THE IMPACT OF LEARNING STYLE ON STUDENT ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE

2.0 Literature Review

Available literature shows that most schools implement different tools to assess the knowledge, understanding and skills of their students (Abidin, Rezaee, Abdullah, and Singh, 2011). Some learning styles used by students and instructors are more effective than others. Specific learning styles enhance efficiency and effectiveness in the learning process while others demonstrate high levels of inefficiencies (Dunn et al, 2009). Approaches used by teachers and the learning styles employed by the students are very important in the process of learning and knowledge retention. The methods of teaching have a direct effect on ability of students to successfully store and structure information. On the other hand, learning has a direct impact on the ability of students to efficiently structure information that they are given in class. Several studies have explored the relationship between academic success of students and the learning styles that they use (Jilardi et al, 2011). Some of the studies show that regardless of the low correlation between general academic performance and learning styles, there is significant relationship between learning styles and academic performance on an individual scale.

2.1 Review of Key Concepts

2.1.1 Learning Style

Learning styles can be largely described as the range of competing theories which aim at accounting for the differences in individuals’ learning (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer and Bjork, 2008). The theories hold that everybody can be categorized in accordance with their style of learning. Learning style refer to the natural tendencies which are demonstrated by individual learners that show the preferences and strengths for absorbing and processing information. Also, the term can be defined as the manner through which learners most efficiently and effectively perceive, store, process and recall learned materials.

According to Pritchard (2013), the term learning style can be described as a tool that incorporates four knowledge acquisition aspects. The aspects were described by the researcher as cognitive style, patterns of attitudes, tendency to pursue situations as well as inclination to utilize some strategies ahead of others. In a different study, Fleming and Baume (2006), described learning as a constant behavior pattern and performance, through which people approach educational experience. It is a composite of characteristics of affective, cognitive and psychological behaviors which serve as stable indicators of how learners interact, perceive and respond to learning environments. Additionally, it is deeply formed in the structure of neutral organization and personality that mold human development together with cultural experience of schools, homes and societies. Mupinga, Nora and Yaw (2006), elucidated that learning styles are the educational conditions in which students are likely to learn. Therefore, the styles do not necessarily deal with “what” the learners learn, but instead, “how” the learners prefer to attain knowledge. Dunn et al (2009), defined learning styles as methods used by people to acquire knowledge. The researchers argued that the styles happen to be the vehicles through information is transferred to learners and processed by their brains.

2.1.2 Active Learning Style

Active learning is a term that was introduced by an English scholar known as R.W Revans who lived between 1907 and 2003 (Bean, 2011). The scholar was quite instrumental in the promotion of active learning in the world. In the recent times, James Eison and Charles Bonwell scholars have been recognized as the pioneers of active learning style in the education sector. Settles, (2012), defines active learning as tool which requires learners to participate in the learning process alongside passively listening. According to Bean (2011), active learning is the engagement of learners with the materials being learned. Therefore, students need to closely interact with concepts under study through assignments, discussions and research as they learn. Active learning style has also been defined as a process which involves students in doing and thinking about things they learn.

According to (Al-Hebaishi, 2012), active learning refers to various activities through which learners participate in the process of learning instead of just listening or watching passively as information get transmitted. The activities highlighted by the researcher include problem solving, reading, answering questions, discussion and writing among others. Goldfinch and Hughes (2007), active learning style is a method of knowledge acquisition which supports the notion that knowledge is durable if learners are cognitively engaged in the learning process. The long term retention, transfer and understanding is an outcome of mental work of learners who are actively engaged in sense-making and knowledge construction.

Active learning styles are largely defined as instructional methods that engage students in the learning process (Duman, 2010). While the definition includes traditional activities like homework, Duman (2010), was keen to note that active learning is specific on activities which are introduced in the classroom. The researcher was categorical in identifying that the core elements of active learning are engagement and activities of the student in the learning process. Also, Hsieh and Dwyer (2009), hold that active learning is an instruction tool which requires students to fully commit to discussions, writing, reading and answering questions at the expense of just listening to their teachers. The definition holds that students should contribute to the learning process by participating in learning activities instead of leaving everything to their teachers or instructors (Sadeghi, Kasim, Tan and Abdullah 2012).

