An Investigation of Learning Styles in General Chemistry Students

All students regularly enrolled in general chemistry CH102 in the Spring semester of 1995, and in CH 101 in the Fall semester of 1995 at Clemson University were administered a cognitive profile inventory. The treatment group members were given the resulting individual learning style profile and information on the interpretation of the profile and study techniques appropriate to each of the four quadrants. The students in the control group were given the same information after the common final exam for the course was completed. Comparisons of the grades in the course were made between the treatment and control groups and between subgroups by demographic variables and by cognitive dominances. Further evaluations were completed for goodness of fit of the cognitive profile model and for study techniques used by the students.

Significant differences were found between groups by gender, with girls scoring higher than boys, even though the girls' SAT math mean score was lower than that of the boys; by major, with students in the helping professions scoring lower than all other majors; and by cognitive dominance, with students in the sensor feeler and intuitive feeler frequently scoring lower than other types, and sensor thinkers generally scoring higher than other types. In some analyses and where appropriate, SAT math scores were used as a covariate to factor out differences due to performance criteria.

Previous work on learning styles, whether in sciences or other academic course areas, have been limited to small populations, and rarely have been carefully controlled and statistically rigorous. For that reason, many educators have been justified in stating doubts of the validity of the whole concept of differences in how people learn. This study, of 2000 students, with a complete and confirming replication, carefully controlled and statistically rigorous, serves to fill the void. We have established that there are differences in how individual learners acquire and process information. Educators have based much research on finding the one method that is best for all learners for teaching each course. This work establishes that no one method will be best for all learners, that what works best must be a variety of methods, an appropriate mix of strategies to meet the needs of a variety of individual learners.