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Successful people know how to learn. This key to success has never been more important than it is today in our information-saturated society. Marygrove College faculty recognize the importance of learning how to learn and have made "learning to learn," one of seven across the curriculum emphases. This emphasis is begun in the First Year Seminar, an introductory course with the overall goal of student success. To achieve this goal we emphasize self-awareness and learning how to learn. Although there are several approaches to these objectives, one approach is attention to learning styles. In his book Powerful Learning, (1998) Ron Brandt states that attention to individual learning styles is an avenue that leads to learning how to learn. There are several definitions of learning style but basically it is an individual's characteristic means of perceiving and processing information. It is important to first validate a student's dominant means of learning if we hope to challenge them to work in a style in which they feel less competent.

Learning Styles

The First Year Seminar or Mg 102 as it is referred to at Marygrove introduces students to the theory of learning styles. Students take a short form of the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This is one of the best known psychological instruments in the world today. It is based on the theory of Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung. According to Jung, a persons attitude or readiness to act is determined by a preference for either extraversion, which focuses on the external world, or introversion, which focuses on the internal world. He also identified four behavioral functions that, in various combinations constitute personality type: sensing, intuition, thinking, and feeling. Myers and Briggs built on Jung's theory by adding a judging/perceiving scale. The judging and perceiving scale indicates if a person has a stronger attraction toward one of the perceiving functions (sensing and intuition) or one the judging functions (thinking and feeling). One component of Jung's theory that has a parallel to the teaching and learning process comes from Jung's theory of human development, which identifies two major objectives of psychic development: perfection and completion. The perfection objective involves the human need to develop one's own natural strengths and abilities to the maximum. Completion continues the development process to strengthen also the less dominant but potential abilities (Hanson and Silver, 1996). The value of understanding one's learning style is first to develop one's natural approaches to learning and then to develop the capacity to learn in ways that may require more attention and effort. Learning how to learn in different ways will assist students to be life long learners who are capable of learning in various settings and situations. If students can be successful by learning in ways that are most natural to them they are more likely to take on the challenge to move toward Jung's concept of completion.

Action Research

The faculty who teach The First Year Seminar, Mg 102, commit to meet together several times during the semester to discuss student progress and to continually seek to improve our service to our new students. As a result of these meetings the idea surfaced to track our students' learning styles in order to offer better instruction and support services.

Objectives of the study were to:

* work with the Student Support Service tutors and Career Services to empower them to build on the introduction that the students receive regarding learning style theory in the First Year Seminar course.

* provide workshops for students with very strong learning preferences to assist them in developing their weaker styles.

* study and report the results of the learning style profiles of new Marygrove students to identify any possible clustering of styles in our population.

* Offer on-going support to the First Year Seminar faculty to help them make better use of the information to assist their students' in monitoring their own learning style development.

Several researchers and educators have adapted the theory of the MBTI and developed instruments for specific uses. One example is "The Thoughtful Education Model"' developed by J. Robert Hanson and Harvey F. Silver. Their work centers on four learning skills identified by Jung: Sensing/Intuition and Thinking/Feeling and offers very valuable application for educators. To test the consistency of the short form of the Myers/Briggs instrument four groups of students completed either "Learning Style Instrument for Adults," developed by Hanson and Silver or the Form G of the MBTI in addition to the short form.

The following characteristics of the learning styles is based upon the research of Hanson and Silver (1996) as reported in course materials produced by Canter Educational Associates for Marygrove College's Master in the Art of Teaching Program (1996).

ST / Sensing-Thinking Learning Style In the sensing-thinking learning style (ST), students want concrete, specific information and need to know what is right and wrong. They need a structured environment and lose interest if things move too slow or don't seem practical. They learn best from repetition, drill, memorization and actual experience. They need immediate feedback.

NT / Intuitive- Thinking Learning Style In the intuitive-thinking learning style (NT), students are skeptical, analytical and logical. They trust hard evidence and reason. They prefer to work independently; they understand things and ideas by breaking them down into their component parts. They want to be challenged and allowed to be creative, and are concerned with relevance and meaning. They have great patience and persistence if their attention is captured.

SF / Sensing-Feeling Learning Style In the sensing-feeling learning style (SF), students process information based on their personal experience. They respond to collegiality, trust, respect and learning cooperatively. They view content mastery as secondary to harmonious relationships. They are very sensitive to approval or disapproval. They learn best by talking and like group activities.

NF / Intuitive-Feeling Learning Style In the intuitive-feeling learning style (NF), students are looking for possibilities and patterns, and connections with prior learning. They look for uniqueness, originality and aestheticism. They learn best in a flexible and innovative atmosphere. They have difficulty planning and organizing their time. They need to see the big picture. They are bored by routine and rote assignments.

