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Students' Learning Styles in Two Classes: Online Distance Learning and Equivalent On-Campus

Author(s): David P. Diaz and Ryan B. Cartnal
Reviewed work(s):
Source: College Teaching, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Fall, 1999), pp. 130-135
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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Learning Styles
in Two Classes

Online Distance Learning
and Equivalent On-Campus
David P. Diaz and Ryan B. Cartnal

idea that people learn different of this knowledge is often inconsequen also may interest in turn
The They emphasize

ly is venerable and probably had tial. Some faculty simply opt to use a wide ing theory into practice by active experi
or they may prefer to think
its origin with the ancient Greeks variety of teaching activities, hoping that mentation,
(Wratcher et al. 1997). Educators have, they will cover most student learning pref about their experiences by reflective
for many years, noticed that some stu erences along the way. This method, observation (Dille and Mezack 1991, 27).
dents prefer certain methods of learning though expedient, may not be the most James and Gardner (1995) described
more than others. These re effective way to address student learning Kolb's LSI as a cognitive learning style
to as form a stu teachers think mode. processes include stor
ferred learning styles, preferences. Further, many Cognitive
dent's unique learning preference and aid that the same teaching methods that work age and retrieval of information in the
teachers in the planning of small-group in their traditional classes will also work brain and represent the learner's ways of

and individualized instruction (Kemp, for distance learning. The underlying perceiving, thinking, problem solving,
Morrison and Ross 1998, 40). Grasha assumption is that students who enroll in and remembering (20).
(1996) has defined learning styles as distance education classes will have the Dille and Mezack (1991) used Kolb's
that influence a stu same learning preferences
as those in tra LSI to identify predictors of high risk
"personal qualities
to ditional classes. often assume that telecourse stu
dent's to acquire information, Faculty among community college
interact with and the and and class dents. Successful students had lower
peers teacher, teaching styles, accompanying
to participate in learning room are like a "master scores on their for concrete
otherwise expe processes, key" preferences
and thus appropriate for any setting. than did the unsuccessful stu
riences" (41). experiences
because distance
(1996) suggested that one
Blackmore There is not an overabundance of re dents. Thus, learning

of the first things we teachers can do to search on learning styles and distance courses often lead to social isolation and
aid the learning process is simply to be education. Most of the studies focus on require greater reliance on independent
aware that there are diverse learning the discovery of relationships between learning skills, students with less need for
styles and specific student concrete in
styles in the student population: learning experience learning may

There are as many to
achievement outcomes: drop rate, com expected to be better suited to the dis
probably ways
as there are to learn. Perhaps the pletion rate, attitudes about learning, and tance format. People with higher scores
to exhibit a
predictors of high risk.
most is to be aware that on concrete experience tend
important thing
people do not all see the world in the same One of the most popular learning style greater sensitivity to feelings and thus
have very different more
way. They may prefer inventories, which is often used in dis would be expected
to require inter
ences than you for how, when, where and
tance research, is the Kolb actions with peers and the teacher.
how often to learn, [online] learning
Successful telecourse students also
Learning Style Inventory (LSI) (Kolb
LSI measures student to look for abstract concepts to
Although many of us are aware that dif 1986). Kolb's preferred
ferent learning styles exist, the application learning style preference in two bipolar help explain the concrete experiences
dimensions. Over time, learners develop associated with their learning. That is,
a preference for either concrete wanted to know "why" certain
experi they
David P.
Diaz is a professor of health
ences when learning or a
preference for things happened in conceptual or theoret
education, and Ryan B. Cartnal is a research
in abstract or conceptual ical terms. This more abstract approach
at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, engaging analy
ses when skills and favored success in the telecourse.
California. acquiring knowledge. clearly

Dille andMezack concluded that students of students, then faculty must use learn in environmental conditions, such as the

who needed concrete experience and ing style information to aid their planning need for affiliation with other students
were not able to think were and for distance education and instructor, and for or
abstractly preparation independence
high-risk in a telecourse. activities. Sarasin (1998) noted that pro structure.

