Importance of learning styles

This was part of my thesis for grad school, so I apologize for the formalness of it all. It is important to know your player’s learning style!


College basketball coaches have limited time in between games to teach their players a scouting report on their next opponent. By understanding an athlete’s learning style, coaches can be more efficient in their teaching and do a better job preparing their team to play games. This paper will discuss the preferred learning style of Division I basketball players and research methods that will help find the most efficient method of delivering new information to college basketball players.

Literature Review


            When coaches are preparing their team for a game they teach their players the scout on the opponent in a way that targets one or more of the athlete’s three basic learning styles. This chapter will examine the research that has been done on learning styles up to this point; including how using all three learning styles together increases efficiency and how learning styles are affected by gender and subject matter.

Learning Styles

When teaching information, it will be processed differently depending on the learning style of the individual (Brower, 2001). “We resolve the conflict between concrete or abstract and between active or reflective in some patterned, characteristic ways. We call these patterned ways learning styles” (Kolb, 1999). The impact of a particular instructional technique will not always be the same for every individual (Coker, 1995). People have “characteristic strengths and preferences in the ways they take in and process information” (Felder, 1996).

The concept of learning styles developed in World War II when they found, “certain individuals possess a characteristic style of responding to laboratory tasks (i.e. field-independence) that would predict their ability to handle the complexities of controlling an aeroplane under adversity” (Gregory, 1999). Learning styles started showing up in literature in the early 1970s, since then the concepts and definitions have evolved.

There are many ways to define learning styles. The most basic being Garner’s theory of multiple intelligences (Garner, 1983) that places learners in three specific learning style groups; visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, “the auditory, which comprises the listening and the verbal learner; the visual, which includes the print as well as the picture learner; and the kinesthetic, which incorporates the tactile way of learning” (Lamarche-Bisson, 2002).

Garner’s theory of multiple intelligences is useful because it breaks learning styles down to its simplest component. The differences between the three learning styles are obvious, and it is simple to implement in teaching because instructors can easily identify what learning style they are targeting with their teaching. The weakness of the theory of multiple intelligences is that it may have oversimplified learning styles.

David Kolb has done extensive research and found there to be four basic learning styles, “diverging, assimilating, converging, and accommodating” (Kolb, 1984). Kolb’s research on learning styles, called Experiential Learning Theory  (ELT), is “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience”(Kolb 1984, p. 41). The Experiential learning theory has been used extensively in learning style research since Kolb’s paper in 1984.

 Kolb’s theory is simple enough to implement while having enough details to get a true understanding of learning styles. The four learning styles used in Kolb’s theory cover a wide range of possible learning styles and gives a deeper understanding of the learning process. Learning style is not an exact science and in 1994 Iliff conducted a meta-analysis of 101 quantitative studies of the ELT and found that the “magnitude of these statistics is not sufficient to meet standards of predictive validity” (Iliff, 1994).

Differentiated Instruction

Educators at many levels are aware of different learning styles and try teaching lessons in a way that hits every learning style. This teaching concept, called differentiated instruction, “provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn” (Tomlinson, 2001). Differentiated instruction is effective for learners even if they are learning in a way that is not their primary learning style, “In many cases, students may require more than one learning style to fully grasp concepts being taught” (Ellis, 2009).

 In any setting where teaching is involved it is important for instructors to understand the learning style of their students so they can target the learning style or styles that work best for them as a group, “if you don’t know the important aspects of (student’s) learning needs and abilities, then determining effective instructional strategies is nearly impossible” (Ellis, 2009).  For instance, if you have a group of auditory learners that need a kinesthetic approach to solidify learning, it is efficient to spend your time teaching in a way that auditory learners respond to while also incorporating kinesthetic teaching; there is no need to spend much time teaching with visual aids in this instance.

“Research has consistently demonstrated that differentiated instruction has positive effects on student achievement, when done well” (Rock, 2008). To be an effective teacher differentiated instruction is important to incorporate to set the students up for success by teaching them in ways they learn most effectively. 

Differences In Populations

People have different learning styles, however, there are patterns when looking at predictors such as gender and subject matter.

Learning Styles and Gender

In a study done on gender and learning styles they found that women tend to prefer hands-on learning similar to kinesthetic learning, “they make intuitive or feeling based judgments, they are people oriented, and they are comfortable with ambiguity”(Kulturel-Konak, 2011). The study found that men tend to take an analytic approach similar to visual learning, “they think logically and rationally, they enjoy working with symbols and like structure” (Kulturel-Konak, 2011). This study was done on learning styles for STEM education and as we will discuss later in the paper, learning styles can change depending on the subject matter.

In a study done on general education at Berkley using the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory it was found that “the learning style that seems to fit women the least is the Assimilator and our study shows this learning style best fits men” (Philbin, 1995). People with an assimilating learning style are similar to visual learners and are best at “understanding a wide range of information and putting into concise, logical form” (Kolb, 2005).

Studies show that women are more likely to be kinesthetic learners in an educational setting, where men are more likely to be visual learners. Research has shown that these are consistently the most effective teaching styles for the respective gender for certain subjects. However, differentiated instruction is still imperative to get the most information across to students. 