With these categories in mind information was collected on 207 Marygrove students between the years 1995-1998. Of these 207 students 167 were female. Although the age of the students was not documented it should be noted that the average age of Marygrove's undergraduate student is 32.

Results of Marygrove study
Introverts   Feelers   Intuitive   Sensing   Intuitive   Sensing
                       Feelers     Feelers   Thinkers    Thinkers
                       (NF)        (SF)      (NT)        (ST)

68%          66%       41%         25%       18%         16%

These results are quite different from other studies. According to the research of Hanson and Silver which does not specify age level:

Intuitive Feelers make up about 10% of all students.

Sensing Feelers make up about 35% of all students.

Intuitive Thinkers make up about 20% of all students.

Sensing Thinkers make up about 35% of all students,

The Marygrove research was compared to another study of college students conducted by Mary Todd and Daniel Robinson at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, Massachusetts in 1995. Bunker Hill has approximately 6,000 day and evening students. The MBTI preferences of 1007 students were collected over a ten-year period (1985-1995). This research was reported at the Center for Application of Psychological Type Conference held in Orlando, Florida in March of 1998. The study reported scores by racial identification.

Bunker Hill results reported by racial group
Style                    African American (20%)   Caucasian (63%)

Introvert (I)                     63%                   46%
Feeler (F)                        29%                   50%
Intuitive Feeler (NF)             07%                   24%
Sensing Feeler (SF)               21%                   26%
Intuitive Thinker (NT)            12%                   19%
Sensing Thinker (ST)              60%                   31%

The racial composition in the Marygrove study was the opposite of the Bunker Hill study. Of 725 students in the Bunker Hill study 63% were Caucasian and 20% were African American. In the Marygrove study, of the 204 students whose racial background was reported 87% were African American and 11% were Caucasian.

The most obvious difference in the Marygrove results is in the high percentage of Intuitive Feelers (NF) students. Keirsey and Bates (1984) report that only 12% of the general population are NFs. This is much closer to what Hanson and Silver and Todd and Robinson (Bunker Hill) report.

Marygrove results reported by racial group
Style                    African American (87%)   Caucasian (11%)

Introvert (I)                     69%                   43%
Feeler (F)                        63%                   78%
Intuitive Feeler (NF)             40%                   39%
Sensing Feeler (SF)               23%                   39%
Intuitive Thinker (NT)            19%                   13%
Sensing Thinker (ST)              18%                   09%

Insight into why Marygrove may attract a higher percentage of NF students may be in the characteristics of the college itself. Marygrove is a small (approximately 1,000 undergraduate students) Catholic liberal arts college. The literature boasts of small class size and a warm and personal atmosphere Fairhurst and Fairhurst (1999) describe NF students as preferring small-group discussions and one on one instruction. They want a personalized learning setting. They seek harmony and demonstrate sensitivity and caring for others. Personal values are very important to them. If we place the stated characteristics of Marygrove College, as described by the mission statement and college catalog, along side the characteristics of the Intuitive Feeler learner the results may not be so surprising.

Comparison of Intuitive Feeler (NF) data
Keirsey & Bates   Hanson & Silver    Bunker Hill      Marygrove

      12%               10%         African Amer.   African Amer.
                                         07%             40%
                                    Caucasian 24%   Caucasian 39%
Marygrove College Characteristics   Intuitive-Feeler (NF) Learners

Small, warm and friendly,
                                    Learn best in a nurturing
Religiously oriented: Catholic
and very ecumenical in approach     Have a keen interest in other
                                    belief systems and enjoy
                                    discussing moral diemmas
Commited to the liberal arts
                                    Needs to explore creative
                                    potential and find ways to
                                    express her/his ideas and
                                    beliefs and share this
Especially noted for the helping
professions and the arts;           Are inspired be sensitive,
commited to valuing diversity       supportive, humanistic teachers
                                    who show them they care about
                                    them as individuals
Strives to develop graduates who
exemplify competence, commitment    Looks for similarities among
and compassion                      people and encourahes
                                    cooperation and harmony

Conclusions and Future Action

Adult students bring a consumer mentality to higher education. They will seek out learning environments that offer them the best chance at success. This study provides Marygrove faculty and support staff with a closer look at the students who choose Marygrove as their ticket to the future. A great percentage of these students are looking for a personal environment that will allow them to unleash their unique creative potential. Affirming this natural preference for learning provides an important variable that contributes to success. Successful students are more likely to develop abilities that might not have been tapped. These students bring with them many years of life experience in which they have developed habits and attitudes toward learning. Some of these habits and attitudes must be transformed if these students are to graduate and move on to a successful future.

This study was undertaken as an action research project that does not seek correlation beyond the population studied. However, faculty at other institutions could easily conduct their own study to ascertain the profile of their student body. The value is in determining if there is a dominant student profile at the institution. If there is, faculty and support staff have a better opportunity to begin working with the students" most natural style. Research has suggested that knowing one's preferred learning style enhances a student's ability to achieve academic success. The knowledge that there are different styles for achieving success is in itself an eye opener for many students.

