A comparison between learning style preferences and sex, status, and course performance

John L. Dobson

Abstract

Students have learning style preferences that are often classified according to their visual (V), aural (A), read-write (R), and/or kinesthetic (K) sensory modality preferences (SMP). The purposes of this investigation were to compare student perceived and assessed SMPs and examine the associations between those SMPs and status (i.e., undergraduates vs. graduates), sex, and course performance. Students from the fall 2009 APK 3110 and APK 6116 Exercise Physiology courses were asked to indicate their perceived SMPs and complete the standard VARK SMP assessment. There were 64 student respondents: 50 undergraduates and 14 graduates (40 women and 24 men). According to the perceived SMP results, the largest number of respondents chose V (36%), followed by R (28%), K (19%), and A (17%). In terms of assessed SMPs, the largest number of respondents were classified as VARK (37%), followed by R (14%), AK (11%), K (8%), VK (6%), ARK (6%), A (5%), VAK (3%), RK (3%), V (2%), AR (2%), and VRK (2%). Nearly two-thirds of the respondents correctly matched their perceived and dominant assessed SMP. There was no statistical association between SMP and status. There was a very nearly significant relationship between sex and both perceived (χ2 = 7.18, P = 0.06) and assessed (χ2 = 17.36, P = 0.09) SMP. Finally, there was a significant relationship between perceived SMP and course scores (P = 0.01 by ANOVA). Post hoc tests revealed that the K group scored significantly lower than the other three modality groups.

  • VARK
  • visual
  • auditory
  • read-write
  • kinesthetic

physiology is a subject that is complex and difficult for many students to internalize. It is therefore important for physiology instructors to take extra steps to make sure that they are effectively communicating the information to their students. According to the pertinent scientific literature (6, 7, 11, 14, 15), one particularly effective way to enhance the communication of material to students is for instructors to incorporate multiple learning styles into their lecture presentations. Instructors that use multiple learning styles are more likely to present information in the particular style that is preferred by each student; thus, student learning is enhanced (6, 7, 14).

Although there are different ways of classifying learning styles, one of the more commonly used methods is on the basis of the sensory modality or modalities that one prefers to use when internalizing information. According to Flemming (5), who is a learning style expert and the author of what is likely the most widely used sensory modality preference assessment, there are four major sensory modalities. Those four modalities are visual (V), aural (A), read-write (R), and kinesthetic (K). Students with V preferences learn best using pictures, graphs, diagrams, etc. Those with A preferences learn best by listening to and discussing material. Those with R preferences learn best with textual materials. Finally, K learners internalize information best when they are involved physically (e.g., touching and manipulating materials). Selected questions from Flemming's VARK sensory modality preference assessment are shown in Table 1.

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Table 1.

Selected questions from Flemming's online VARK assessment

As is stated on Flemming's VARK website (5), a minority of people (∼36%) prefer to use one sensory modality when internalizing information (unimodal), whereas the majority of people (∼64%) prefer to use two, three, or all four modalities (multimodal). This finding has been confirmed by the majority of recent articles that have used Flemming's VARK assessment to investigate learning style preferences in physiology, or very similar (e.g., medical or dental), students. More specifically, of the last eight pertinent studies, six studies (1–3, 9, 12, 13) have found that the majority of students have multimodal preferences. In contrast, Wehrwein et al. (15) reported that the majority of their female students and Meechan-Andrews (10) that the majority of their male and female students had unimodal preferences. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the unimodal preferences reported by those latter two studies (10, 15) were fairly small (i.e, 54% unimodal vs. 46% multimodal). Therefore, the overall trend indicated by these eight studies is that the majority of students would prefer that physiology instructors incorporate multiple learning styles in their lectures.

Despite the trend described above, there are still a number of important pertinent issues that have yet to be elucidated, including the relationships between learning style preferences and both sex and academic performance. In terms of sex, at least four of the eight studies mentioned above have compared sensory modality preferences in women and men. Two of those studies (1, 13) found no significant difference in preferences between men and women, whereas one (15) did report a difference. It is important to point out that the sex differences described by Wehrwein et al. (15), while distinct, were descriptive in nature and were not supported by a statistical (e.g., χ2) analysis. A similar trend of conflicting results has also been found with investigations of the relationship between sensory modality preferences and academic performance. That is, a study by Baykan and Nacar (2) found no relationship between VARK modality preferences and medical school grade point average, but Alkhasawneh et al. (1) did find a significant relationship between VARK preferences and course grades.

