Relationship between Dissimiliar Cognitive Styles and Use of Learning Strategies in Undergraduate Students

By Samms, Chevanese L.; Friedel, Curtis R. | Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, September 2012 | Go to article overview
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Relationship between Dissimiliar Cognitive Styles and Use of Learning Strategies in Undergraduate Students

Samms, Chevanese L., Friedel, Curtis R., Academy of Educational Leadership Journal


Recent research has continued to provide evidence supporting two seminal conclusions regarding cognitive styles. That is, cognitive style may be considered a factor in determining student academic success (Cassidy, 2004; Romanelli, Bird & Ryan, 2009), and cognitive style may be one avenue through which students can understand their preference to processing information, or how their instructor can better help them learn (Evans, Harkins & Young, 2008). Regardless of the depth of literature and numerous studies which have been carried out, making the cognitive styles field a popular one in general, a few studies (Cooper, Lingg, Puricelli & Yard, 1995; Friedel, 2006; Friedel & Rudd, 2009) exist concerning dissimilar cognitive styles between professor and student. Furthermore, while existing empiricism (Hendry, Heinrich, Lyon, Barratt, Simpson, Hyde, Gonsalkorale, Hyde & Mgaieth, 2005) substantiates the relationship between cognitive style and learning strategy, sparse research existed which examines relationships between dissimilar cognitive styles and student preferences of learning strategies, which may provide notable implications for students and instructors.

It is not a rare situation in higher education that students are enrolled in courses that do not support their cognitive styles, as many professors were unaware of the implications of students' cognitive style in the classroom (Evans & Waring, 2009). This may impact learning and eventually performance. Applying the Felder-Silverman Learning Style Model (FSLSM; Felder & Silverman, 1988), Kinshuk, Liu and Graf (2009) investigated whether students with a strong preference for a particular learning style had more learning difficulties if their styles were not supported in the learning environment. Only two years ago, their findings indicated that learners with strong preferences towards a particular orientation had significantly lower scores on the final exam than learners with no strong preference for any learning style dimension. In other words, learners who preferred to learn in a particular way, found it more difficult to learn.

A number of researchers (Friedel & Rudd, 2009; Oxford & Lavine, 1992) have questioned that if mismatches between a teacher's learning style and a student's learning style, led to difficulty in learning, what learning strategies would the student use to counteract the stress of the contradictory cognitive styles? As other studies and scholars (including Cools, 2009; Friedel, 2006; Kirton, 2003; Zhang, 2001) have also echoed the call for exploring and explaining learning style incongruence between instructor and student, Kirton's conceptualization of dissimilar learning styles was used in this study to offer understanding of the impact of the combination of dissimilar cognitive styles and students' uses of learning strategies in the context of the undergraduate classroom.

To promote diversity in learning, Prashnig (1998) and Rayner (2000) supported research on dissimilar learning styles in relation to learning strategies. Rayner (2007) advocated for aids which may help educators better meet individual learning needs in the classroom. This study may augment the sparse body of research which has demonstrated how cognitive style gap related to practical coping and learning strategies used by students. Further, it was intended to further examine Kirton's (1976) theory and challenge its application to and sustainability in the classroom environment.


The theoretical framework of this study consisted of Kirton's Adaptation-Innovation (AI) theory of cognitive style (Kirton, 2003), which examined problem-solving preference. According to Kirton, cognitive styles were considered to be primary causes of individual and organizational behaviors that were apparent in individual workplace actions and in organizational systems and everyday processes (Sadler-Smith & Badger, 1998).

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Relationship between Dissimiliar Cognitive Styles and Use of Learning Strategies in Undergraduate Students


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