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Topic Description



Background to the Study

Learning is a complex and multi – dimensional process. Individuals learn through a variety of techniques and methods including but not limited to, lecture, reading, direct experience, and cognitive processes. Researchers suggest that individuals often have a preferred style of learning. This preferred style of learning may vary depending on the type of learning task, the subject matter being studied, age, gender, the training methods and/or the learning environment or setting. Past research also suggest that preferred learning styles while relatively stable can change over time (Dunn, 2000; Kolb, 2005)

Learning styles are defined as individual differences in the way information is perceived, processed and communicated (Haar, Hall, Schoepp, & Smith, 2002).  Slavin (2000) noted that learning styles appear to occur in three areas: cognitive, psychological, and affective. Cognitive styles have been defined in terms of the way a person perceives, remembers, thinks, and solves problems. Psychological styles are biological and include reactions to the physical environment that may affect learning (e.g., being a “night person” or preferring to study in a warm or a cold room). Affective styles include personality and emotional characteristics such as persistence, preferring to work with others or alone, and rejecting or accepting external reinforcement.

As the student demographic variables on today’s college and university campuses change, approaches to teaching and learning are challenged in an ever increasing way. The heterogeneous nursing populations in the university (from the secondary school graduate to the post basic –registered nurse, registered midwife – generic versus direct entry nurses) bring a range of learning styles to the educational milieu (Frankel, 2009). Understanding the multiple learning styles that individual students bring to the classroom helps nurse educators adapt their teaching techniques to meet students’ needs and also assist students in developing new learning styles they will require in their professional careers (Frankel, 2009).

Nursing is a profession where knowledge and practice do not remain static but are ever changing. It can be argued that nursing education should enable students to become effective lifelong learners equipped with the learning skills required for their profession. This can be achieved in different ways which include knowing the students’ learning style preferences and applying this knowledge in the selection and utilization of teaching, learning and assessment strategies to enable them to develop beyond their learning style comfort zone and become more flexible in their learning range (Fleming, 2010).

Academics are challenged to ensure that teaching strategies reflect the diverse nature of the student population and prepare nursing students with the knowledge to be safe and competent practitioners who are ready to work (Meehan-Andrews,2009). Assessment of different learning styles among the student population is important in designing curricula, and adopting teaching methods that promote student learning, which is a crucial part of ensuring that students engage positively with content and develop the deep learning skills needed for lifelong learning (Mikol, 2006).

A student’s learning style determines how that person comprehends and retains information and is important for the students and the educator (Rassool & Rawaf, 2008). DiBartola (2006) noted that educator can gain a better framework for incorporating various delivery methods into his/her teaching. By creating environments diverse in teaching methodologies, teachers can support all types of learning styles. This creates a more welcoming and rewarding experience for all students and educators involved (Arthurs, 2007). It is believed that the student partaking in certain learning activities can have a direct outcome on the quality of learning (Marambe, Athuraliya, Vermunt & Boshuizen, 2007). Students only retain 10-20% of what they hear in a lecture, but by adding visual aids to the presentation (i.e., pictures, posters, presentations) student’s recall doubles to about 50%, by adding speaking parts and active roles, a teacher can increase their students’ retention to 90+ % (Arthurs, 2007). All of these various tools (i.e., lecture, visual aid, speaking, and active roles) activate various learning styles that each student may hold. These tools can also add a fun aspect to what may have become a dull process over the course of the semester.

The learning styles of the people are like a circle in Kolb’s Experiential Learning Style Theory (ELT) which was developed by (Kolb, 2000). This circle contains four learning stages/modes. These are: Concrete Experience (CE), Reflective Observation (RO), Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and Active Experimentation (AE). That is, the students might be able to open themselves to new experiences without prejudice (CE), might reflect and observe life from many points (RO), put the observations into strong theories logically (AC), use these theories in the stage of problem solving and making decisions (AE).

These stages of learning are usually displayed in a dimensional grid. The horizontal axis (AE/RO) focuses on actions and how they are performed. The vertical axis (CE/AC) focuses on thought and emotional processes. The top of the vertical axis represents feelings (CE), and the bottom of the axis represents thinking (AC) while right end of the horizontal axis represents watching (RO) and the left represents doing (AE). The intersection of the axes creates four quadrants with each quadrant describing a particular learning style (Kolb, 2005). These learning styles are diverger, assimilator, converger and accommodator.