Available literature indicates that active learning is mindful experiential and engaging. Through this style of learning, students can explore various experiences which are not only effective but also interesting hence giving them room to take responsibility for their education. Instructors may use active learning techniques in any class. However, some activities in active learning are best designed for small classes. Active learning encourages students to work in groups, talk to one another and respond to questions through writing and polling. Small classes enhance effective use of active learning strategies as it gives the instructor easy time in monitoring the progress of learners.

2.1.3 Visual Learning Style

Visual learning was defined by Abidin et al (2011), as a learning style through which students absorb and process information through reading and seeing pictures. The definition implies that learners remember and understand things by sight. The learners easily remember concepts by picturing them in their minds when need arises. The researchers proved that visual learning style does not need distractions around classrooms as students might easily get carried away. According to Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006), viasual learning falls among the three popular learning styles that were fronted by Neil D. Fleming in the VAK learning model. The scholars defined visual learning as tool that requires people to see information as they learn it. Ideally, seeing information was clarified by the researchers to be taking different forms ranging from spatial awareness, color photographic memory and tone among others.

Gilakjani and Ahmadi (2011), hold that visual learning is a style that requires students to use their eyes more often. Visual learners are categorised into linguistic and spatial learners. Apparently, those who are visual-linguistic learn through written language by reading in writing. As such, the learners remember things that they write even if they fail to read them regularly. Such people tend to pay close attention to lecturers as they watch them demonstrate concepts while in class. On the other hand, Gilakjani and Ahmadi (2011) argue that learners who fall in the category of visual-spatial have challenges with written languages but perform better in dealing with videos, chats, demonstrations among other visual materials.

Jonassen and Grabowski (2012), defined visual learning as a style that involves use of diagrams, maps, graphs and charts. The scholars held that visual learners utilize images to understand ideas and concepts. However, the scholars were keen to identify that the learning style does not involve photographs and videos (Jonassen and Grabowski, 2012). Visual learners grasp concepts better when instructors present information using shapes, patterns and other visual aids at the expense of spoken and written words. Similarly, Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006), hold that visual learning is a style that requires students to relate verbal and written information with images. As such, create images of concepts and situations in their mind and digest new information. Students who use visual learning style tend to remember more information that is presented in images than those that are presented verbally or in writing. Abidin et al (2011), provided various ways through which visual learners behave. Ideally, the earners easily master sign languages and they tend to pay a lot of attention to body language (Abidin et al, 2011). Characteristically, the visual learners find it difficult to remember concepts that are completely delivered in writing or verbally, without any diagrammatic representation or demonstration accompanying it.

2.1.4 Verbal Learning Style

Verbal learning style involves both spoken and written word (Baykan and Naçar, 2007). Students who utilize the style find it easy to express themselves in writing and when speaking. According to Willingham, Hughes and Dobolyi (2015), identified that verbal communication is a learning style through which individuals respond to informational stimuli using auditory strategies. Ideally, the verbal learning style implies that students efficiently learn by listening to people and taking information in writing (Willingham, Hughes and Dobolyi, 2015). The implication is that learners have the ability to solve problems, draw conclusions and learn through just writing and speaking.

Alkhasawneh et al. (2008), defined verbal learning as a style that involves fascination with the music, arts, legal documents, politics, writings, old-world and novels. Verbal learners are defined as people who love to receive and process information through writing and speaking (Pham, 2012). Ideally, verbal learners lack the skills for positioning things in space. Therefore, they largely rely on language skills, which are mostly manifested through writing and speaking.  Verbal learning style refers to the ability of an individual to reason, solve a problem and learn through language (Karthigeyan and Nirmala, 2013). Since the better part of school curriculum is taught through verbal communication, verbal learners tend to perform well in schools.

Kolb (2014), explained that verbal learning style refers to a method that guides learners to understand and retain information out of spoken and written explanations. The scholar held that verbal learners tend to write summaries and outlines of information materials in their own words. Similarly, they prefer working in groups and gain understanding of concepts by hearing explanations from their classmates. Most verbal learners get a better understanding of a given information when they try to explain it to others (Kolb, 2014). Baykan and Naçar (2007), defined verbal learning as a method that triggers the tendency of students to read out loud, repeat information and ask various questions for purposes of clarification. To some extent, verbal learners achieve more through verbal instructions, online forums and webinar lectures.