In light of the unanswered questions regarding sensory modality preferences and both sex and academic performance, the author recently conducted an investigation of these issues using a large group of undergraduate human physiology students (4). In that study, the author chose not to use Flemming's VARK assessment (5) for several specified reasons, including that the assessment had not yet been statistically validated. Instead, students were asked to simply select the single sensory modality they felt they preferred to use when internalizing information in the course. According to the results, there was a significant association between sensory modality preferences and both sex and course scores. For example, those students that selected the K modality had significantly lower scores than any of those that selected the three other modalities.

The goal of the present investigation was to attempt to replicate, and expand on, the results of the previous study (4). For that reason, a group of physiology students was recruited to further explore the relationships between sensory modality preferences and both sex and academic performance. Another goal of the present study was to directly compare sensory modality preferences in undergraduate and graduate physiology students because, to the best of the author's knowledge, no such comparison has been made before. To make that direct comparison, it was necessary to use students from exercise physiology courses, as opposed to from more general human physiology courses. This was due to the fact that the department from which the subjects were recruited did not offer a graduate course in human physiology but did offer both undergraduate and graduate exercise physiology courses. Finally, since Flemming's VARK assessment (5) has now been statistically validated (8), one additional goal of this study was to compare the single sensory modality that students felt they preferred to use (i.e., their “perceived” sensory modality preference) with their result on the VARK assessment (i.e., their “assessed” sensory modality preference). Therefore, the two specific purposes of this investigation were to use a group of exercise physiology students to 1) compare their perceived and assessed sensory modality preferences and 2) examine the relationships between those preferences and status (i.e., undergraduates vs. gradates), sex, and course performance.

METHODS

Students and course.

All experimental procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Florida. Students that participated in this investigation were from the fall 2009 APK 3110 Exercise Physiology and APK 6116 Physiological Bases of Exercise and Sport courses. Both courses covered many of the same topics, including the metabolic, endocrine, nervous, skeletal muscle, cardiovascular, and respiratory system responses to both acute and chronic exercise. The typical APK 3110 student was a third-year undergraduate student and was majoring in Exercise Physiology, Fitness-Wellness, or Athletic Training. The typical APK 6116 student was a first- or second-year Masters student pursuing a degree in Biomechanics, Exercise Physiology, Human Performance, or Athletic Training.

Questionnaire.

The questionnaire was composed of 20 multiple-choice questions that were divided into 2 sections. The first section asked students to identify their sex, status, and major/degree program (Table 2). Students were also asked to identify their perceived sensory modality preference by selecting only one of the following choices: 1) V (looking at and making pictures, animations, graphs, tables, etc.), 2) A (listening to and participating in speeches, discussions, and question and answer sessions), 3) R (reading and writing text associated with the textbook, class notes, etc.), or 4) K (engaging in physical experiences, manipulating objects, etc.). The second section of the questionnaire was composed of the 16 questions from Flemming's VARK inventory (5) and was used to determine students' assessed sensory modality preferences.

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Table 2.

Selected questions from the student questionnaire

Data collection and analysis.

Because the author was not the instructor of the graduate exercise physiology course (i.e., APK 6116) but was the instructor of the undergraduate course (i.e., APK 3110), the questionnaire described above was administered in different ways to the graduate and undergraduate students. With specific regard to the graduate class, paper copies of both the questionnaire and informed consent form were administered by the course instructor. Once the semester had ended, the instructor wrote each student's final course score on her or his questionnaire, replaced the student's name with a numeric code, and passed the questionnaires along to the author. The author then assessed the results from each questionnaire and transferred the data into an electronic file for viewing and analysis.