Divergers perceive information concretely (CE) and process it Reflectively (RO). They draw upon their imaginative aptitude and their ability to view complex situations from many perspectives. They prefer to watch rather than do. They are called divergers because they excel at viewing an event or idea from many perspectives and at generating many different ideas, Assimilators perceive information abstractly (AC) and process it Reflectively (RO). They are rational and logical thinkers. They follow directions well and like to thoroughly understand concepts before they act. They are called assimilators because they do not emphasize practical application, rather they focus on the development of theories, often discarding facts if they do not fit the theory while Convergers  perceive reality through abstract conceptualization (AC) and process it through active experimentation (AE). They organize information through hypothetical deductive reasoning. They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects. They are called convergers because they move (converge) quickly to reach a conclusion or find a single, correct answer. The Accommodators, on the other hand perceive reality through concrete experience (CE) and process it through active experimentation (AE). They learn by concrete information from their senses (feelings) and from doing. They use intuition and trial-and-error situations. They are called accommodators because they adapt well to new circumstances and applying knowledge in new ways (Kolb, 2005).The present study will focus on these four learning styles.

Regardless of the style of learning, most educators utilize only a small number of teaching styles in the teaching learning process to the detriment of some students (Rassool & Rawaf, 2008). The content of educational programmes that cater for a single learning style fails to meet the expectations of many of their learners (Rutz, 2003).  Having numerous styles of teaching at your disposal could increase comprehension and retention of materials. Therefore problems could be minimized and quality enhanced if teaching styles were modified to accommodate all the learning styles by addressing each side of the learning style dimension at least some of the time and thus creating lifelong learners that are capable of learning and working in diverse settings (McClanaghan, 2000).

This study therefore, wants to assess the learning styles of nursing   students across their degree program; from second year to graduating/final year and to assess the association between the learning preference and selected variables.


Statement of the Problem

Teachers all over the world are interested in improving learning in their students.  Nursing and Midwifery teachers in Nigeria face the same dilemma and challenge to motivate their students to learn hence, It is imperative that teachers, who have the responsibility of facilitating the learning process, need to analyze their students’ predominant learning styles with the purpose of developing a teaching methodological strategy in accordance with the way in which their students learn.

The lecture discussion is the most recommended teaching method for nursing education in Nigeria (N&MCN, 2003).  Mikol (2005) found that lecturing emphasizes content and cognitive gain and can create passivity in students, whereas in addressing different learning style, the instructor uses alternative teaching methodologies that address the students’ experiences, beliefs, and understanding of the nursing literature. These strategies encourage inquiry and guide learning beyond the textbook. They also reduce the amount of content to be memorized.

Moreover, the researcher observed that some instructors adapt their instructional techniques to “fit” the learning preferences of individual students. The basis for these adaptations are usually informal and quite intuitive. Intuition alone seems both insufficient to the magnitude of the present demands (of education) and poorly suited to building cumulative knowledge about instruction. What is required is a more systematic method of assessing the learning preferences that can supplement teacher’s intuitive understanding of the students.  Based on this, evidence-based research on students’ learning style preference should be a high priority for nursing programmes looking to promote successful academic achievement. This study therefore aimed at assessing and identifying the learning styles of the nursing students in order to optimize the educational outcome and also add to the existing literature on learning styles.

Purpose of the study

The purpose of the study is to assess the predominant learning styles of nursing students, across their program, from second year to graduating year, and to show any differences between these groups.

Specifically, the objectives of the study are to:

  • Ascertain the nursing students’ learning styles in relation to the four type of learning styles theorized by Kolb (2005).
  • Determine any gender differences in the learning styles of nursing students
  • Determine age differences in the learning style of nursing students
  • Determine the nursing students’ learning styles in relation to their mode of admission (direct versus UME mode of admission)
  • Determine the nursing students’ learning style across class levels (year of study) second, third, fourth and fifth/final year


Research Questions

The study was guided by the following research questions:

  1. What are the learning style preferences of the nursing students in relation to the four types of learning styles suggested by Kolb (2005).
  2. What are the differences in learning styles of the nursing student by gender
  3. What are the differences in learning styles of the nursing student by age
  4. What are the differences in learning styles of the nursing student in relation to their mode of admission (direct versus UME)
  5. What are the differences in learning styles of the nursing student across their class levels (second, third, fourth and fifth/final year).


Hypothesis to the Study

The following hypothesis will guide the study:

  1. There is no significant difference in the learning style of the male and female nursing students.
  2. There is no significant difference in the learning style of age groups of the student nurses.
  3. There is no significant difference in the learning style of direct and generic nursing student.
  4. There is no significant difference in the learning style of the learning style of 2nd 3rd 4th and 5th year students.