Gee(1990) studied the impact of learn fessors should be willing to change their Those varied social dynamics
are one

ing style variables in a live teleconference teaching strategies and techniques based of the main differences between distance
distance education class. The ex on an of the of stu and on-campus envi
study appreciation variety learning equivalent
amined the influence of learning style dent learning styles. "[Teachers] should ronments. However, in our opinion, both

preferences of students in an on-campus try to ensure that their methods, materi the Canfield Inventory and Kolb's LSI
or remote classroom on their achievement als, and resources fit the ways in which create a narrow range of for
in the course content, course their students learn and maximize the learning styles by limiting learning pref
completion rates, and attitudes about learning potential of each student" (2). erences to one or two dimensions. Al

learning. Both distance and on-campus If optimal learning is dependent on though this learning style "stereotyping"
groups were taught simultaneously by the learning styles, and these styles vary be may be convenient for statistical analysis,
same teacher, received identical course tween distance and equivalent on-campus it is less helpful in terms of teaching stu
content, and met weekly. Gee adminis students, then faculty should be aware of dents about weaker or unused learning
tered the Canfield Learning Styles Inven these differences and alter their prepara preferences. Further, the Kolb LSI, which
tion and instructional methods has been is primarily a cog
tory (CLSI) (Canfield 1980). according widely used,
Students in the distance learning class ly. In any case, the first step in using nitive learning preference instrument,
who possessed
a more
independent and learning style information in distance which does not specifically take into a
conceptual learning style had the highest education is to determine students' learn ccount social preferences that are the key

average scores in all of the student ing styles. distinction between distance and tradi
achievement areas.
People with the low tional classrooms.
Selecting a Learning
est scores in the distance learning
course Of the different learning style instru
had a more social and learn Style Instrument the Grasha-Reichmann Student
conceptual ments,

ing style. Students with both a social and As educators consider transplanting Learning Style Scales (GRSLSS) seem
applied learning style performed much their traditional courses into distance ideal for assessing student learning prefer
better in the on-campus class. The out learning, they should assess the learning ences in a college-level distance learning
comes of the Gee study suggested that styles of the students who enroll. With a setting. The GRSLSS (Hruska-Riech
successful distance education students variety of learning style instruments in mann and Grasha 1982; Grasha 1996) was
favored an
independent learning environ use, it is important to select one accord chosen as the tool for determining student
ment, and successful on-campus students ing to the unique requirements of the learning styles in the present study based
preferred working with others. The rela distance context. Three on criteria James and Gard
learning impor suggested by
tively small sample of twenty-six stu tant factors to consider when selecting
a ner (1995). First, the GRSLSS is one of
dents suggested that additional research learning style instrument are defining the few instruments designed specifically
is needed. the intended use of the data to be col to be used with senior high school and
An important question, however, is lected, matching the instrument to the college students (Hruska-Riechmann and
raised by such research: Are there differ intended use, and finally, selecting the Grasha, 1982). Second, the GRSLSS
ences in learning styles between students most appropriate instrument (James and focuses on how students interact with the
who enroll in a distance education class Gardner 1995). Other concerns include instructor, other students, and with learn
and their on-campus counterparts? That the underlying concepts and design of ing in general. Thus, the scales address

no matter how it is answered, is the instrument, validity and reliability one of the key distinguishing features of a
vital for anyone interested in students' issues, administration difficulties, and distance class, the relative absence of
success. If there are no differences in cost (22). social interaction between instructor and

learning styles, it is likely that faculty can One of the distinguishing features of student and among students. Third, the
transfer the same types of most distance education classes is the ab GRSLSS promotes an optimal teaching/
ing activities that have worked in the tra sence of face-to-face social interaction learning environment by helping faculty
ditional environment into the distance between students and teacher. Thus, an design courses and develop sensitivity to

setting with similar success. That is prob inventory used in that setting should students' needs.

