Learning Styles of Students in Universities in the Vaasa Region

TEXT | Adebayo Agbejule
Permalink http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe2021121560661

The learning styles of students play an important role in their academic development. Researchers (e.g. Kinsella, 2001; Cohen and Weaver, 2005) proposed that different learning styles can affect the way students listen and absorb information in a learning environment. The differences in learning styles can be attributed to age, culture, education, and gender which can have an impact on academic performance. Learning styles are characteristic, cognitive, affective, and physiological behaviours that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment (Keefe, 1987).  Scaracella (1990) defined learning styles among students as the way in which they assimilate and process information. Cohen and Weaver (2005) summarised learning styles as the “way we like to learn”.

The objective of the article is to explore the major learning styles of students in the Vaasa Region and their implications in teaching. It is important for students and teachers to be aware of learning styles since they can influence the ability to study and learn. Students’ knowledge of their learning styles can increase the awareness of their strengths and weaknesses as learners which is a critical component for self-development and continuous improvement (Coffield, 2004; Kanninen, 2008). Knowledge of learning styles can also assist teachers in developing appropriate teaching methods to make learning effective and enjoyable.

Literature has suggested different types of learning styles scale (e.g. Kolb´s learning styles scale, 1985; Grasha–Riechmann learning styles scale, 1974; Wintegerst et al., 2002, learning style indicator). Students have different strengths and preferences in the way they like to learn. Some students prefer to listen to information; others prefer to read it, and others would like do something with it. In other words, since most of the courses in business, and engineering education are either related to projects or group work, there is a need to understand the learning styles of students in the universities in the Vaasa Region and how they may promote learning. In addition, there are many international students in the Vaasa Region, so there is a need to address the learning styles to ensure that students perceive that it is safe and nice to study in Vaasa. The current study adopts Wintegerst et al. (2002) that defines three learning styles: (1) Individual activity orientation, which refers to a student’s preference to learn on his or her own, (2) group activity orientation, a student`s preference of learning effectively when he or she works or interacts with other students in a team or in a group), and (3) project orientation, refers to a student’s preference of learning best when he/she is taking part in ‘‘hands-on’’ activities or when working with materials in a learning situation.

A survey was conducted among students in the Vaasa Region from three universities including Vaasa University of Applied Sciences, the University of Vaasa, and Novia University of Applied Sciences. Out of the 700 students who received the questionnaire, 255 valid responses were used for the analysis with 120 students studying business education, 121 students in engineering, and 9 students in health studies. The instruments of learning styles consisted of 23 Likert scale items ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The items (see Appendix) were related to individual activity orientation (IAO), group activity orientation (GAO), and project orientation (PO). Descriptive statistics are presented in Table 1. The Cronbach alpha of variables ranges from 0.86 to 0.91 indicating excellent reliability (Nunnally and Bernstein, 1994). Analysis of variance (ANOVA) procedures was performed on the learning style means in order to detect differences among the different educational and geographic backgrounds, and the summary of the results are presented in Tables 2-7 below.

Valid N(listwise)253     
Table 1. Descriptive statistics of learning styles

The results of the descriptive statistics show that most students prefer project orientation as a learning style followed by group activity orientation with individual activity orientation as the least preferred style of learning.

Engineering and Technology1203.170.81
Business and Technology63.330.51
Table 2. Educational program and Individual Activity as Learning Style

The results show that students in business education have the highest mean scores for individual, group, and project orientation. Although students in the engineering field have the least preference for individual activity, their mean score increased when considering group activity and project orientation as a preferred learning style. A similar pattern is shown for students in social education indicating a preference for project orientation.  The mean score for group activity as learning style for business students (M=3.56; SD = 1.03) and engineering and technology (M=3.31; SD = 1.09) and is significant at p = 0.05 (see Table 3). No significant difference is found between educational programmes, individual activity, and project orientation.

Engineering and Technology1203.311.09
Business and Technology63.061.18
Table 3. Educational program and Group Activity as Learning Style
Engineering and Technology1203.680.80
Business and Technology63.690.70
Table 4. Educational program and Project Orientation as Learning Style

The results of the study show no significant difference between the mean scores for student from Africa (M=3.39; SD=0.72) and Europe (M=3.21; SD = 0.84) for individual activity orientation (see Table 5). The results in Table 6 show that students from Africa show higher preference for group activity (M=3.78; SD = 0.90) compared to students from Europe (M= 3.35; SD = 1.10), and difference is significant (p < 0.05). Similarly, the results in Table 7 show that project orientation learning styles differ by the geographic region with the highest mean scores for students from Africa (M = 4.03; SD= 0.75) and Europe (M = 3.67, SD = 0.79) and the difference is significant (p < .01).

Geographic RegionNumberMeanStandard
North America23.870.18
Table 5. Geographic region and individual activity

Geographic RegionNumberMeanStandard
North America24.300.42
Table 6. Geographic region and group activity

Geographic RegionNumberMeanStandard
North America23.950.06
Table 7. Geographic region and project orientation

The results of the study show that students preferred more group activity and project orientation learning styles. Learning styles are not binary. Students can apply different learning styles in different activities. Learning styles may differ depending on the cultural and educational background. The implication here is that teachers can vary their teaching activities to accommodate all types of learning styles. When the teaching instructional style is compatible with the learning styles of students it can lead to a successful learning environment (Dunn and Griggs, 1995) In addition, more teaching activities should focus on group and project activities so that students can collaborate and work with each other. Sharing knowledge and collaborating with has become a critical aspect of creativity and innovation. In addition, collaboration can increase trust among students and create a favourable atmosphere in the classroom.

Appendix: Survey Items

Circle your answer for each statement based on how you learn

1 = Strongly disagree  5 = Strongly Agree

Project orientation (PO)
I learn more when I can make something for a class project.
I enjoy making something for a class project.
I understand things better in class when I participate in role playing.
I prefer to learn by doing something in class.
When I build something, I remember what I have learned better.
I enjoy learning in class by doing experiments.
I learn best in class when I can participate in related activities.
I learn more when I can make a model of something.
When I do things in class, I learn better.
When the teacher tells me the instructions, I understand better.
When someone tells me how to do something in class, I learn better.

Group activity orientation (GAO)
I prefer to study with others.
I learn more when I study with a group.
In class, I learn best when I work with others.
I get more work done when I work with others.
I enjoy working on an assignment with two or three classmates.

Individual activity orientation (IAO)
I prefer to work by myself.
When I work alone, I learn better.
I learn better by reading than by listening to someone.
I learn more by reading textbooks than by listening to lectures.
When I study alone, I remember things better.
When I read instructions, I remember them better.
I understand better when I read instructions

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