The version of the questionnaire that was completed by the undergraduate exercise physiology students was administered by the University of Florida's E-learning course management system (ECMS). When those students were ready to complete the questionnaire, they simply logged on to the class ECMS website from their personal computer. Students were immediately presented with a general explanation of the questionnaire and asked to indicate whether or not they wanted to participate in the investigation by allowing the instructor to use their results in the study. As was also explained to them, students were given a very small amount of course extra credit (i.e., 1% of the total course points) for completing the questionnaire regardless of whether or not they chose to participate in the study. The ECMS then automatically administered the questionnaire and collected the students' responses. The ECMS immediately informed the instructor which students had and which had not completed the questionnaire, but the system was set up such that it did not release to the instructor any information about any of the questionnaire responses until after the semester had ended. Therefore, no one other than the individual student was able to view her or his questionnaire responses or determine if she or he had agreed to participate in the study until after the course had been completed. Once the semester had ended, the ECMS compiled each student's course scores and questionnaire responses, replaced each student's name with a numeric code, and downloaded the data into a file. The author then assessed the results from each questionnaire and transferred the data into an electronic file for viewing and analysis. Since no student names, from either exercise physiology class, appeared in the data file, it was not possible to connect any specific student with her or his specific questionnaire responses.

Once the data had been finalized, statistical associations between sex and both perceived and assessed sensory modality preferences and between status and both perceived and assessed sensory modality preferences were made using χ2-analyses. Statistical comparisons between class scores and perceived sensory modality preferences, status, and sex were conducted using ANOVAs with Bonferonni post hoc tests. ANOVAs were chosen for these analyses because the student scores were normally distributed and Levene's tests had confirmed that the error variance was equal across the groups. In contrast, statistical comparisons between class scores and assessed sensory modality preferences were made using Kruskal-Wallis tests because the error variance was not equal across those groups. Statistical significance was set at P < 0.05, but trends up to P < 0.10 are discussed. Data are expressed as either means ± SD or percentages.

RESULTS

A total of 67 students completed the fall 2009 exercise physiology courses, including 53 undergraduate students and 15 graduate students. From both those classes, 94% of the students (i.e., 50 undergraduates and 14 graduates) completed the questionnaire. Of those respondents, 62% were women and 38% were men (Table 3).

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Table 3.

Characteristics of the student respondents

Perceived sensory modality preferences.

When asked to select the single sensory modality they felt they most preferred to use when learning information, 36% of the respondents chose V, 28% chose R, 19% chose K, and 17% chose A. That same trend was evident when the results were compared by status, as both undergraduates and graduates most preferred V learning (32% and 50%, respectively), followed by R (30% and 22%, respectively), K (20% and 14%, respectively), and A (18% and 14%, respectively) learning. The relationship between perceived sensory modality preferences and status (Table 4) was not statistically significant (χ2 = 1.55, P = 0.67).

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Table 4.

Perceived sensory modality preferences grouped by experimental variables

A quick inspection of the relationship between perceived sensory modality preferences and sex (Table 4) would seem to indicate that women and men had different preferences. Indeed, most women indicated a preference for R learning (35%), followed by V (25%), A (22%), and K (18%), whereas men most preferred V learning (54%), followed by K (21%), R (17%), and A (8%). Although this association did not reach statistical significance, the calculated test statistic fell just outside of the critical region (χ2 = 7.18, P = 0.06).

Assessed sensory modality preferences.

According to the sensory modality preferences determined using Flemming's VARK assessment (5), 30% of the respondents preferred a single sensory modality, 22% preferred two modalities, 11% preferred three modalities, and 37% preferred all four sensory modalities (Fig. 1). Among the 19 respondents that were classified as unimodal, the largest number preferred R learning (47%), followed by K (26%), A (16%), and V (11%) learning (Fig. 2). Among the 45 multimodal learners, the largest number were classified as VARK (53%), followed by AK (16%), VK (9%), ARK (9%), VAK (5%), RK (4%), AR (2%), and VRK (2%).

Fig. 1.

Percentages of student respondents (n = 64) who preferred to use one (unimodal), two (bimodal), three (trimodal), or four (quadmodal) sensory modalities when learning information.

Fig. 2.

Percentages of student respondents (n = 64) who preferred to use visual, aural, read-write, kinesthetic, and multiple sensory modalities when learning information.

