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Motivating our Students for Student Engagement, Progression and Retention

Please cite as follows: Chan, CKY (2015). "Motivating our Students for Student Engagement, Progression and Retention", Engineering Education Enhancement and Research Asia (E3R Asia).

Educational Theories on Learning Styles

1. Felder & Silverman's Models of Learning & Teaching Styles

Felder & Silverman (1988) defines a student's learning style in terms of five aspects of information, namely, Perception, Input, Organisation, Processing, and Understanding.

  1. Sensing / Intuitive - a Sensing Learner prefers information that is concrete, such as facts, data and case studies, whereas an Intuitive Learner prefers information that is abstract, such as principles, theories and possibilities.
  2. Visual / Verbal - a Visual Learner prefers receiving information visually, such as using pictures, diagrams and experimentation, whereas a Verbal Learner prefers receiving information verbally, such as using words, sounds and discussion.
  3. Inductive / Deductive - an Inductive Learner prefers learning through observation and discovery, from which they draw inferences gradually, whereas a Deductive Learner prefers learning general principles and then applying these principles to real-world problems and scenarios. *Please see note below.
  4. Active / Reflective - an Active Learner tends to be an active experimentalist who likes group activities such as discussion, whereas a Reflective Learner tends to be a passive theoretician who likes to observe and think about the information being presented.
  5. Sequential / Global - a Sequential Learner tends to be better at convergent thinking and progresses towards understanding in continual steps, whereas a Global Learner tends to be better at divergent thinking and sometimes jumps directly to the solution.


* In June 2002, the author added to the original paper a preface describing the Deletion of the Inductive / Deductive Dimension. Such a modification was due to the author's belief that Induction is a better teaching method than Deduction, although many students have reported that they prefer Deductive Learning. Traditional higher-education instructors are often tempted to use the less effective Deductive Teaching method, overlooking that Inductive Teaching encourages problem-solving, discovery and inquiry learning. Therefore, the author announced to omit this dimension from the model.

Dimensions of Learning & Teaching Styles

Preferred Learning Style

Corresponding Teaching Style

Perception Sensory Content Concrete
Intuitive Abstract
Input Visual Presentation Visual
Auditory Verbal
Organisation Inductive Organization Inductive
Deductive Deductive
Processing Active Student Participation Active
Reflective Passive
Understanding Sequential Perspective Sequential
Global Global

(Accessed from Felder & Silverman, 1988)

Because students tend to be different in how they prefer to learn, corresponding teaching styles should be considered and used accordingly, in order to help students maintain their motivation, concentration and confidence in learning. An effective curriculum is arguably the one that addresses all learning styles in terms of Content, Presentation, Organisation, Student Participation, and Perspective.

Kolmos & Holgaard (2008) investigated the preferred learning style of engineering students and their findings suggested the subjects' overall profile as being active, sensing, and visual. Apparently, most engineering courses (apart from laboratory work) emphasise on teaching abstract concepts rather than facts, and present information predominantly in verbal forms such as using lectures and readings, and students are not encouraged to actively participate in the learning process (Felder & Silverman, 1988). To identify the mismatches between learning and teaching styles is therefore crucial and may help to explain students' poor performance and frustration despite their excellent potential in the engineering profession. The following is a list of examples of Teaching Techniques that are recommended to address the diverse learning styles.