Ideally, verbal learners properly acquire and retain information through spoken or written materials. The learners prefer to be involved in activities which are founded on language reasoning at the expense of visual information. For instance, verbal learners prefer math word problems instead of solving equations. Additionally, the earners enjoy writing projects, doing speeches and engaging in class debates. Observably, the learners have problems with hand-eye coordination. At times, they find it difficult to interpret visual presentations. For instance, some of the learners might find it difficult to interpret charts, maps or even graphs because they are used to written and spoken information.

2.1.5 Sequential Learning

Sequential learning style is a method that enhances understanding of concepts and information in linear steps (Nuzhat, Salem, Quadri and Al-Hamdan, 2011). The steps follow each other logically from previous one to the next. On the same note, sequential learners follow logical step-like paths when finding solutions to environmental problems. According to Willingham, Hughes and Dobolyi (2015), sequential learning style involves organization of information in a linear and order orderly fashion. Sequential learners understand and retain information in logical sequence. Additionally, they work with information in systematic and organized ways (Willingham, Hughes and Dobolyi, 2015).

Alkhasawneh et al. (2008), holds that sequential learning style involves procedural organization of information in such a way that the first stage of understanding leads to the next level. Therefore, learners have the obligation to successfully undergo a stage before they move to the next (Alkhasawneh et al. 2008). According to Pham (2012), sequential learners have particular procedural patterns in which they use informational stimuli. Karthigeyan and Nirmala (2013), defined sequential learning as a step-by-step learning style. The scholars held that sequential learners look at information in a systematic way and perform well when information is given to them in a logical way. According to Kolb (2014), sequential learning is a systematic learning style that encourages students to handle informational challenges in parts. Since information is dealt with in logical steps, learners can solve parts of the problem even when they don’t completely understand the entire problem. Akers and Jensen (2006) defined sequential learning as a learning style that breaks down information and organizes it systematically. Learners then put the details together to understand how the big picture emerges.

Sequential learners achieve their academic objectives by understanding details of information as well as slowly creating an image of the bigger picture. The students work properly with details, however, they tend to have challenges in understanding larger ideas and concepts. As such, teachers and instructors provide them with an outline for the presentation of new ideas. Similarly, the instructors build their presentation of new information in steps which lead to the main idea or concepts. Most importantly, the instructors design the information in a way that learners meet the simpler concepts first as they advance to the complicated ones.

2.1.6 Academic Performance

Hann et al (2007), defines a cademic performance as the outcome of education. The researchers show that academic performance is the extent to which students, teachers or institutions achieve their educational objectives. Performance is largely characterised by achievement on tests related to coursework as well as student performance on other examinations. According to Rudolph and Popp (2007), academic performance is defined as the level of achievement of academic goals by students and teachers. The researchers categorised academic goals into short term and long term classes. Jonassen (2006), defines academic performance as a measure of how well individuals achieve their objectives in educational settings. The researchers explained that high school report cards show performance of learners at that level of education.

Akers and Jensen (2006), showed that academic performance is defined as the total score or grade that is attained by students in the final year in academic institutions. According to this definition, the grades point at the average GPA, which is also a convenient summary of students’ achievements in examinations. The researchers also explained that academic performance is a measure because it offers greater insight on achievement levels of students, teachers and institutions at large.

According to Kolb (2014), academic performance refer to the outcomes which show the extent to which individuals have accomplished specific goals which were the main focus of the activities within an instructional environment. The researcher explained that academic performance is perceived to be a multi-faced construct that is made of various learning domains. Since the field of academic performance is wide and involves a broad variety of educational outcomes, Kolb (2014), indicated that the definition depends on the indicators that are used to measure it such as GPA of learners and mean grades attained by learning institutions among others.

Karthigeyan and Nirmala (2013), outlined that academic performance refers to the level of schooling that is successfully completed by an individual as well as their ability to achieve high scores in their studies. As such, the definition implies that academic performance is fundamentally concerned with educational accomplishments achieved by an individual, particularly in schools and higher learning institutions. The researchers demonstrated that academic performance can be measured through grading and successful completion of a course in college, school or university. Pham (2012), in his research on leadership and academic performance, showed that the definition of academic performance varies among different stakeholders including educators and policymakers. In his study, academic performance was defined as the measure of level of success of learners in academic institutions. The researcher indicated that success is largely measured through achievement of course objectives.

Various factors affect academic performance of students in their learning institutions. While the factors can be classified into school based, home based, learner based and resource based, available literature indicates that learning styles play a significant role in motivation of learners to process and retain information. Notably, motivation is a fundamental recipe in academic success of learners. It includes both external and internal factors which stimulate the energy and desire to continuously remain committed and interested to achieve educational goals. Motivation explains why people perform tasks, how hard they pursue tasks and how long they will sustain the activity.