To conduct a thorough investigation of the associations of assessed sensory modality preferences, χ2-analyses with both status and sex were conducted using three different sets of the assessed sensory modality preference results. The three sets differed in terms of how the assessed sensory modality preference results were classified. Set 1 used a 4-component classification (i.e., unimodal, bimodal, trimodal, and quadmodal), set 2 used a 5-component classification (i.e., V, A, R, K, and multimodal), and set 3 used the full 15-component classification (i.e., V, A, R, K, VA, VR, VK, AR, AK, RK, VAR, VAK, VRK, ARK, and VARK). In terms of the associations with status, there were no statistical differences between undergraduates and graduates in assessed sensory modality preferences using the 4-component classification (χ2 = 0.79, P = 0.85), 5-component classification (χ2 = 1.26, P = 0.87), or 15-component classification (11.56, P = 0.40). Similarly, there were no statistical differences between women and men using either the four-component (χ2 = 1.63, P = 0.65) or five-component (χ2 = 3.08, P = 0.544) assessed sensory modality preference result classifications. While there were also no statistical differences between women and men in assessed modality preferences using the full 15-component classification (Table 5), it is important to note that the calculated test statistic once again fell just short of the critical region (χ2 = 17.36, P = 0.09).

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Table 5.

Assessed sensory modality preferences in female and male student respondents

Finally, a comparison was made to determine how often respondents' perceived (i.e., self-evaluated) sensory modality preference matched their assessed preferences from Flemming's VARK assessment (5). With 59% of the respondents, there was a match between their perceived modality preference and the dominant modality preference indicated by their VARK assessment scores. With 22% of the respondents, their perceived sensory modality preference was included but was not the dominant modality in the list of preferences indicated by their assessment scores. With 19% of the respondents, their perceived sensory modality preference was not even included in the list of preferences indicated by their assessment score.

Final class scores and sensory modality preferences.

Mean course scores grouped by test variables are shown in Table 6. The results of the ANOVAs indicated that there were no significant differences either between course scores and status (F = 1.34, P = 0.25) or between course scores and sex (F = 1.03, P = 0.31). Interestingly, there was a significant association between perceived sensory modality preferences and course scores (F = 4.13, P = 0.01). The mean scores were 86.63 ± 8.68, 88.31 ± 4.35, 86.62 ± 5.42, and 78.96 ± 8.61 for those that selected V, A, R, and K modalities, respectively (Table 6). Bonferroni post hoc tests revealed that the scores from the K group were significantly lower than those from the other three modality groups.

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Table 6.

Mean course scores grouped by experimental variables

The results of the Kruskal-Wallis tests indicated that there were no statistically significant relationships between assessed sensory modality preferences and course scores. Statistical insignificance was found with the 4-component classification (H = 2.48, P = 0.48), 5-component classification (H = 3.49, P = 0.48), and full 15-component classification (H = 11.56, P = 0.40) of assessed sensory modality preferences.

DISCUSSION

Summary of main findings and comparison with the literature.

An important consideration of learning theory is the sensory modalities that students prefer to use when internalizing information. Physiology instructors that understand and incorporate the sensory modalities that are most preferred by their students will be more successful at communicating the course material (6, 7, 11, 14, 15). To better elucidate the nature and impact of sensory modality preferences in physiology students, this investigation compared perceived and assessed sensory modality preferences and examined the associations between those preferences and course performance, status (i.e., undergraduates vs. gradates), and sex. The four main conclusions of the investigation were that 1) nearly two-thirds of the respondents correctly matched their perceived and dominant assessed sensory modality preferences, 2) there was a significant relationship between perceived sensory modality preferences and course scores, 3) there was no association between sensory modality preferences and status, and 4) there was a nearly significant trend in sensory modality preferences and sex.

Although none of the students in this investigation had participated in a comparable study that was conducted by the author last year (4), the student respondents from both studies had very similar perceived sensory modality preferences. In light of those similarities, 59% of the respondents in this investigation had perceived sensory modality preferences that correctly matched the dominant modality indicated by their assessment scores. That result is exactly equal to the percentage of students cited on Flemming's VARK website (5) who said that their VARK assessment results matched what they perceived as their learning style preferences. Interestingly, that equality indicates that the two studies strengthen one another for two different reasons. The match strengthens the results of this study because it provides evidence of experimental consistencies between the respondents in this investigation and those of the much larger (n = 38,374) study by Flemming. On the other hand, the match also strengthens the finding by Flemming because the methodology he used to obtain that statistic could have invited concerns about experimental bias. That is, the respondents in Flemming's study (5) were not asked to identify their perceived sensory modality preference until just after they had received their sensory modality preference results. That method could be described as biased because it could have led some of those respondents to choose a perceived sensory modality that matched their assessed sensory modality results. In this investigation, however, respondents were first asked to identify their perceived sensory modality preferences and then completed the VARK questionnaire. Since the questionnaire answers were real-life scenarios, instead of the actual sensory modality titles (i.e., V, A, R, and K), it was unlikely that the respondents knew which sensory modalities they were indicating. Therefore, it was unlikely that the respondents were biased or led toward a specific assessed sensory modality preference result in this study. Consequently, it is also therefore unlikely that the proportion of agreement between perceived and assessed sensory modality preferences (i.e., 59%) reported by Flemming was biased because the two studies found exactly the same statistic.