Some studies have indicated that academically successful students have fewer strong learning style preferences than do low achievers. The challenge is to assist students in perfecting their natural learning style while providing the incentive to develop less dominant styles they will need in the workforce and other areas of their lives. Engaging in the process of learning how to learn must include awareness of how one perceives and processes material to be learned. Instructors can enhance students' awareness by calling their attention to the ways and means by which they are approaching their subject. Varying teaching methods in each component of the instructional cycle on a regular basis and then discussing what each student finds most compelling and most challenging provides opportunities to raise awareness.

Hanson and Silver offer the following suggestions for what they call teaching around the wheel. Each aspect of instruction offers opportunities to reach the variety of styles by changing teaching methods on a regular basis.

Anticipatory Sets (Introductions that prepare for the lesson or a unit)

ST Give facts, details

NT Raise issues & potential problems

SF Relate to students' experiences, feelings & prior knowledge

NF Suggest new and original possibilities


ST Who, what, where, when

NT Explain, compare, identify cause and effect

SF Ask: What has been your experience? What do you know about?

NF Ask: What might happen if or ask for an application


ST Organize factual information, practice for recall

NT Create a problem solving mode where students must sort out data, analyze and draw conclusions

SF Provide for group work or a task that involves the affect NF Provide choices for completing assignments and projects or assign tasks that involve imagination, innovation


ST Traditional rows or pairs; teacher at focus

NT Teams that will create a debating atmosphere; teacher moves from team to team.

SF Groups or pairs for collaboration; teacher meets students at eye level

NF Learning centers, student arranged for interest; teacher is a resource


ST Frequent, quick, short/need to know if they are right

NT Infrequent but with explanation of why they received the grade they did

SF Frequent, quick with an emphasis on the amount of effort that is evidenced

NF Infrequent but with emphasis on its value: its uniqueness and creativity


ST Provide a model of what a complete and accurate assignment will look like, practice and drill

NT Problem solving, analyzing work, it too must be modeled

SF Opportunities for articulating ideas, learning from others, develop skills of collaboration designed to convince students they have knowledge

NF Projects or opportunities to create new or different ways of looking at material, important to set criteria


ST True and false, fill in the blanks, any measure that allows students to recall factual material

NT Critical essays, debates, research projects which measure the ability to see relationships

SF Interviews in and out of class. Let the students question you

NF Anything that can show what the student can do with what they have learned

Helping students learn how to learn may be the most important lesson faculty can teach students. Life-long learners, capable of learning and working in diverse settings, are vital to the 21century society. Assisting students in achievement of this goal puts a demand on faculty to take the time to teach around the learning style wheel. The reward for this effort will be more students who are engaged in at least some aspect of the learning process. Going a step further and talking with students about how they experience learning when instruction or tasks call on styles that are not natural for them, raises awareness of their own approach to learning. Students may believe that what comes natural to them is all that they can do well and they are doomed to failure in all other areas. Unless we support students to develop under developed aspects of their styles they are unlikely to have lifelong success. An important task of learning how to learn is to develop an awareness of oneself as a learner. Students need to reflect on their experience of learning in order to take charge of the full development of their abilities. The ultimate goal of higher education can not be content learning alone. Content may become obsolete. The U.S. Department of Labor has identified the ability of knowing how to learn as the most fundamental skill for the next century (Carnevale, 1988). Self-awareness and then self-monitoring are essentials for learning how to learn. Faculty and support staffs who nurture this type of learning are helping develop tomorrow's workers. The kind of workers who are needed for the learning organizations that will fuel our global economy.


Brandt, R. (1998). Powerful learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Canter Educational Productions (1996). Learning styles and multiple intelligences. Santa Monica, CA.

Carnevale, A., Gainer, L & Meltzer, A. (1988). Workplace basics: the skills employers want. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor.

Fairhurst, A. & Fairhurst ` L. (1995). Effective teaching and effective learning: making the personality connection in your classroom. Palo Alto, CA: Davis-Black Publishing.

Hanson, J.R. & Silver, H.F. (1995). Learning styles & strategies. Princeton, NJ:Hanson Silver Strong & Associates.

Keirsey, D. & Bates, M. (1984). Please understand me: character and temperament types. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.

Lawrence, G.D. (1979). People types and tiger stripes: a practical guide to learning styles. Gainsville, FL: Center for Application of Psychological Type.

Todd, M & Robinson, D. (1998). "Students of Color at an Urban Community College." Gainsville, FL: Center for Application of Psychological Type.

MARY ELLEN McCLANAGHAN, PH.D. Marygrove College 22461 Revere St. Clair Shores, Michigan 48080
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