Teaching Techniques to Address All Learning Styles

  1. Motivate learning. As much as possible, relate the material being presented to what has come before and what is still to come in the same course, to material in other courses, and particularly to the students' personal experience (inductive/global).
  2. Provide a balance of concrete information (facts, data, real or hypothetical experiments and their results) (sensing) and abstract concepts (principles, theories, mathematical models) (intuitive).
  3. Balance material that emphasises practical problem-solving methods (sensing/active) with material that emphasises fundamental understanding (intuitive/reflective).
  4. Provide explicit illustrations of intuitive patterns (logical inference, pattern recognition, generalisation) and sensing patterns (observation of surroundings, empirical experimentation, attention to detail), and encourage all students to exercise both patterns (sensing/intuitive). Do not expect either group to be able to exercise the other group's processes immediately.
  5. Follow the scientific method in presenting theoretical material. Provide concrete examples of the phenomena the theory describes or predicts (sensing/inductive); then develop the theory or formulate the mod (intuitive/inductive/sequential); show how the theory or mod can be validated and deduce its consequences (deductive/sequential); and present applications (sensing/deductive/sequential).
  6. Use pictures, schematics, graphs, and simple sketches liberally before, during, and after the presentation of verbal material (sensing/visual). Show films (sensing/visual). Provide demonstrations (sensing/visual), hands-on, if possible (active).
  7. Use computer-assisted instruction—sensors respond very well to it (sensing/active).
  8. Do not fill every minute of class time lecturing and writing on the board. Provide intervals—owever brief—for students to think about what they have been told (reflective).
  9. Provide opportunities for students to do something active besides transcribing notes. Small-group brainstorming activities that take no more than five minutes are extremely effective for this purpose (active).
  10. Assign some drill exercises to provide practice in the basic methods being taught (sensing/active/sequential) but do not overdo them (intuitive/reflective/ global). Also provide some open-ended problems and exercises that call for analysis and synthesis (intuitive/reflective/global).
  11. Give students the option of cooperating on homework assignments to the greatest possible extent (active). Active learners generally learn best when they interact with others; if they are denied the opportunity to do so they are being deprived of their most effective learning tool.
  12. Applaud creative solutions, even incorrect ones (intuitive/global). Talk to students about learning styles, both in advising and in classes. Students are reassured to find their academic difficulties may not all be due to personal inadequacies. Explaining to struggling sensors or active or global learners how they learn most efficiently may be an important step in helping them reshape their learning experiences so that they can be successful (all types).

(Accessed from Felder & Silverman, 1988)

  2. Kolb's Models of Experiential Learning Cycle & Learning Styles

Regarding how a student's learning style is developed, Kolb & Kolb (2005) suggests that the learning styles are increasingly shaped and influenced by Personality Types, Educational Specialization, Career, Job and Task Skills. The table below shows the relationship between learning styles and the five levels of behaviour.

Relationship between Learning Styles and Five Levels of Behaviour

Learning Style





Personality Types

Introverted Feeling Introverted Intuition Extraverted Thinking Extraverted Sensation

Educational Specialisation

Arts, English, History, Psychology Mathematics, Physical Science Engineering, Medicine Education, Communication, Nursing

Professional Career

Social Service, Arts Sciences, Research, Information Engineering, Medicine, Technology Sales, Social Service, Education

Task Skills

Valuing Skills Thinking Skills Decision Skills Action Skills

(Accessed from Kolb & Kolb, 2005)

Students in a specialised discipline are often exposed to specialised culture, professional problems and strategies. According to this model of Kolb's, students practising Engineering are more likely to belong to the Converging learning style, which is an adaptation from the earlier, classic model of Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb & Kolb, 2005) as follows.

Model of Experiential Learning Cycle

(Accessed from Clark, 2011)

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle Model is based on the Perception Continuum (Thinking / Feeling) and Processing Continuum (Doing / Watching), which form a quadrant, each representing a learning process in a learning cycle - Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualisation and Active Experimentation.

The theory of Experiential Learning Cycle proposes that learning is a continuous movement of relearning and transformation of experiences, where students' beliefs and ideas are constantly examined, tested, integrated and refined. The combination of the four learning processes result in the definition of four learning styles or modes - Diverging, Assimilating, Converging, and Accommodating. Although a student may favour one learning mode over another, learning modes are not fixed traits and learning is thought to be most effective when all four modes are practised and balanced with each other. Indeed, Kolb (1984) argues that the process of learning relies on the resolution of conflicts experienced when moving between the different learning modes, and that students can enter the learning cycle at any point of the learning process.


  • Clark, D. R. (2011). Kolb's learning styles and experiential learning model. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/styles/kolb.html
  • Felder, R. M., & Silverman, L. K. (1988). Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engineering Education, 78(7), 674 - 681.
  • Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). The Kolb learning style inventory-version 3.1 2005 technical specifications. Boston, MA: Hay Group Transforming Learning.
  • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Kolmos, A., & Holgaard, J. E. (2008, July). Learning styles of science and engineering students in problem and project based education. Paper presented at the SEFI Annual Conference 2008, Aalborg, Denmark.