The overall distribution of assessed sensory modality preferences observed in this investigation was also similar to that listed on Flemming's website (5). While the respondents in this study had slightly lower unimodal (30% vs. 36% on the website) and higher bimodal (22% vs. 15% on the website) preferences, the trimodal preferences were analogous (11% vs. 13% on the website) and the quadmodal preferences were identical (37%). It is also important to observe that, compared with previous investigations that also reported overall sensory modality preferences in physiology students (3, 9, 10), the unimodal preferences reported herein were again relatively low. That is, although the percentage of physiology students with multimodal preferences was fairly similar to those previously reported by comparable investigations, the unimodal preferences found in this study (30%) were well below the 36%, 40%, and 54% values reported by Lujan and Dicarlo (9), Breckler et al. (3), and Meechan-Andrews (10), respectively. A closer inspection of this discrepancy reveals that the difference is explained by the percentage of unimodal K learners, who comprised only 8% of students in this study but were more than twice that proportion in the three latter studies. It is not clear why the students in this investigation had lower unimodal and K preferences than those from any of the other studies cited immediately above. Nevertheless, that same exact trend was observed with a different group of physiology students from the University of Florida in 2009 (4). Furthermore, even lower preferences for K learning were observed in a study that examined dental school students (12).

Another interesting pertinent trend in this investigation was that those with K perceived sensory modality preferences had significantly lower course scores than those with V, A, and R preferences. It is important to note that this trend pertained only to perceived sensory modality preferences, as there were no statistical associations between assessed sensory modality preferences and course scores. Nevertheless, these results confirm those previously reported by the author (4) that physiology students with K perceived sensory modality preferences performed the poorest in a physiology class. Again, it is not clear why this trend was observed in these students, and, unfortunately, there is very little pertinent evidence to consult. To the best of the author's knowledge, only two similar studies have been conducted on sensory modality preferences and academic performance. The first study (2) found no statistical association between learning style preferences and grade point average in dental students, and the second study (1) found that students with multimodal sensory preferences performed better in a nursing course. So, not only did these two studies not focus on physiology students, but, more importantly, both examined assessed sensory modality preferences. Therefore, the present and previous (4) investigations by the author are the only studies that have examined the relationship between course performance and perceived sensory modality preferences. According to the results from both investigations, those physiology students that indicate a preference for the K modality may need additional instructional assistance.

In terms of the relationship between sex and sensory modality preferences, the pertinent test statistics fell just shy of significance for both perceived and assessed preferences. Therefore, the results of this investigation neither conclusively support nor conclusively disagree with the two previous studies (1, 13) that found no significant association between sex and sensory modality preferences. Nonetheless, the strong trend toward significance in this study was not surprising given that a third previous investigation (4) found a significant difference between women and men in perceived sensory modality preferences. There were also distinct similarities in the perceived sensory modality results from both of these investigations that were performed by the author. For example, in both the previous (4) and present studies, a greater proportion of women than men had A perceived preferences (10% greater and 14% greater, respectively). Furthermore, women and men had very similar proportions of preference for K learning in both studies.