2.2 Critical Review of Learning Style Models

2.2.1 Kolb Model

Kolb’s model of learning style was published by David Kolb in 1984, after which the scholar developed the learning style inventory (Joy and Kolb 2009). The model largely works on two levels namely; four stage cycle of learning and the four separate learning styles. Ideally, the better part of kolb’s model deals with the internal cognitive processes of the learner. The scholar indicates that learning involves attainment of abstract concepts which are flexibly applicable in a range of situations (Joy and Kolb 2009). In this model, the impetus for the development of new concepts is offered by new experiences. On the same note, the scholar defined learning as a process through which knowledge is created based on transformation of experiences. The model denotes that various people prefer specific single learning styles and that different factors affect preference of the learners (Joy and Kolb 2009). Some of the influential factors identified in the model include social environment, educational experience and basic cognitive structures of individuals.

Kolb’s model assumes that academic performance is achieved through four stages. The immediate and concrete experience forms the basis of observation. Learners then reflect on the observations and start to establish a general theory what the information implies (Platsidou and Metallidou 2009). The learners then form abstract concepts together with generalizations depending on their hypotheses. Finally, learners test implications of the concepts in new situations that confront them. Secondly, the model holds that factors influencing choice of learning styles are products of two variables which can be presented as axes in a Cartesian plane. Kolb’s presented the two continuums in east-west axis and termed it as a processing continuum as well as north-south axis, termed as perception continuum (Platsidou and Metallidou 2009). The processing continuum shows how people approach tasks while the perception continuum indicates emotional response or how people feel and think about tasks.

The main strength of Kolb’s model helps learners and instructors to understand learning styles hence making easily transition to higher levels of cognitive and personal functioning (Platsidou and Metallidou 2009). Secondly, the models enables teachers to cover materials in ways that best fit the diversity of classrooms. Regardless of the wide acceptance of Kolb’s model, it can be observed that theory only offers limited factors that affect learning (Platsidou and Metallidou 2009). Unfortunately, the model fails to explain psychodynamic, social as well as institutional aspects which influence academic performance in the long run. It is vital to remember that people have different learning style preference depending on their situations. Therefore, various approaches may be required even for the same person under different circumstances. Summarily, the main limitation of Kolb’s model is its generalizability since it has been used in a fairly limited range of cultures.

2.2.2 Dunn and Dunn Model

The model was published by professors Rita and Kenneth Dunn in the 1979 after research had been performed on the same for approximately 30 years (Hawk and Shah, 2007). The model holds that each peson has a unique set of biological and developmental traits. The model anticipates observable improvements in academic performance and student behaviors when a match is achieved between learning styles and the instructional environment (Hawk and Shah, 2007). The model was developed for use in all learning levels with the objective of improving instructional effectiveness for learners who hardly demonstrate appropriate progress (Hawk and Shah, 2007).

Dunn and Dunn model is founded on the assumption that academic performance of students improves when appropriate environment, resources and strategies are given and learners develop a positive attitude towards learning (Honigsfeld and Dunn, 2009). The model holds that learning styles are made up of five fundamental stimuli namely; environmental, sociological, psychological, emotional and psysiological elements. Notably, the stimulants elicit various impacts on academic performance of students. The environmental stimuli is largely concerned with where learners study. Such environments could be quite, warm or noisy. Emotional stimuli deals with issues such as motivation, structures, task persistence and responsibilities. Sociological preferences include learning individually or in groups, having specific routines or engagement in peer learning groups (Honigsfeld and Dunn, 2009). The model identifies psychological processing inclinations such as global and impulsive factors to be influential on academic performance. Physiological preferences such as time of the day, perceptual strengths, need for intake and mobility during learning have also been identified by the model to influence academic achievement (Honigsfeld and Dunn, 2009). The model is also built under the assumption that students who are exposed to empowering environments and have adequate resources can be successful in their learning.

The main strength of the model is the fact that it identifies that everybody has a unique biological and developmental characteristics. As such, the model acknowledges that students learn differently (Kavale and LeFever, 2007). Therefore, every students has a unique learning style with strengths and weaknesses that conform to their biological and developmental characteristics. Secondly, the model is applicable in a wide range of learning levels including secondary schools, colleges and universities among others (Kavale and LeFever, 2007). Thirdly, the model affirms students’ preferences instead of focusing on weaknesses of the learners. However, the model has been largely challenged by critiques because of the fact that it doesn’t outline the measures of remedying weaknesses that negatively influence choice of learning styles and academic performance.

