big ®ve personality traits reported by Furnham (1996b). However, Furnham (1992) and Jackson and Lawty-Jones (1996) reported considerable higher correlations between personality (as measured by the Eysenck personality questionnaire) and learning style, and suggested there was no explicit need to measure both. According to Furnham (1996b, p. 296), ``if well-established and theoretically sound personality variables related closely and coherently to learning style or interpersonal behaviour (accounting for between 10 and 25% of the variance), some may argue that it may simply be more valuable to measure only the former. Parsimony both of theory and measurement would require fewer, rather than more, overlapping measurement instruments''. Although there is also some systematic overlap for the ILS with personality variables, this is however not so large that it would make no sense to measure only personality. The same might be concluded for learning style and the achievement motivation variables. Low positive correlations were found for achievement motivation with the meaning directed, reproduction directed and the application directed learning style, and a negative one with the undirected learning style. Fear of failure negative was associated negatively with the meaning directed learning style and positively with the undirected learning style. Fear of failure positive was associated negatively with the undirected learning style. Further inspection of the content of the three questionnaires does not reveal a striking semantic overlap. So, the ILS seems to have a surplus value in educational settings, although there still remains a lot of variance to be explained. The highest, as well as unpredicted, correlation was between the meaning directed learning style and openness to experience. According to McCrae and Costa (1997) openness to experience may be characterized in terms of the structure of consciousness. Open individuals have access to more thoughts, feelings, impulses in awareness and are able to maintain many of these simultaneously. ``Openness involves motivation, needs for variety, cognition, sentience and understanding'' (McCrae and Costa, 1997, p. 839). Considered in this way, the positive association between the meaning directed learning style and achievement motivation is very understandable. Apparently, the meaning directed learning style shares some important characteristics with openness to experience and achievement motivation. The results of this research might have some diagnostic implications for students characterized by an undirected learning style, because a clearer picture of these students is beginning to emerge. Earlier research showed these students to be the most ``academically at risk'', i.e. this learning style was found to be a negative predictor for academic success (Busato et al., 1995; Schouwenburg, 1996; Busato et al., 1998). Prins et al. 1998 suggested that students with this learning style experience many feelings of uncertainty about their own learning processes. Apparently, these students are also characterized by more neuroticism and a negative fear of failure, as well as less conscientiousness and openness to experience and less positive fear of failure and achievement motivation. According to Ackerman and Heggestad (1997), it seems reasonable to propose that development of personality-interest-intelligence

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traits proceeds along mutually causal lines. ``That is, abilities, interests, and personality develop in tandem, such that ability level and personality dispositions determine the probability of success in a particular task domain, and interests determine the motivation to attempt the task. Thus, subsequent to successful attempts at task performance, interest in the task domain may increase. Conversely, unsuccessful attempts at task performance may result in a decrement in interest for that domain'' (Ackerman and Heggestad, 1997, p. 239). The development of the undirected learning style is perhaps fostered in a comparable way. Unsuccessful studying may result in more neurotic feelings and an increasing sense of failure, which results in a less conscientious working method, less openness for studying and less achievement motivation in general. It might be a challenging task for counsellors to develop training programmes to change that pattern, although it is known that personality is rather stable in time (e.g. Costa and McCrae, 1986) and that it is not easy to obtain long lasting e€ects with students who are at academic risk (e.g. Kulik et al., 1983; Kaldeway and Korthagen, 1994; Purdie and Hattie, 1995; Busato and Prins, 1997). Geisler-Brenstein et al. (1996, p. 89) wrote: ``Yet, we feel that it is possible to create a taxonomy of person characteristics at a higher level of abstraction which does contribute to an understanding of learner motivations and behaviours''. The present research, like the work of Furnham (1992, 1996b) and Jackson and Lawty-Jones (1996), can be seen as a contribution to such a further understanding. It will be interesting now to develop a structural model, as a next contribution, in which academic success at the end of the ®rst study-year is predicted by learning style, the big ®ve personality factors, intellectual ability and achievement motivation (Busato et al., in preparation). For example, Minnaert and Janssen (1992) developed such a model, in which study success and progress in higher education was predicted by cognitive and motivational variables. Their model, which imitated, by means of a content valid study-skill test, the study situation of a ®rst year student in miniature, explained ®fty-one percent of the variance. It will be interesting to test our proposed model in an ecologically valid situation.

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