Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

3 Learning styles

Learning theorists believe that everyone has their own learning style – a way of taking on board information that is unique to each individual (Walsh, 2014). It is therefore important for you to be aware that learners may have a preferred style of learning, but need to be encouraged to use a range of styles to maximise their learning experience.

Kolb (1984) developed the learning cycle, which showed the different types of learning preferences that individuals hold. He believed that individuals learn by progressing through the four stages in a particular order, commencing with concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation. Kolb argues that it is imperative for an educator to know their personal learning style, as individuals tend to teach predominantly using their own learning style; however, you should adapt your teaching to best fit your audience.

The four stages identified by Kolb are shown in Figure 6.

Described image
Figure 6 Kolb’s learning cycle (Kolb, 1984)

Honey and Mumford (2006) adapted Kolb’s work and developed their own ‘learning styles’: activist, reflector, theorist and pragmatist. They explained how individuals process new information; for example, how the information is learnt and retained. The four styles are summarised below:

  • Activists learn best by being creatively involved; they like to immerse themselves in new experiences and enjoy being thrown in at the deep end. They learn by doing rather than reading or listening, are said to be open-minded, and are receptive to stimulations, case studies and role modelling.
  • Theorists like to consider problems. They strive to understand concepts and integrate them into their thinking. They learn through logic and facts via lectures and reading, seeking to understand the theory behind and reason for what they observe.
  • Reflectors learn best by standing back, observing and reflecting upon what they see and experience. Reflective writing and journals are likely to help them learn. They learn best by watching, thinking and talking things through rather than participating.
  • Pragmatists like to try out new ideas and engage in problem solving. They learn by applying things to practice, testing and experimenting to see if they work. They are receptive to role modelling and like to ‘get things done’.

You can find out what is your learning style by completing the next activity, which is an OU learning style questionnaire based on the work of the learning style theorists.

Activity 8 Learning style questionnaire

Allow 40 minutes

Go to the Skills for OU Study website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (open it in a new tab or window) and complete the learning style questionnaire before returning here. Write a short reflective summary of what you have learned about yourself and how this reflection will improve your teaching.


You will find that the questionnaire suggests what type of learning style you possess, whether you are an activist, reflector, theorist or pragmatist. Once you have identified your learning style, think about the Discussion

Which learning style did you identify with? Was it a comfortable fit or did you think, ‘That could be me sometimes’? You may have felt you were being pigeonholed and that you use different learning styles at different times. Learning preferences are tendencies that evolve over time and change according to what you are doing. An awareness of your learning preferences can help you to think of learning as involving a process of acting, reflecting, thinking and doing. Recognising your preferences also means that in order to learn you may sometimes need to do things in a way that may not be in keeping with your natural inclinations.

influence that your preferred learning style might have on your ability to learn. Knowing what types of learning activities you naturally gravitate towards will help you identify other stages of the learning cycle that you can engage with to optimise learning.

Critics of learning styles (Tennant, 1997; Coffield et al., 2004; Martin, 2010) argue that the claims made about learning styles are exaggerated and possibly too simplistic – that individuals draw on more than one learning style when processing information. You should therefore use a mix of styles when trying to learn information rather than focusing on just one particular style, because learning is a holistic activity. The key to making learning effective in practice is to work through the process of reflection many times, and from multiple perspectives, recognising your preferences to engage in certain activities more than others. The ways in which you reflect and the things that you reflect on will all play a part in the quality of your learning and your teaching of other learners.

In the next section, you explore communities of practice that promote collaborative learning and engagement with professional groups in nursing to develop and manage new knowledge and emerging practice.


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