2.2.3 Honey and Munford Model

Honey and Munford model of learning styles was published by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford in 1986 (Moreno, 2012). The model is built upon the Kolb’s model of learning styles after researchers argued that latter lacked validity. The researchers argued that most people hardly consider how they really learn. To be an effective learner, people need to understand their preferences on learning styles and attain ways through which they can learn from the methods. The model categorises learners into four groups (Javier and Bruno, 2010). First, the activities are people who learn by doing things and prefer to make their hands filthy. Activists have a receptive method of handling learning. Mostly, their learning activities involve brainstorming, group discussion, problem solving, competitions and puzzles (Moreno, 2012). The theorists get a kick out of the chance to understand the hypotheses behind things. They want facts, models and ideas that have specific goals to engage in the learning process. The theorists prefer learning through statistics, quotes, stories, background information and theoretical application of concepts. The group of pragmatists have the ability to perceive how practice learning in their daily activities. Their main mode of action is experiment with new ideas, methods and speculations to ascertain whether they work. Pragmatists learn best by taking their time to figure out how to apply concepts in legality. Finally, reflectors learn through watching and contemplation of events (Javier and Bruno, 2010). They do not like to be involved in activities but instead learn by watching from the sidelines. The reflectors majorly learn through observation of activities, coaching, paired discussions and self-analysis.

The model assumes that learning can be easier, more effective and enjoyable if students establish a better fit between their learning styles and the available learning opportunities (Moreno, 2012). As such, the model holds that learners who know their learning styles are likely to perform better than those who do not know their preferences (Javier and Bruno, 2010). Secondly, the theory holds that expansion of band width of experiences makes learners versatile and enables them to learn from a range of experiences. Also, the model holds that increasing awareness of how students learn opens the entire process for self-scrutiny and improvement.

The main strength of model is high level of validity. The model was developed on the foundation of Kolb’s model which was perceived by various critics to be very low on validity. As such, Honey and Mumford developed their model to improve on the validity weakness observed on the Kolb’s theory (Javier and Bruno, 2010). Secondly, the model appreciates the fact that individuals naturally gravitate towards specific learning styles. As such, everybody needs to identify their natural learning styles, understand them and find learning ways that complement their styles. The major limitation of the model is the fact that it does not incorporate the institutional factors influencing choice of learning style (Moreno, 2012). Notably, the model is only concerned with personal influential factors affecting choice of learning styles.

2.2.4 Felder and Silverman Model

This learning style model was developed by Richard M. Felder and Linda K. Silverman in 1996 (Dourado, Leite and Soares, 2010). The model has four main dimensions which express different learning aspects with a linguistic variable. The first dimension shows that learners can be modeled as sensing or intuitive depending on how they perceive information. Secondly, learners can be modeled as either visual or verbal depending on how they receive information. Thirdly, learners can be distinguished as active or reflective depending on how they process information. Finally, learners can either be categorized as sequential or global based on how the comprehend new information. Felder and Silverman model of learning styles can be shown as a Cartesian product of various incorporated dimensions (Graf, Viola and Kinshuk, 2006). For example, a learner can be active, intuitive, verbal and sequential, while others could be reflective, sensing, verbal and sequential. Summarily, the model represents all learners with regards to their tendencies through classification into the two poles of dimensions.

The model was developed on various assumptions. First, Felder and Silverman assumed that the model is can only be applied on engineering students. Secondly, the researchers assumed that the reliability and validity of the index of learning styles scales used in the model are in a mature state (Graf, Viola, Leo and Kinshuk, 2007). Also, the model is based on the assumptions that learners adapt to new challenges as they develop in the learning process (Sangvigit, Mungsing and Theeraroungchaisri, 2012). Notably, low levels of learning are less challenging as compared to the higher levels. However, students develop tenacity to overcome the challenges as they go through the process of learning. Finally, the model assumes that the learning styles of students indicate strengths and potential tendencies which lead to difficulties in academic setting (Hsieh, Jang, Hwang, and Chen, 2011).