ably true, if enough sensitivity and address the impact of different social Finally, the GRSLSS promotes under
thought have been given to learning styles dynamics
on the learning preferences of standing of
learning styles in a broad con

and to how these methods will be trans the students. An example of this can be text, spanning six categories. Students

ferred to the distance education en seen in Gee (1990), who employed the possess all six learning styles, to a greater

vironment using current communications Canfield Learning Styles Inventory or lesser extent. This type of understand

technologies. (CLSI). The CLSI demonstrated merit in ing prevents simplistic views of learning

On the other hand, if there are differ distance studies because it at and provides a rationale for teach
learning styles
ences in between groups to measure students' ers to encourage students to pursue per
learning styles tempted preferences

Vol.47/No.4 131
sonal growth and development in their are to change as one matures and mat = The class was
likely (N 68). comparison
underused encounters new educational selected from four on-campus
learning styles. experiences. equivalent
Dowdall -
Only a brief definition of each is pro (1991) and Grasha (1996) also sections of health education (N 40)
vided here in order to assist the reader have suggested that particular teaching taught by the lead author.
with the interpretation of the information encourage students to adopt The online distance students were
styles might
from this certain to the same course out
study. learning styles. taught according
line, used the same textbook, covered the
1. Independent students inde Problem and Purpose same lecture and took the same
prefer material,
pendent study and self-paced instruction Students' performance may be related tests as the on-campus students. Three
and would prefer to work alone rather than to their or main differences between and
learning preferences styles. on-campus
with other students on course Students also self-select into or away online groups were the delivery mode for
projects. may
2. Dependent learners look to the from distance learning classes. As a the lectures, the mode of teacher/student
teacher and to peers as a source of struc result, success in distance class and student/student communication, and
the mode for the assignments.
The distance classes reviewed multi
media slides (Power Point presentations
on learning styles, converted to HTML) and lecture notes
optimal learning depends while the equivalent classes heard
and the styles vary between distance and
If the teacher's lectures and participated in
on-campus students, faculty should alter face-to-face discussion. The distance
use a class Web
their preparation and teaching accordingly. class made heavy of site
and used a listserv and e-mail for com

munication/discussion with other stu

dents and the instructor. Assignments for
the distance class were almost entirely
Internet-based and independent, while the
class some online
equivalent completed
ture and and an es may on understand but most fre
guidance prefer authority ultimately depend assignments participated
figure to tell them what to do. ing the learning styles of the students who quently in classroom discussions and

3. Competitive students learn in order enroll. other traditional assignments.
to perform better than their peers and to Because more online courses will in All 108 participants first reviewed the
receive for their academic ac variably be offered in the future, some as student cover letter that explained the na
surance must be to the college, ture of the research and provided oppor
complishments. provided
4. Collaborative learners in the faculty, and the students, that distance tunity for informed consent. Next, the
formation by sharing and cooperating education will meet expectations for a authors distributed the GRSLSS and re
with teacher and peers. They prefer lec good education. Not only will students viewed the instructions for completion of
tures with discussions and expect an education that is equal in qual the inventory. The GRSLSS was adminis
group ity to that provided by traditional offer tered in a group setting during the second
will a student-centered week of classes. Thus, we used the Gen
5. Avoidant learners are not enthusias ings, they expect
environment, to meet eral Class Form to assess the initial learn
tic about class or learning designed
attending acquiring
class content. are uninter their individual needs. ing styles of the students. Students self
They typically
ested and are sometimes overwhelmed
There have been few studies on the scored the inventory, and we obtained
class activities. relationship of learning styles to student raw scores for each of the learning style
success in a distance environ Inventories were reviewed
6. Participant learners are interested learning categories. by
ment, and none that we are aware of have the researchers for compliance with di
in class activities and discussion and are
to do as much class work as
used the GRSLSS. The purpose of this rections and for accuracy of scoring.
eager possi
was to compare the student
ble. are keenly aware and have a study learning
They of, Research Outcomes
of online and on-cam
desire to meet, the teacher's styles equivalent
pus, health education classes, by using The present study compared social
The styles described by the GRSLSS the GRSLSS. learning styles between distance educa
refer to a blend of characteristics that The population for the current study tion and equivalent on-campus classes

apply to all students (Grasha 1996, 127). included health education students in a using the GRSLSS. The average or mean