Learning Styles across subjects

When examining specific populations a preferred learning style can sometimes be found.  A study done in Saudi Arabia examined preferred learning styles of undergraduate medical students showed there was not an equal distribution of learning styles amongst medical students (Ayesha, 2011). In a study done at North Dakota State on how learning styles vary among different majors  “differences were found in learning style preference by students’ majors” (Wolfe, 2005).

The phenomenon of individuals with the same learning styles’ grouping together in similar majors is logical because people who learn the same will be better at learning specific subjects. If someone is successful at learning a specific subject they will be drawn towards that field because they are good at it.

Learning Styles of Motor Skills

Information is processed differently depending on the type of information being presented (Kolb, 2005). Learning styles targeted by teachers in the classroom might not be the best way to teach basketball players because basketball is a motor skill, “people have distinct learning styles for cognitive vs. motor tasks” (Coker, 1995). 

When teaching a cognitive subject teachers use differentiated instruction because it is proven that those three learning styles are all viable ways to learn that subject. The focus of this study is to see if college basketball players learn a scout (a motor task) with those same three learning styles and if there is one consistent learning style. Coker’s study on learning styles in motor skills found, “examination of the learning style profiles further suggest that the shift in learning style from the cognitive to the motor setting IS as individual as a person’s preferred modality of learning” (Coker, 1995).  If the majority of college basketball players learn more efficiently with a certain learning style then it would be easier to coach scouts by appealing more to that specific learning style rather than differentiating equally between all three and teaching with a method that does not translate to learning basketball.

Learning styles in coaching basketball

When preparing to play an opposing team coaches teach their players the opponent’s main plays and tendencies, this is called scouting. Coaches teach their team a scout by appealing to the three main learning styles:

  • Visual learners – watching film of opposing team running their plays
  • Auditory learners – coach discuses opponent’s game plan and tendencies
  • Kinesthetic learners- walk through opponent’s plays

Coaches use differentiated instruction by teaching scouts in these different ways. If the majority of basketball players prefer to learn basketball with a certain learning style then coaches should focus more of their scout teaching on that style of learner. Basketball is just like any other subject and it has been found that both the academic achievements and the self-confidences of students increase thanks to the course content which is designed based-on the learning styles of the students (Dunn et al, 1990). An increase in achievement and self-confidence means more wins and more success for a coach.


The three basic ways people can learn are visually, auditory, and kinesthetically. Basketball players need to learn their scouting reports before each game. If the majority of college basketball players have a specific learning style, coaches should focus on teaching in a way that appeals to that style. Coaches have methods to teach scouts that appeal to the three learning styles; walkthroughs for kinesthetic learners, film for visual learners, and game plan lectures for auditory learners. This study will examine the most efficient method for presenting new information to college basketball players.



Basketball players need to learn their scouting reports before each game; if the majority of college basketball players have a specific learning style, coaches should focus on teaching in a way that appeals to that style. Coaches have methods to teach scouts that appeal to the three learning styles; walkthroughs for kinesthetic learners, film for visual learners, and game plans for auditory learners.

            To find out what type of learning style most college basketball players have we must:

  • Run a learning style test on enough players to get an accurate sample to represent college basketball players.
  • Find the best method to test their learning style.
  •  Make sure the learning style survey specifically tests how they learn scouts, not just any subject.


The requirements for the instrument we will be using to test learning styles are that it must accurately measure the subjects learning style, it must be created for college students, it must be short enough for the subjects to finish quickly during their busy schedule, and it must be able to test athletes learning a specific motor skill.

After looking into many different methods it came down to deciding between these three highly used and respected learning style evaluations:

  • The CAPSOL Styles of Learning survey is a short survey that is used to test college students and it has been used in multiple academic studies. It breaks down learning preference into auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learning as well as individual vs. group learning, and verbal vs. written learning. However, it has not been used in any studies involving athletes or learning motor skills, so it might not be the best survey for this study. If the survey did evaluate learning motor skills this would be an interesting tool because of its ability to evaluate individual vs. group learning, and verbal vs. written learning.
  • The Adaptive Style Inventory is used to “understand how you adapt your learning style to four different kinds of learning situations” (Kolb 2005). It uses the Experimental learning theory and has been heavily tested and used in a lot of academic studies. This would be a good method for this study because it deals with learning styles for different situations; however, it is a longer survey and takes about twenty minutes, which is too long for this study.
  • The Kolb learning style inventory came out as the best method for this particular study.  Each of the athletes will take the short 12-sentence completion survey and answer the questions focusing on learning about an opponent’s game plan.

         The Kolb Learning Style Inventory is intended for use by teens and adults; it is designed to provide learners with information about their preferred approach to learning. Kolb’s learning style inventory places students in a group depending on their learning style that vary from concrete experience and abstract conceptualization to active experimentation and reflective observation (Kolb 2005).

