A basic part of understanding the learning process is to think critically about the way you learn.  What are your most successful approaches to conquering course work? When you understand your preferred learning styles, you can bring a greater sense of control and flexibility to the demands of each course as required.

Learning Style: Preferred Modality

The following categories suggest learning styles, but are actually learning modalities. Everyone uses these in different circumstances, but most people also have a favorite or preferred modality.

Style Characteristics


Learning by touch, by doing, by movement, by involvement.  Kinesthetic learners need to be active and take frequent breaks.  It may be hard to sit still for a long period of time.  By interacting with the space around them, they are able to remember and process information.


Learning by hearing, speaking, listening.  Acquires knowledge by reading aloud.  They learn best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through.


Learning by reading about it, talking about it.    They think in words rather than pictures.


Learning by forming mental pictures, by devising diagrams and concept maps.  Learners can think in pictures and need to create mental images to retain information.

You can learn to draw upon several learning styles and modalities, trying a different style and studying approach to new material, as learning situations warrant.

Learning Style: Process Information

Another way of identifying learning preference is the dichotomy of cognitive styles known as field dependent and field independent.  These cognitive styles describe the way people process information. Students who are field independent rely on internal cues for the processing of information, analyzing things into parts; these students easily work independently.  Field dependent students rely more heavily on external stimuli in a task; they learn best with a group and may have difficulty separating individual parts from the whole.

These differences are important to understand in the context of adaptation to medical school.  Self-knowledge will help to identify learning and training needs and therefore find compatible learning situations.  As a field dependent student you may find study groups bridge gaps between instructor distance and your preference for interactive learning.  Look for well-articulated course objectives, requirements, and class discussions.  As a field independent student, you can more easily structure your time independently, and may appreciate designing your own assignments and assessments.  Independent study sessions are usually preferred.

You can identify your learning style preference through simple reflection on your ideal learning situations.  It is also Important to recognize that each faculty member has their own learning style and therefore teaching style.  Instructors often present course material using their own preferred style. The subsequent kind of syllabus and listing of course objectives, tests and other assignments, timelines for course work completion, kinds of class discussions, desire to arrange tutoring and review sessions, all reflect that style preference.  As you become familiar with learning and teaching style, seek out and develop the most comfortable and effective balance necessary for your academic success.

Learning Style: Personality & Preferences

It is also helpful to look at learning style in relation to personality-based preferences. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) identifies one's preferences for ways of taking in and processing information, this describes aspects of both personality and learning style.  The Type Indicator is based on the work of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers who wanted to make practical the theories of psychologist Carl Jung.   Personality, who you are and how you relate to others, impacts learning style because basic preferences for relating to the world are manifest in preferences for learning about the world. Attending to your natural preferences can greatly facilitate understanding, memory, retention, and retrieval.

The dichotomous scales as developed by Isabel Briggs Myers, are:

Categories Characteristics


Extroversion  (E)

Introversion   (I)

Perceiving Function

Sensing   (S)

Intuition  (N)

Making Decisions

Thinking  (T)

Feeling   (F)


Judging   (J)

Perceiving   (P)

The type emerging from the Indicator is characterized with a main preference in each of the four function categories, identified using the designated letters, such as ISFJ.  Knowing your personal type can provide you with important information about how you might be used to and most comfortable processing new information.  The descriptions on the following table may offer some clues both about your learning preferences, insight into how others learn, and ideas about adding strategies.   One way learning style manifests is with the "perceiving function" of sensing (S) or intuition (N). Stated differently, this function usually indicates a preference for linear learning or integrative learning; linear being the structured outlined, detail orientation, and integrative being the overview, big picture, conceptual version.  You can see how both orientations will together give you the foundation for medical education and practice. Beyond the classroom, this understanding may prove useful for good communication in tutorial groups and clinical settings with health care team members, patients and families.

Ways to use your learning style to your advantage:

Preference Defining Characteristic Characteristic Learning Style Learning Advice



Find energy in things & people, prefer interaction with others

Learn by explaining to others. Learn well in groups.

“Chunk” groups of inter-related knowledge/information by building compare/contrast tables, flowcharts, and concept maps.



Find energy in inner world of ideas, concepts, and abstractions.

Learn by developing connections & relationships between concepts.  Reflective.




Detail oriented, look for facts, trust facts.

Prefer organized, linear, instructional lectures and handouts. Look for advance organizers. Case study. Prefer Application Theory, application.