Each person possesses some of each of medium-sized (8,000?9,000 enrollment) scores of the distance learning class and
the one would on the central coast of the health education class on
learning styles. Ideally, community college equivalent
have a balance of all the learning California. The distance education sam each of the six are shown in
styles; categories
however, most people gravitate toward ple included students in two sections of figure 1. Relatively larger differences in
one or two styles. Learning preferences health education offered in an online for the average scores of the two classrooms

between the two variables. The asterisks
with some of the values indicate that the
size of the correlation was statistically
significant and thus not due to chance.

Correlational within the on
line group showed a negative relationship
between the independent learning style
and the collaborative and dependent
In other words, who were
styles. people
more independent in their learning styles
also tended to be less collaborative and

dependent. A second important relation

ship (positive correlation) was found be
tween the collaborative learning style and

the dependent and participant learning
That is, students who were more
collaborative in their learning styles also
were more and in
dependent participatory
their to learning.
In the equivalent on-campus group,
Independent Avoidant Collaborative Dependent Competitive Participant correlations were
significant positive
at .01 level Grasha-Riechmann Learning Styles
Significant found between the collaborative learning
Control group Distance group style and the competitive and participant
styles. That is, on-campus students who

Figure 1. Comparison of Average Group Ratings for Each Learning Style were collaborative also tended to be com

petitive and participatory in the class
room. a correlation be
Finally, positive
occurred for the independent and the de and traditional classroom groups. For tween the competitive and participant
with this table, we remind the reader of also was observed. Stu
pendent learning styles. Compared reading styles learning
those students enrolled in the traditional that a correlation coefficient varies from dents who tended to compete also were

classroom, the students in the distance -1, 0, to +1, and that the degree to which "good classroom citizens" and were more

class had higher
scores on the indepen
it deviates from zero in either direction willing to do what the teacher wanted
dent learning style scale and lower scores reflects the strength of the relationship them to do.
on the dependent scale. A statistical test
(a t test) was used to determine if the dif
ferences in the scores between the inde Table 1.?Intercorrelations between Learning Style Scales for
and dependent Online and Equivalent On-Campus Students
pendent learning styles
were due to chance.
The variations in average scores Scale
between the two styles were found to be
statistically significant and thus not likely Online students (N
due to chance (p < .01). The variations in
1.Independent -.08 -.36** -.37** .07 ,12
average scores between the two class
Avoidant ,03 .12 ,02 ,58**
rooms on the avoidant, col Collaborative 37** ,04 .28*
laborative, and participant learning styles Dependent .08 .24
were and a statistical Competitive .12
relatively small,
a / test revealed that they Participant
analysis using
were not statistically significant.
students =
To ascertain the patterns in the rela Equivalent on-campus (N 40)

tionships among the learning styles with 1.Independent ,20 .10 -.12 .13 .09
in each we examined the associa 2. Avoidant -.37* -.12 ,01 ,67**
3. Collaborative .27 .51** .52**
tions among different combinations of
4. Dependent .15 .31
styles. This was done by calculating the 5. Competitive .46**
correlation coefficients associated with 6. Participant
the combinations of the six learning
The outcomes of this are
styles. analysis Note: *p < .05, two-tailed. **p < .01, two-tailed.
shown in table 1 for the distance learning

Vol. 47/No. 4 133
Discussion sors often complain of too little class time of their styles
as learners. Thus, indepen
to devote to learning objectives. Armed dence was clearly a weaker learning pref
Gibson (1998) has challenged distance with data, we can more erence for traditional class students.
learning style
education instructors to "know the learner" allocate instructional time to The online students also displayed col
(140). She noted that distance learners are various laborative qualities related to their need
learning types.
a and that instructors
heterogeneous group Not only were online students more for structure (dependence) and their will
should design learning activities to capital than the on-campus students, to participate as class citi
independent ingness good
ize on this diversity (141). Because the dy but their zens
independent learning prefer (participant dimension). Thus,
namic nature of the distance population ences were displayed in a way that was although online students prefer indepen
precludes a "typical" student profile related to how dependent and dent are
negatively learning situations, they willing
(Thompson 1998, 9), we should continual collaborative they
were. That is, the inde and able to participate in collaborative
ly assess students' characteristics.
pendence of online learners was not tied work if they have structure from the
A professor using the present data to needs for external structure and guid teacher to initiate it. In his online class,
Diaz has used listservs and "threaded dis
cussion" areas to promote collaboration