         The Kolb learning style inventory is based off of the Experimental Learning theory. It assesses the individual’s learning styles and gives information on the most efficient way to teach the subject to that person. The Kolb learning style inventory is one of the most widely used learning style measurements and has been used in countless studies involving learning styles, including Cheryl Coker’s study that involves learning styles with motor skills (Learning Style Consistency Across Cognitive and Motor Settings). The fact that the KOLB learning style inventory translates to learning motor skills is the main reason it is being used as opposed to the many other methods of measuring learning styles.

         Another reason the Kolb Learning Style Inventory is being used is it’s high retest accuracy rate. In a test-retest reliability study of the Kolb Learning Style Inventory (Veres 1991) they found test-retest correlations to be well above .9 with the tests being taken three times at 8-week intervals.

            The Kolb Learning Style Inventory is available through HayGroup, and will be scored after all the subjects have taken the survey. Once the subject’s surveys are scored, each individual will be placed in a specific learning style group and statistically analyzed.

Design and Analysis

The KOLB Learning Style Inventory will go out to eleven teams with an average roster size of 14 players. I expect a high return rate because I will be speaking to each team’s coach or assistant coach before sending the survey, so I am expecting anywhere from 100-150 surveys returned.

            Once the college coaches send back the surveys I will label the data by teams and mark down their experience (Freshman-Senior). I will then score each individual survey to find the subject’s learning style. When the surveys are scored they will describe the learning style for the subject who took that survey. Each learning style has a preferred teaching method, and I will label each survey by what type of teaching method suits them best (film, walkthroughs, or game plan lecture).

            I will enter the teaching method for all the participants into SPSS to run a Pearson correlation on the data to assess the preference for a specific teaching method. I will also run a one-way ANOVA to determine if there was a difference in preference for specific teaching methods within different teams or if there is a difference in preference between age groups. The statistical significance will be set at p < 0.05 for all analysis.


            The study will consist of 100-150 subjects from division one men’s basketball teams taking the Kolb learning style inventory. The results will be analyzed in SPSS and will give information on whether there is a common learning style for basketball amongst division on basketball players.


These reoccurring themes lead to multiple conclusions. First, if having to choose only one learning style, the focus group preferred a kinesthetic approach. Athletes learn better kinesthetically over the other two learning styles. Second, the focus group also showed that their preferred learning styles change with an associated task. The group agreed that certain activities are easier to learn kinesthetically but that other activities are better learned visually or through an auditory learning style. It may depend more on the task being learned than the intelligence of the learner or the quality of the teacher. Third, when instructing a team utilizing more than one of the three learning styles were preferred. Using one learning style to teach a group of athletes wouldn’t be efficient.                                                                                                       


Ayesha N., Raneem S., Mohammed Q., & Nasir A. (2011). Learning style preferences of

medical students: A single-institute experience from saudi arabia.

Brower, K., Stemmans, C., Ingersoll, C.,  & Langley, C. (2001). An investigation of

undergraduate athletic training students’ learning styles and program admission success. Journal of Athletic Training, 130-135.  doi: 77223285


MOTOR SETTINGS. Perceptual and Motor Skills: Volume 81, 1023-1026.

Diane Lamarche-Bisson. (2002). Learning styles: What are they? how can they help? The

World & I, 17(9), 277-285.

Dunn, R. S., & Dunn, K. J. (1993). Teaching secondary students through their individual

learning styles, practical approaches for grades 7-12. Allyn & Bacon.

Dunn, R., Murray, J. B., & al, e. (1990). Grouping students for instruction: Effects of

learning style on achievement and attitudes. The Journal of Social Psychology, 130(4), 485-485.

Ellis, K., Lieberman, L., & LeRoux, D. (2009), Using differentiated instruction in physical

education. Palaestra, 24, 19-23.

Felder, R.M. “Matters of Style” Engr. Education, 6(4), 27695—7905 (1988).

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mindframes of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences.

(2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Gregory, C. R. Y. (1999). Cognitive styles and learning strategies: Understanding style

differences in learning and behaviour / thinking styles. Educational Psychology, 19(1), 103-105.

Heffler, B., 2001. Individual learning style and the learning style inventory. Educational

Studies, 27 (3), 307-316.

Iliff, C. H. (1994). Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory: A meta-analysis. Unpublished

Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, Boston, MA.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and

development. New Jersey: Prentice- Hall.

Kolb, D.A., & Alice Y.  (2005), The Kolb Learning Style Inventory- Version 3.1 2005

Technical Specifications, Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc., Case Western Reserve University.

Philbin, M., Meier, E., Huffman, s. and Boverie, P., 1995. A survey of gender and learning

styles. Sex Roles, 32(7/8), 485-494.

Sadan Kulturel-Konak, Mary, L. D., & Dickinson, S. (2011). Review of gender

differences in learning styles: Suggestions for STEM education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 4(3), 9-18.

Smith, M. K. (2001). David A. Kolb on experiential learning, the encyclopedia of informal


Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. (2

ed.). Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Veres, J. G., Sims, R. R., & Locklear, T. S. (1991). Improving the reliability of Kolb’s

         revised learning style inventory. Educational and Psychological Measurement.

Wolfe K., Bates D, Manikowske D., Amundsen R. (2005). Learning styles: Do they differ

by discipline?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: