Rturn to MAIN (index) page Return to LEARNING STYLES page

Learning Styles:

The next generation


Since Honey and Mumford first gave birth to their Learning Styles theory, in the late eighties, many a trainer has sought to present this most useful of concepts in ever more engaging ways.  Honey and Mumford (in particular, the former) have sought to re-kindle flagging interest in their original product by re-packaging it in a variety of guises – though I am still awaiting the hand painted (by Peter Honey) tee-shirts, emblazoned no doubt with various appropriate mottoes:



could proclaim:


would assure us:


could affirm:


might muse:





What nobody seems to have latched onto is the obvious next phase of the theory.  As a trainer, I am always careful to point out that individuals do not fall neatly into pigeon-holed categories – but that each of us employs a complex combination of learning styles – depending on context, circumstance and the nature of what we are trying to learn.  Each of us possesses not merely one clearly-defined learning style but a combination of two or more.  This has led me to consider how we might designate the various combinations – so as to provide not merely the “bare bones” four-category model proposed by H&M – but an additional six combinatorial categories.  Not that I am suggesting we should adopt such a model wholesale (it would be considerably more difficult to handle) or attempt to replace the eminently practical traditional model – but it does set you thinking.


Here then, for your consideration, are my slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestions for the enhancement of Learning Styles theory.


At first glance you might think that the Activist-Reflector is a most unlikely combination; they do appear to be situated at opposite ends of the style-spectrum.  However, I suspect that they are more prevalent than we realise – and that most of us have been their unwitting victims or apologists.  They are the type of person who cannot help but acting first – who then realise that they really shouldn’t have acted that way.  The kind of person who opens their mouth, puts their foot in it – and then realises what they have said.  The Activist-Reflector is known in the training trade as a “REGRETTER”.


Theorists, as you will be aware, like to make connections.  They constantly ask “Why?” and then seek to organise the new information elicited so that it forms a cohesive overall picture of how things are.  Activist-Theorists, on the other hand, although they still have lots of questions, generally do not have the time or inclination to sort or process all the information thus obtained.  They excel at brainstorming, insofar as they generate new ideas; each new idea acting as a catalyst for the spontaneous eruption of further progeny.  Unfortunately they rarely stop to consider the implications of their ideas – preferring to rely on friendly passing Reflectors to take on that role.  The Activist-Theorist is technically known as a “SCATTERBRAIN”.


Pragmatists are known as clearly-focused problem-solvers who relish the challenge of devising solutions to specific tasks.  The Activist-Pragmatist is a slightly different animal who, typically, solves the problem – but invariably by means of utilising elastic bands, bulldog clips and the odd piece of chewing gum.  The Activist-Pragmatist does not so much solve the problem as improvise a somewhat makeshift Heath Robinson affair – giving rise to them being known, in technical terminology, as a “BODGER”.


Theorist-Pragmatists, on the other hand, do not merely solve the problem.  They delight in asking a whole series of “What if?” questions and then providing practical answers to the difficulties thus envisaged.  They then engage in an ordered programme of implementing all the necessary safeguards to ensure that such a problem – or any associated similar or dissimilar problem – is unlikely to inflict itself in the future.  In essence, the pragmatic “quick fix” is translated into a fully guaranteed solution that takes into account every conceivable potentiality for failure in order to ensure against it.  Theorist-Pragmatists are known as “SAFEGUARDERS”.


The Pragmatist-Reflector also appreciates having a particular problem to address and invariably manages to devise a down-to-earth settlement.  Unfortunately, they are then beset with uncertainty whether the solution they initially proposed is the best one.  Did the original idea fully utilise available resources?  Have all the implications been thought through?  Maybe there was a cheaper alternative?  They can often be found checking to make sure that the original solution is still in place and holding water.  The Pragmatist-Reflector is known officially as a “TWEAKER”.


Pragmatist-Reflectors are not to be confused with Reflector-Pragmatists.  These latter individuals can be found wandering aimlessly around garages or garden sheds at weekends, musing on whether they are properly equipped to rake out the gutters, mow the lawn or fix the broken gate.  They spend much of their life “getting around to it” and differ from true Reflectors – who can be found lounging in the sunshine in padded garden chairs.  Reflector-Pragmatists are affectionately known as “DITHERERS”.


The Theorist-Reflector is thoughtful and comprehensive; a dotter of i’s and a crosser of t’s.  As something of a perfectionist, they are rarely able to complete anything to their own satisfaction.  There is, they believe, always something else to be added, adapted, appended.  Occasionally dubbed (somewhat unprofessionally) a “worry-guts”, the official term for a Theorist-Reflector is a “DOUBLE-CHECKER”.



Somehow, I suspect that this variation on a theme is unlikely to gain a great deal of credence with those in the field of teaching, training and learning development.  Why not?  Probably because it is rather cumbersome and lacks the pigeon-holing simplicity of Honey and Mumford’s original model.  It is, after all, far easier and less time-consuming to slot people into one of four categories than attempt to analyse each person individually.  That is a shame really, because I was just starting to get the idea of how to re-vamp an old idea so that it can be re-packaged and re-sold.  I was already working on the tee-shirt slogans for this next generation of learning styles (“Oops!” for Regretters) and what about triple combinations!  (What would you call a Theorist-Activist-Reflector?)  My ideas for the action-dolls were not to be sniffed at either, though I grant you that “Ray the Reflector-man” does not actually do a great deal for £19.99 compared with “Anneka-Activist”, the all-singing, all-dancing, aerobic surf-swimming, wind-her-up-and-watch-her-go action-doll (snazzy jump suit!).  Oh well, back to the drawing board!

John Fewings