One of the strengths of the model is based on the ground that it focuses on students’ strengths and weaknesses. As such, the model aims at enhancing success and fulfillment by providing light on how to use strengths to overcome the weaknesses. The model encourages adoption of strategies which maximize strengths and minimize impacts of weaknesses (Graf, Viola and Kinshuk, 2006). Secondly, the model is recommended specifically for engineers. Therefore, its principles focus particularly on engineering students thus encouraging maximization of benefits of the model to the group. However, the biggest weakness of the model is the fact that it only focuses on a particular group of learners. Ideally, the model should be universal to an extent that it covers a vast majority of learners across different fields.

2.3 Empirical Studies in Global Context

In their study on the relationship between learning styles and academic achievement of high school girls in Iran, Hamayoni and Abdolahi (2003) showed a direct relationship between the abstractive conceptualization of learning styles and academic success in foreign languages and mathematics (Hamayoni and Abdolahi, 2003). The main strength of the study was based on the fact that it focused on a particular gender and subjects. However, it is difficult to determine whether the study findings could be applicable to general academic performance and to the male gender. In Turkey, Emamepur and Shams (2003) performed a research on impact of learning styles on binary and single language students’ academic performance. The study revealed that students whose languages were Persian and Turkish preferred sensing and verbal learning styles while those who only communicated through the Persian language preferred intuitive and visual learning styles (Emamepur and Shams, 2003). The main strength of the study was its ability to assess students with different languages hence indicating that languages have influence on preferred learning styles. However, the research was limited to two languages yet several other languages exist in the world. In a different study involving University students, Emamepur and Shams (2004), discovered that students who majored in Architecture were visual and sequential learners, and there was significant relationship their choice of learning styles and academic performance. The study exploited the role of course on choice of learning style as well as ultimate impact on academic performance. However, the study failed to underline why architects preferred visual and sequential learning at the expense of the other learning style combinations.  Rahmanpur, Palezeyan and Zamane (2008), investigated the learning styles of engineering students against other learners. The study revealed that engineering students differed from learners whose courses were speculative (Rahmanpur, Palezeyan and Zamane, 2008). The study demonstrated how unique learning styles could be particular groups of learners against their counterparts. However, the research did not specify the particular learning styles that were preferred by the respective engineering and speculative students.

Felder and Silverman (1988), performed a study on the learning styles of chemistry and architect students. The study revealed that chemistry students are more sensing, active, sequential and verbal. The major strength of the study was its focus on post high school students. However, it left gaps on academic performance of the students based on the learning styles that they preferred. Felder (1993) researched on the relationship between learning styles, instructional methods and academic performance. The study revealed that students whose learning styles were matching instructional methods performed well in academics. The major strength of the research was based on its ability to relate the three variables of learning style, instructional method and academic performance. However, study did not specify an academic level for which the relationship works.

Dunn (2000) researched on the effect of learning style on academic performance of boys and girls. The researchers showed that boys are prefer kinesthetic and visual learning styles while girls prefer auditory learning styles (Dunn, 2000). The strength of the study draws to the fact that the research considered the different abilities between boys and girls during the investigation. However, the study did not specify why boys prefer kinesthetic and visual learning styles while girls prefer auditory styles. Cassidy (2004), assessed the learning styles of both context dependent and independent students. The research revealed that context independent learners preferred active styles since they had inner motivation whereas the context dependent students required auditory learning styles (2004). The main strength of the study was the fact that it incorporated the element of motivation, which is huge performance determinant. However, the study failed to specific why context dependent students prefer auditory learning style.

Pashler, Daniel, Rohrer and Bejork (2008), discovered that students perform better when their learning styles are accordant with their personal characteristics. The study employed the significance of personal characteristics in choice of learning styles. However, the study did not outline the particular characteristics which lead to better performance. Hargadon (2010), in his research on the learning styles and academic success, discovered that teachers need to pay attention to the students’ learning differences since the differences influence the appropriate teaching methods necessary for the learners. The research considers how individual differences affect choice of learning style as well as teaching method. However, study did not show the differences and teaching methods affect academic performance of students in the long run.

2.4 Empirical Studies in Malaysia

Abidin, Rezaee, Abdullah and Singh (2011), researched on learning styles and overall academic performance. The study showed that prefer the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles. Students who understood their preferred learning styles had better performance compared those who did not (Abidin, Rezaee, Abdullah and Singh, 2011). The major strength of the study draws from the fact that it considered general performance of learners. However, the study failed to ascertain how various combinations of learning styles affect academic performance. Kosnin (2007), in his research on self-regulated learning style and academic achievement, discovered that high university achievers used the style while low achievers did not use it (Kosnin, 2007). The study narrowed down to a single learning style element hence increasing chances of obtaining specific results. However, the established relationship cannot be used in other learning style elements which were not tested in the study.

