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Comparison of Preferred Learning Styles for International and Domestic Undergraduate Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

A Global Engineer: International and Domestic Engineer

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

22.353.1 - 22.353.11



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Paper Authors


Isaac W. Wait Marshall University

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Isaac W. Wait is an associate professor of engineering in the College of Information Technology and Engineering at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Dr. Wait teaches and conducts research in the areas of water resources and environmental engineering. Dr. Wait joined Marshall in 2009 after teaching for four years at the American University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates.

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Andrew P. Nichols Marshall University Orcid 16x16

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Wael A. Zatar Marshall University

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Comparison of preferred learning styles for international and domestic undergraduate engineering studentsStudents come from a wide variety of social, economic, experiential, and educationalbackgrounds, and have correspondingly varied preferences in learning styles. While manystudents utilize multiple learning modes and adapt their preferred learning styles to suit theconditions of a particular course, other students are dependent on a single style of learning andare thus sometimes less able to change how they learn when circumstances dictate.There are a variety of tests that have been developed to help classify preferred learning styles,and among the most widely-used is the VARK test that profiles learning preferences according todegree of utilization in four categories: Visual (V), Aural / Auditory (A), Read / write (R), andKinesthetic (K). Takers of the VARK test are classified according to how strongly they prefer torely on each style when learning, and results vary from a preference on a single learning style(typically rare), to learners who utilize all four learning styles with approximately equalpreference (far more common).Culture is a powerful influence on the way that people learn, but limited analysis is available onthe specific differences between the distribution of preferred learning styles of undergraduateengineering students in the United States with the distribution of preferred learning styles ofinternational engineering students abroad. With the expansion of American-style universitiesthroughout the world, teaching styles that were developed with American students in mind areoften being adopted in educational environments where the distribution of preferred learningstyles may be significantly different. This can lead to confusion among instructors when studentsdo not respond to learning activities in the same ways that the instructors are used to, andreduced learning efficacy by students when instructors do not tailor learning activities to matchlocal variations in learning preferences.The VARK test was administered to undergraduate engineering students at an ABET-accredited,American-style university in the Middle East Gulf region, and compared to a database of VARKtest results from engineering students in the United States. The distributions in learning stylepreference for these two groups were compared using statistical methods (e.g., Z-test, Chi-squared analysis, etc.). Findings indicate significant (p < 0.01) differences in the proportion ofstudents in each population who demonstrate a mono-modal preferred learning style; amongstudents at the Middle East university, for example, 22.0% are classified as mild aural / auditorylearners, compared to only 4.1% of Americans. Similarly, students at the Middle East universityexhibited a significantly higher proportion of students with a mild preference for visual learning(14.6% vs. 1.9%). The implication of these findings are that, in cases where the American modelof university education is being exported to engineering programs at universities overseas, or insituations where international students enroll in engineering programs in the US, instructors mayneed to tailor expectations and learning activities to accommodate the significantly higherproportion of international learners who have a preference for a single learning style.

Wait, I. W., & Nichols, A. P., & Zatar, W. A. (2011, June), Comparison of Preferred Learning Styles for International and Domestic Undergraduate Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17634

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