Significance of the Study

The findings from this study will profit the students themselves, the educators and the administrators in the following ways:

The findings will reveal the students’ learning styles which can benefit the students in that it would help them to understand their own strengths and weaknesses in learning, and can consequently learn more effectively and take responsibility for their own learning. The knowledge will also empower individual students to use their learning style preference information to achieve positive outcomes – improve study habits, doing their homework with strategies responsive to their individual styles and select courses or work environments compatible with their learning style preferences.

For educators, their awareness of students’ learning styles would help them in making informed choices in course material, design and learning processes to extend the opportunity for effective learning in their courses. Such knowledge will equally help them to adapt their mode of teaching to meet the needs of the students and also enhance their learning process by providing an environment that fosters these preferences.

Finally, from an administrative perspective, learning style preference information may provide assistance in scheduling theory and clinical courses for students, improve the planning, production and implementation of educational experiences to be more appropriately compatible with students desire, in order to enhance their retention and retrieval. The study may equally be beneficial for the curriculum designers while suggesting curriculum for different subjects as different subjects demand different learning style of students.


Scope of the Study

This study is primarily concerned with the investigation of learning styles of nursing students of University of Nigeria Enugu Campus using the four learning styles as identified by Kolb (2005). They include diverger (concrete experience and reflective observation), assimilator (reflective observation and abstract conceptualization), converger (abstract conceptualization and active experimentation) and lastly accommodator (active observation and concrete experience).  Some personal characteristics which may influence learning styles (age, gender, year of study) will be examined too.




Definition of Terms

For the purpose of this study, the following operational definitions were used.

  • Learning: – It is a process that comes from concrete experience to reflective observation; from abstract conceptualizing to active practice. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience (Kolb, 2005).
  • Learning Style: – As identified by Kolb in his Learning Style Inventory, learning style is a measure of an individual’s relative emphasis on the four learning modes (Concrete Experience-CE; Reflective Observation-RO; Abstract Conceptualization-AC and Active Experimentation-AE).

It is equally, the particular way in which an individual organizes experience to acquire and retains knowledge as measured by Kolb’s basic learning styles namely; diverger (CE and RO), assimilator ( RO and AC), converger (AC and AE) and accommodator (AE and CE).

  • diverger (combines the learning stage of concrete experience (CE) and reflective observation (RO), A diverger view concrete situations from a range of perspectives through observations, with a preference for group work in learning situations.
  • assimilator (combines the learning stages of reflective observation (RO) and abstract conceptualization (AC),An assimilator is likely to have preference for abstract ideas and theory, favoring lecture and exploring models in learning situations.
  • converger (combines abstract conceptualization (AC) and active experimentation AE).This learning style profile prefers practical problem solving rather than dealing with social issues in learning situations.
  • accommodator (combines learning stages of active experimentation (AE) and concrete experience (CE), Prefers hand on experience, with strengths in using others to solve problems than individual logic.
  • Learning stages: Four different approaches to learning in the Experiential Learning Cycle/Theory. These stages combine to give rise to the learning styles. The stages are:
  • Concrete Experiencing (CE): Individuals at this stage learn by strong feelings and reactions, likes to deal with feelings, learn best trusting hunches and feelings, open to new experiences,  intuitive, learn best from personal relationships and feel personally involved in things, receptive and open-minded.
  • Reflective Observation (RO): Individuals at this stage learn by watching, observation and reflecting, likes to watch and listen; quiet and reserved, look at all sides of issues and takes time before acting.
  • Abstract Conceptualization (AC): Individuals at this stage learn by thinking, likes to think about ideas and rely on logical thinking and tend to reason things out, break them down into their parts, rational and learn best from rational theories, likes ideas and theories, relies on his/her ideas and analyze ideas.
  • Active Experimentation (AE) – A learner in this stage learn by doing and works hard to get things done, responsible about things, likes to try things out, an active person, likes to see results from his/her work and is practical.
  • Generic nursing mode of entry: Nursing students who enter bachelor of nursing science (BNSC) degree programme (5years) from secondary schools and are admitted through University Matriculation Examination (UME).
  • Direct nursing mode of entry: Nursing students who enter bachelor of nursing science (BNSC) degree programme having been nurses registered with Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria. They start from second year of the five year standard programme BNSC degree.