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Profiling Preferred Learning Styles For Engineering Students

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.504.1 - 5.504.10

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Sharon A. Driscoll

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Carolyne E. Garcia

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1430

Preferred Learning Styles for Engineering Students

Sharon A. Driscoll, Carolyne E. Garcia University of Arkansas


The quest to improve effective teaching and student learning is on-going. Many different learning style models have been developed, but most are too complicated to give in interpret in the classroom. One simple tool that has been successfully used to gain insight into student learning is the VARK catalyst (Visual/Aural/Read-Write/Kinesthetic). Results obtained for class profiles of Freshmen and Junior level Chemical Engineering students using VARK indicate that student learning styles may differ substantially from what most professors believe and that these styles are firmly in place by the time a student reaches the university. Students showed much less preference for visual input than expected. The preferred learning style of the majority of students as was found to be kinesthetic (hands-on) mode, either by itself or in combination with other learning styles (multimodal). A discussion of the class results compared with activities designed to reach students through multiple modes proved easy to discuss with the students and opened up the discussion of study habits and active learning in the classroom.

I. Introduction

Although the roots of learning theory can be traced back to Descartes and Hobbes, the science of learning began with the work of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936). Since then, numerous models of learning and retention have been proposed and studied. These researchers have found that, while the content of what is learned will change from case to case, the process of learning remains the same1.

However, as educators attempted to apply these findings in the classroom they began to notice substantial differences in how students assimilate content. Further applied research demonstrated that students have preferred learning styles that directly impact the assimilation and retention of course content2-4.

This research resulted in the creation of a plethora of inventories to assess student learning styles. Smith5 identified 15 different instruments, and many more have been developed since6,7. Indeed, the Learning Style Assessment Profile kit8 contains 24 independent scales that “diagnose a student’s cognitive style, as well as perceptual, affective, and environmental styles.”

These instruments vary widely in their complexity, ease of administration, and the quality of information the results provide, both for teachers and students. Additionally, these instruments purport to measure different dimensions9, ranging from Harb’s10 feeling/watching/thinking/

Driscoll, S. A., & Garcia, C. E. (2000, June), Profiling Preferred Learning Styles For Engineering Students Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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