among distance students.
In the past, he designed collaborative
students' less-preferred learning activities that required students to initiate
styles helps them become more versatile
Strengthening peer contact and conduct the collabora
learners and adapt to the requisites of the tion with a minimum of structure and

real world. support from him. Based on the findings
of the current study, it is apparent why
this strategy failed: Online students will
apparently respond well to collaborative
activities, but only if the teacher provides
enough structure and guidance. Diaz's
mistake was that he assumed that online
could plan learning opportunities that anee from their teacher (dependence) or a students would be self-directed, and
would emphasize the learning prefer need to collaborate with their classmates. autonomous, regardless of the type of
ences with each of the commonly pre The online students can be described as learning activity.
ferred learning styles (independent, de "strongly independent," in that they In contrast, the traditional class stu

pendent, collaborative, and participant), match the stereotype of the independent dents had collaborative tendencies related

thus matching teaching strategies with learner in terms of autonomy and the abil to their needs to be competitive, and good
learning styles. ity to be self-directed. class citizens. In other words, they

Of particular interest were the signifi Self-direction and independence were interested in collaboration to the extent

cant differences between the groups in the facilitated in the online course by offering that it helped them to compete favorably
independent and dependent categories. students flexible options to shape their in the class and to meet the expectations
The distance students more environment. The lead author, of their teachers. Thus, collaboration was
strongly learning
favored independent learning styles. It is Diaz, used self-paced, independent learn tied to obtaining the rewards of the class,
not surprising that students who prefer ing activities that allowed students to not to an inherent interest in collaboration.

independent, self-paced instruction would choose from a menu of online "cyber as Average avoidant and competitive
self-select into an online class. It may be signments" based on their personal inter learning style scores indicated that these
that are well suited to the relative iso ests and the relevance of the assignments. were favored to a
they learning preferences
lation of the distance learning environ Students completed their chosen assign lesser degree by both groups. Itwas inter
ment. In his research, Gee (1990) noted ments by deadlines posted at the class esting that, though we live in a highly
that successful telecourse students fa Web site. neither the online or
competitive society,
vored an In contrast, students in the on-campus students really pre
independent learning style. equivalent equivalent
James and Gardner (1995) suggested that on-campus class were significantly more ferred a
competitive learning environ
students who favored reliance on inde dependent learners than the distance ment. However, the on-campus students

pendent learning skills would be more group. Because dependent learners prefer appeared to favor competitiveness if it
suited to a distance format. structure and guidance, it is not difficult was clear that it was expected (i.e., thus
As a result of these significant differ to understand why they might view the the relationship of competitive and partic
ences, teaching strategies in the distance isolation and need for self-reliance in a ipant styles).
class should emphasize more distance education environment with We can also use style data to
relatively learning
independent and fewer learn some The low level of in "creative mismatches" in
dependent apprehension. help design
ing opportunities. This approach has dependence displayed by on-campus stu which students can
experience their less

practical significance given that profes dents was not related to any other aspects dominant learning style characteristics in

a less-threatening environment (Grasha nience) sampling technique. Non-proba REFERENCES
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and L. S. Scheirton. 1997. Curriculum and
tives and not the reward struc
clearly by The authors would like to express their A for the
program planning: study guide
ture of the class. core seminar. Fort Fla.: Nova
thanks to Tony Grasha, whose encouragement, Lauderdale,
One of the limitations of this study was guidance, and ediorial comments were in Southeastern University. Programs for
the use of a non-probability (conve strumental in bringing this article to fruition. higher education.

Vol.47/No. 4 135