When women and men were compared using the full 15-component classification of assessed sensory modality preferences, there was also a trend toward statistical significance. Although the two sexes were equally unimodal (30%) and quadmodal (38%), women were more bimodal (25% vs. 16% in men) and less trimodal (7% vs. 16% in men). These proportions were generally similar to those found both on Flemming's VARK website (5) and in the three comparable previous investigations that delineated sensory modality preference results by sex (3, 13, 15). The only real notable difference with those latter three studies was with the total percentages of female and male unimodal learners, which, as suggested above, were both relatively low in the present study. For example, Breckler et al. (3) and Slater et al. (13) found that the percentage of female unimodal learners was 38% and 44%, respectively, and that the percentage of male unimodal learners was 46% and 42%, respectively, whereas only 30% of both women and men were unimodal in this study. Still, the differences between the proportions of women and men within each subclassification of unimodal, bimodal, trimodal and quadmodal preferences were all small and were all similar to those published by Breckler et al. (3) and Slater et al. (13). The only comparable study that found unusually large differences between the percentages of female and male physiology students within the classifications of assessed sensory modality preferences was Wehrwein et al. (15). That group found a relatively great difference between women and men in unimodal (54% vs 12.5%, respectively) and quadmodal (21% vs. 58%, respectively) preferences. Another unique finding by this group was that a substantially greater proportion of women than men were classified as R (17% vs. 4%, respectively) and K (33% vs. 4%, respectively) unimodal learners.

It is not obvious why the results of Wehrwein (15) were so distinct and unique, or why conflicting results have been found regarding statistical differences between female and male preferences, despite the fact that all of the pertinent studies have used the same sensory modality preference assessment. It seems reasonable that those discrepancies between studies could be explained by either differences in the proportion of respondents that were women versus men and/or by differences in the educational level of the respondents. For example, the two studies that found no statistical association between sensory modality preferences and sex had either a majority of male respondents (1) or a fairly similar split of female and male (56% vs. 44%, respectively) respondents (13). Conversely, the previous (4) and present investigations by the author, which found significant or very nearly significant associations between preferences and sex, both had at least a two-thirds majority of female respondents. Unfortunately, the exact proportions of female and male respondents in the study by Wehrwein et al. (15) were not available, so it is not possible to determine if those proportions could help explain their unusual findings.

A second factor that could reasonably be thought to explain the discrepancies discussed above was the varying educational status of the respondents, which, as was observed by Breckler et al. (3), may have a important influence over students' learning style preferences. Indeed, the studies by Breckler et al. (3), Dobson (4), and Wehrwein (15) all examined sensory modality preferences in undergraduate physiology students, whereas those by Alkhasawneh et al. (1), Baykan and Nacar (2), Lujan and Dicarlo (9), Meechan-Andrews (10), and Slater et al. (13) all investigated preferences in graduate-level students. Inconveniently, no significant association was found in this investigation with educational status and either perceived or assessed sensory modality preferences. To the best of the author's knowledge, this is the first study that has directly compared sensory modality preferences in undergraduate and graduate students.

Limitations.

Given that Flemming's VARK assessment (5) has recently been statistically validated (8) and that numerous similar investigations have already been conducted (13, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15), the most significant limitation to this study was the number of participants. This was particularly evident with the graduate students, of whom there were only 14 respondents. That number was smaller than was anticipated, although it had been expected to be low. When conceptualizing this study, it was clear that it was going to be difficult to recruit enough graduate students that were experimentally similar to the undergraduates to make an effective and appropriate comparison between the two groups. It was decided that the only feasible means of accomplishing that goal was to recruit graduate students from the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology's APK 6116 course. Although that class was only offered only once each year, it typically enrolled more graduate students than any other course in the department. Unfortunately, the APK 6116 course that was sampled for this study had less than half the enrollees of the previous year's course. Therefore, it was surprising that so few graduate students were available to be recruited for the study. That being said, it is important to recognize the nature of the consistencies between the undergraduate and graduate students in this investigation. According to all of the sensory modality preference comparisons, most notably those with the perceived and both the four and five component classifications of assessed preferences, there were extensive similarities between the undergraduate and graduate students. Furthermore, the P values for those comparisons were particularly high, ranging from a minimum of 0.70 to nearly 0.90. Therefore, despite the small number of graduate student respondents, this study does provide some decent evidence that sensory modality preferences do not differ with educational status.

Conclusions.

