Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Learning in the Geoscience Classroom: Q-Methodology, Learning Styles, and Individual Preferences

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Learning in the Geoscience Classroom: Q-Methodology, Learning Styles, and Individual Preferences

Article excerpt


One of the challenges of traditional student learning, from an instructor's perspective, involves achieving an understanding of how students learn. Q-method is an effective approach to improve understanding of human subjectivity, and, as this research suggests, it is an appropriate tool to assist educators to better understand how students learn. In particular, Q-methodology provides the educator with a robust tool to assess student learning styles. This paper adapted an existing learning style instrument to a Q-method analysis in an introductory geographic information system class. The analysis resulted in three learning groups: lone pragmatist, explorer, and synergistic. These three learning groups are described. The paper concludes that the use of Q-method can deepen understanding of students' learning skills and improve instruction through more balanced and learner-focused auricular approaches.

© 2013 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/12-301.1]

Key words: Q-method, education, student learning, learning styles, learner focused


It is widely acknowledged that students learn in different ways (Dweck and Bernpechat, 1983; diSessa, 1985; Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993; Gardner, 1999; Lynn, 2009). Researchers have suggested that learning is a progressive developmental process based on educational experiences and personal traits (Perry, 1970; Entwistle and Peterson, 2004). Entwistle and Peterson (2004) stated, "What students believe about learning overlaps with what they hope to achieve from being in higher education" (p. 412). Quantitative and qualitative methods that enable educators to understand how students learn and view learning are valuable because they may allow educators to more positively influence student learning. One area of study, known as learning styles, has focused on understanding and characterizing individual preferences for acquiring knowledge. Most existing student learning styles instruments are quantitatively based and group students into predefined categories (Vermunt and Verloop, 1999; Entwistle, 2005; Felder and Spurlin, 2005; Hendry et al., 2005). The use of predetermined categories has positive and negative attributes. From a positive perspective, the classifications have been validated, and basic assumptions can be made. One of the major criticisms of existing tools is the inability to provide depth to the educator and student understanding of learning skills (Cerbin, 2009). To this end, Q-method may provide educators with additional insights about how students learn. Q-method is a research methodology that has been used for many years to help researchers understand the subjectivity of a given sample.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how Qmethod, as a tool, can be used to provide educators better understanding of how students learn. This is done by applying Q-method analysis derived from a learning styles instrument to students in an introductory geographic information system (GIS) class. Q-method has been applied to various disciplines since its invention in the 1930s. Its application has diversified significantly from its original development, principally in the areas of psychology, politics, health, management, and environmental studies. Yet, Qmethod has had limited exposure in the student learning styles and strategies literature.


Q-method merges qualitative and quantitative methodologies, allowing a view of the data from a subjective perspective. Brown (1980) states, "Q is an intensive form of analysis and always works with small numbers of subjects. ...the patterns that Q-methodologists find in some small group of subjects can be expected to reflect or intimate the structure existing in some larger population of subjects" (pp. 66-67). Q-method is based on the assumption that subjectivity can and will be expressed by a person's own behavior as reported through their ranking of statements (Wigger and Mrtek, 1994). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.