Wong (2004), assessed whether learning styles of international students were cultural or context based. The study found that learning styles are context based since international students could adapt to the Malaysian student-centred learning styles (Wong, 2004). The strength of the study is based on the ground that it considered students from different cultural backgrounds thus introducing diversity in the research. However, the findings of the study could not be related to the local students of Malaysia. Manochehr (2006), researched on the effect of learning styles on e-learning. The study revealed that learning styles were significant for knowledge performance. The study’s main strength comes from the fact that it incorporated the element of technology in learning styles and performance. Unfortunately, the study did not indicate whether the findings could be applicable in traditional classrooms.

Othman and Amiruddin (2010), investigated the different perspectives of learning styles in Malaysia. The study revealed that VARK learning styles create fascinating environments for learning hence stimulating student senses and boosting their academic performance. The main strength of the study was its ability to address the different learning styles under the VARK model and relate them to academic performance. The study, however, failed to incorporate other learning theories, such as Dunn and Dunn model among others. Al-Tamimi and Shuib (2016) investigated the learning style preference of ESL students in Malaysia. The findings of the study showed that English majors in in the Universiti Sains Malaysia had specific learnings styles that their teachers needed to incorporate in the teaching methods. The research was keen to identify the various learning styles preferred by the learners. However, the findings of the study could not be easily applied in other study fields hence calling for a research on general academic performance.

Koh and Chua (2012), investigated the learning styles among mechanical engineering students. Findings showed that most engineering students prefer kinaesthetic and visual learning styles. The research covered different learning institutions in Malaysia hence increasing reliability of findings as a representation of all institutions. On the other hand, the study did not indicate the significance of the learning styles on academic achievements of the students. Yong, (2010), in his research on perceptual learning styles, discovered that students have particular learning styles that contribute to their academic performance as opposed to others. Teachers need to use different teaching methods to avoid side lining learners who do not use a specific learning style (Yong, 2010). The research identified various psychological characteristics that influence perception on learning styles. However, the study did not outline causes for preference of particular learning styles at the expense of others.

According to Balakrishnan and Gan (2016), students learning styles influences their need to use social media for learning. The research considered the need to assess learning style with regards to social media technology, which is largely witnessed in the modern learning methods. However, it did not specify why learners with similar learning styles would prefer different social media platforms to access the same information. Kassim, (2013), investigated the relationship between learning styles, creative thinking performance and multimedia learning materials. The study findings indicate that there is no significant effect of learning style on creative thinking (Kassim, 2013). The study involved participation of students from different institutions hence increasing representation level of the findings. However, the research did not identify whether creative thinking affected student’s achievement in the long-run.

 2.5.1 Active Learning Style

Gappi (2013) investigated the question of the learning style impact on academic performance. According to the research results, there is a close relationship between these aspects and the choice of the wrong style, which is detrimental to the students’ performance and learning outcomes. Hence, an active learning style enables the learners to enjoy the process of learning through doing. Moreover, it requires that students do not only such activities as listening, as reading, writing, and discussing, but also engaging in various processes (Shaaruddin & Mohamad, 2017). This makes students involved in critical thinking, analyzing, assessing, and evaluating, as well as contributes to their overall development. The benefits of the active learning style have been emphasized by Močinić (2012), Freeman et al. (2014), and Tedesco-Schneck (2013). The researchers emphasised the application of the active learning strategies, the promotion of the learners’ involvement, feedback, peer evaluation, and assessment that improve learning outcomes. This style enables students to engage in a greater number of practices and discussions, thus stimulating their peers to reflect and collaborating with each other. Tedesco-Schneck (2013) considers that the introduction of active learning results in critical thinking. The interaction with the peers and teachers enables students to gain better knowledge and retain what they have learnt. Active learners are not afraid of asking questions and speaking up their opinion in class (Rahmani & Azali, 2012). Moreover, they usually experience high academic performance. Finally, active learning makes classes more interesting, creates a positive learning environment, enhances interaction and collaboration between the learners and lecturers, contributes to the promotion of open-minded ideology, enhances communication skills, and encourages participation.