Research (6, 7, 11) has demonstrated that student learning is enhanced when instructors present information using the particular styles that students prefer. The VARK questionnaire can be used to identify and elucidate student sensory modality preferences, which is a critical step in the optimization of learning (9, 13, 15) for several different reasons. First, students that understand their own sensory modality preferences can favorably adjust their studying techniques if the information was not presented to them in a manner that they prefer. For example, if an instructor presents information using only V and/or A modalities, then a student that strongly favors the R modality can study using techniques that are known to be more effective for R learners (e.g., converting visual information like diagrams into descriptions that use words). Similarly, if an instructor knows the sensory modalities that are most preferred by a group of students, then she or he can customize teaching strategies to better address the specific strengths and weaknesses of those students. In a broader sense, instructors that understand the diverse sensory modality preferences of their students may be more inclined to incorporate multiple modalities in their presentations rather than simply resort to habit or use only the modality or modalities that they themselves most prefer. Finally, sensory modality preferences may provide instructors with a means of more accurately predicting when and what presentation modifications would be more ideal for a specific group of students. That is, if research continues to identify statistical trends in the preferences of different groups of students (e.g., women vs. men), then those trends may be used by instructors to help predict the preferences of students about which they know little.

With the above stated important justifications in mind, one of the motivations for this study was to attempt to confirm if there are statistically significant (i.e., predictable) differences in sensory modality preferences between women and men and/or if those preferences might change with varying levels of education. The results of this investigation would seem to indicate that sensory modality preferences do not change between undergraduate and graduate levels of education. If that is indeed the case, then there are three important implications to consider. The first is that sensory modality preferences may be inborn and/or become mature up through earlier levels of education (e.g., high school). If the latter, then it would be interesting to determine if early intervention could alter a student's sensory modality preferences (e.g., to preferences that are more desirable to the individual and/or more appropriate for the individual's particular learning environment). The second implication is that instructors, who are concerned with optimizing the effectiveness of their presentations, may not need to be concerned about using different combinations of sensory modality preferences when switching between undergraduate and graduate students. The final implication is that sensory modality preferences are set, and are therefore more predictable, by the time students become undergraduates. Accordingly, the results of this and the previous investigation by the author (4) do seem to indicate that female and male physiology students have different sensory modality preferences. These results indicate that, as a group, men have a greater tendency to prefer R and K learning over V and A learning, whereas females tend to have roughly equal preferences for all four modalities. On a superficial level, these results indicate that instructors who work exclusively with male students might want to make somewhat greater use of R and K modalities when presenting information. On a broader and more important level, these two studies provide statistically relevant evidence that typical groups of physiology students (i.e., women and men) have diverse sensory modality preferences; therefore, instructors should make use of all four different modalities to effectively reach all of their students.

The final, and most perplexing, conclusion of the study is that students with K perceived sensory modality preferences tended to perform more poorly in their course. This same tendency was previously reported by the author (4), which means that it has now been observed in multiple types of physiology classes (i.e., undergraduate human physiology and exercise physiology courses as well as a graduate exercise physiology course) and with a total of nearly 1,000 student respondents. One implication of these results is that the instructors of the three aforementioned courses may need to strengthen the kinesthetic components of their presentations/courses. Nevertheless, that adjustment would not be expected to completely ameliorate the lower course scores by those with K perceived preferences because all three courses already included some kinesthetic components. Why then, did students with those preferences have poorer course performance? Unfortunately, there were no other distinguishing characteristics associated with those with K perceived preferences that could help explain the trend. That is, the proportion of those respondents was neither relatively high nor relatively low. Furthermore, the percentage of those with K perceived preferences that correctly matched their perceived and dominant assessed preferences was equivalent to that of the entire group of respondents (i.e., 59%). Perhaps students that recognize their weakness and/or lack of comfort with physiology material are more predisposed to selecting the K modality as their perceived preference. Whatever the exact relationship, these results indicate that those physiology students that indicate K perceived preferences may require more customized teaching strategies (e.g., additional kinesthetic-based instruction) to be successful.

Future pertinent research should use different groups of students (e.g., other types of science students as well as nonscience students) to investigate the strength of the relationship between sensory modality preferences and course performance to determine if that relationship can be used to help identify, and therefore better assist, more vulnerable students. There is also a need to expand on the results of this study by using a larger and more statistically valid sample to directly compare sensory modality preferences in graduates, undergraduates, and, if possible, students with less educational experience (e.g., high school students).

DISCLOSURES

No conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, are declared by the author(s).

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