1.  Use of group study.

2.  Case study method integrates needs of both: general principles & detailed mechanisms.

3.  “Intuitive students help sensing students to discover the theory; sensing students help identify & marshal the facts.”

4.  Use advance organizer (what do you know) and then connect to new information.



Look for patterns and relationships among facts, trust intuition.

Prefer to focus on the integrating framework, the “big picture.” “Why method.” Case study. Prefer Theory, Application, theory.




Decisions based on impersonal analysis, logic, principle. Value: fairness, look for objective criteria.

Prefer clear, concise course topics & action oriented objectives.

1.  Match course and/or tutorial case objectives to know what you will be tested on.

2.  Pay attention to group process in tutorials, keep good communication.

3.  Recognize the need to integrate the different levels of learning: rote memorization, integrated meaning, and critical thinking.



Decisions based on personal values, potential. Value: harmony, look for consensus, good at persuasion & facilitation.

Prefer group work, instructors can provide guidelines to facilitate group process.




Decisive, self-regulated.  Quick to action.

Prefer to limit input and make decisions.

Note taking and test taking:

  1.  Use speedwriting (omit vowels)
  2. Split Page lecture notes with follow-up rewrite in own words.
  3. Color Coding notes.
  4. Anticipate and follow assignment deadlines.
  5. Decompose a major project into sub assignments.



Curious, adaptable, spontaneous.

Prefer to gather more data, wait to draw conclusions.

Adapted from Georgia State University: “GSU Master Teacher Program: On Learning Styles” (Brightman, 2003)

Learning Style:  Concrete/Abstract

The Kolb Learning Style Inventory is designed to help students identify the way they learn through experiences.  Learning is conceived as a process that includes feedback on the effectiveness of their learning efforts.    The LSI portrays two modes of grasping experience—Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualization and two modes of transforming experience—reflective observation and active experimentation.  Four basic learning styles are based on the modes of grasping and transforming experience—Diverging, Assimilating, Converging, and Accommodating. 

  • Diverging Learner - These people are able to look at things from different perspectives. They are sensitive. They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems. They are best at viewing concrete situations from several different viewpoints. Kolb called this style 'Diverging' because these people perform better in situations that require ideas-generation, for example, brainstorming. People with a Diverging learning style have broad cultural interests and like to gather information. They are interested in people, tend to be imaginative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts. People with the Diverging style prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.
  • Assimilating Learner - The Assimilating learning preference is for a concise, logical approach. Ideas and concepts are more important than people. Assimilating learners require good clear explanation rather than practical opportunity. They excel at understanding wide-ranging information and organizing it in a clear logical format. People with an Assimilating learning style are less focused on people and more interested in ideas and abstract concepts. People with this style are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value. In formal learning situations, people with this style prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through.
  • Converging Learner - People with a Converging learning style can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues. They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects. People with a Converging learning style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems. People with a Converging learning style are more attracted to technical tasks and problems than social or interpersonal issues.  People with a Converging style like to experiment with new ideas, to simulate, and to work with practical applications.
  • Accommodating Learner - The Accommodating learning style is 'hands-on', and relies on intuition rather than logic. These people use other people's analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans. They commonly act on 'gut' instinct rather than logical analysis. People with an Accommodating learning style will tend to rely on others for information than carry out their own analysis. This learning style is prevalent and useful in roles requiring action and initiative. People with an Accommodating learning style prefer to work in teams to complete tasks. They set targets and actively work in the field trying different ways to achieve an objective.

Material adapted from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine,”Learning Strategies for Success in Medical School, 2004. “ http://hsc.unm.edu/som/excellence; http://www.businessballs.com/kolblearningstyles.htm

Learning Style: Processing Information and Reasoning

   Not only do we have our preferred learning and working styles, we also have our favorite thinking styles. Professor Anthony Gregorc, professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Connecticut, has divided these into four groups:

  • Concrete Sequential
  • Concrete Random
  • Abstract Random
  • Abstract Sequential

Concrete Sequential Thinkers tend to be based in reality. They process information in an ordered, sequential, linear way.
Concrete Random Thinkers are experimenters. 
Abstract Random Thinkers organize information through reflection, and thrive in unstructured, people-oriented environments.
Abstract Sequential Thinkers love the world of theory and abstract thought.
We stress that no thinking style is superior; they are simply different. Each style can be effective in its own way. The important thing is that you become more aware of which thinking style works best for you. Once you know your own style you can then analyze the others. This will help you understand other people better. It will make you more flexible. And perhaps we can all pick up tips from each other on how to be more effective.

To check your personal learning style click here.