Despite a variety of strengths, the active learning style is associated with some weaknesses. One of them is the inability of some educational institutions to provide spaces and training that allow students to get the most of this learning style. In addition, some learners may find it difficult to concentrate on the complicated and lengthy tasks or may miss or misunderstand the information presented orally. This learning style is not effective for the students who are not used to it (Schwartz, 2018). However, studies prove that this learning style has a positive impact on students’ performance, as it deals with cooperative learning, debates, participating in a variety of activities, and performing multiple tasks.

2.5.2 Visual Learning Style

This style of learning presupposes the application of images that seem to be enjoying for learners. It enables students to visualize events and imagine situations. The students can implement visual strategies to remember or memorize information. Visual learners better memorize or understand the material when they see a picture, a chart, or a diagram (Ling, Basit, & Hassan, 2017). In his research Gokalp (2013) indicated that a good memory and a proper understating of learning material enable students to achieve high academic performance. The students who apply this style prefer to sit at the front row and make own notes, as they organize the information using tables and diagrams. Moreover, they benefit from being good observers and looking into details, as well as learning from body language. According to Norasyikin, Mohamad, and Paimin (2015), the students who use visual learning style visualize the whole picture before doing a project, which is one of the main aspects of their success.

The main weakness of the visual learning style is the need to have more time to complete tasks, as such students may be more interested in providing the answer rather than its actual value. Although this weakness may be beneficial in some situations, it is still considered a drawback, as less time is left for details. In addition, such learners may find it difficult to focus if there is no suitable environment or they have no ability to visualize (Ling, Basit, & Hassan, 2017). However, the use of this learning style improves academic performance and enables students to acquire valuable knowledge and skills.

2.5.3 Verbal Learning Style

Verbal learners get information better when it is presented in the oral form. Hence, oral messages are beneficial, as they enable students to get more explanation in the class. The verbal learning style makes students become involved in debates, discussions, and arguments, as it is a good opportunity to learn more through conversations with others (Smith, 2018). This learning style is closely related to the successful academic performance of students (Felder & Spurlin, 2005). Such learners are not afraid of speaking in public and find presentations very engaging and informative. As a rule, verbal style students have splendid memories of the orally presented information (Ling, Basit, & Hassan, 2017). Moreover, they tend to read out aloud for themselves to remember necessary data. A good memory also contributes to the achievement of high academic performance.

However, the students who follow verbal learning styles may experience the disadvantage of being unable to learn easily with only audio instructions, as they should receive much information from the written sources. The work with writing materials is an inevitable constituent of the learning process (Smith, 2018). Moreover, in many cases such learners fail to understand and explain a complicated diagram, chart, or graph. It is evident that learners tend to have their own preferences in learning style that suit their personal characteristics (Hardy, 2010). Hence, one learning style that one student can apply effectively may affect the learning process of other students. Mathematics and science are not the first choice of the verbal learners, as they prefer to use language creatively, through poetry and fiction. Activities preferred by verbal learners are usually based on language and reason, and are opposed to physical tings, and visual objects.

2.5.4 Sequential Learning Style

There is a positive impact of the sequential learning style on academic performance, as it enables students to define the emphasis on the connection of the received information, thus providing them with an opportunity to gain knowledge. The sequential learning style students usually prefer well-organized input to get good academic performance (Ling, Basit, & Hassan, 2017). Also, they often follow the instruction step by step to get as much information as possible. If something is missing in the information provided by a teacher, it makes them feel lost (Rogowsky, Calhoun, & Tallal, 2015). Sequential learners prefer to organize information in an orderly manner, learn in logically sequenced steps, respond to a problem with logic rather than emotion, and work with information in a systematic way (Fleming, 2017). Planning, making labelled and divided notes, categorising things, and having good time management skills are the main characteristics of the learners who use a sequential learning style. Finally, sequential learners tend to feel the need to properly understand each piece of information they come across.

It is difficult for the sequential learners to continue if there is a big skip in a topic, as the teachers should provide them with information in the chronological order and step and step (Ling, Basit, & Hassan, 2017). The presentation in the logical ways and the connection of every detail enable them to understand and learn better. A proper understanding of the details is required before moving on. In addition, frustration may come with the understanding that people do not comprehend things as quickly as they do. However, the weaknesses associated with the sequential learning styles do not prevent it from being an effective style that contributes to the academic performance of students.