Learning Styles

Honey & Mumford, building on the work of David Kolb, suggest that effective learning has 4 stages and 4 different styles of learning.[1]

Although we benefit from using all 4 learning styles, as you might expect from earlier sections relating to temperament (inner rings: abstract v concrete and cooperative v pragmatic), the neural basis of multiple intelligences and Bezinger’s energy model, we tend to have a preferred learning style. There is a short questionnaire below to help you to identify your preferred learning style but you may find that reading the descriptions below will be sufficient.


Activists are enthusiastic and keen to get involved, thriving on challenge. They are keen to ‘give it a go’ but are likely to get bored with detailed tasks or multi-step activities that require revisiting previous work. They are gregarious, enjoy role playing but need to be in the centre of things.

If this sounds like you, look for learning activities that involve working with other people, provide immediate feedback and have short, limited ‘chalk and talk’ sessions.


Reflectors like data, lots of it, so that they can ensure that all perspectives have been considered. They then like time to consider what the data means; and then they want more data. Reflectors don’t like making decisions because there is always the possibility that something has been missed. They will often observe and listen during discussions only making a contribution towards the end.

If you are a reflector try to ensure that learning programs provide you with the time to ponder, consider and capture your insights.


Theorists like to analyse, seek connections, identify causes and integrate their thoughts into models and theories. They seek principles which can be applied across different situations. The questions they are most likely to ask are ‘why?’, ‘what does this mean?’ and ‘how do these fit together?’.

If this describes you, then you will probably gain most from lectures linked with case studies and the testing of models and systems. You will welcome the opportunity to challenge and put forward your own thoughts.


Pragmatists tend to be impatient with open-ended discussion and are keen to test ideas by putting them into practice. They need to see a link between learning and real-world application.

If you are a pragmatist you will likely benefit from learning through case studies and field work. You may also appreciate frequent feedback and a coaching rather than lecturing approach.

learning styles

When you understand your preferred learning style you can try to ensure that it is used in whatever learning you undertake. However, do not neglect the other styles; all have a role to play in effective learning: a theorist needs something to work with and an activist will find new ways to do things through reflection.

But don’t interpret learning styles too rigidly. I think a mistake made by many training course designers is to blindly apply the principle that learning should be balanced across the 4 learning styles. Honey and Mumford themselves point out that a particular approach may be more appropriate depending on the level of experience and the type of learning being undertaken by the learner. We don’t always need to play games!

Learning Styles Questionnaire

[1] Honey & Mumford readily acknowledge their debt to Kolb stressing that there are more similarities than differences between the models. My preference for the Honey & Mumford approach is largely because I think their terminology is more accessible, targeting lay people rather than academics.