Models of Learning Styles (Part 1: The Myers-Briggs MBTI)

Students can be understood as having different learning styles, showing preferences and facility with regard to different types of information.

Over the past one hundred years, several models of learning styles have been developed, one part to better understand the differences between students, another part to serve as a prescriptive guide for educators to plan their lessons with a view towards equipping students with various skills connected with every learning style. 

Over the next few blog posts, we will explore a few of the most well known learning style models, and discuss the pros and cons of each. This will give you a better idea of how Basecamp Learning Centre utilises Felder-Soloman’s Index of Learning Styles as an entry test to help us understand our students.

The learning styles models we will look at are the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, the VARK model (visual, aural, read/write, and kinestetic), and the Felder-Soloman Model: Index of Learning Styles. We have licensed the Index of Learning Styles test, which you can sign up for on our website.

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

The Myers-Briggs Test

The most well known model is that of Jung’s Theory of Psychological Type. It proposed four main functions of consciousness: two perceiving functions, Sensation and Intuition; and two judging functions, Thinking and Feeling. Taking into account that we fall into two basic attitude types (extraversion and introversion), this model has been operationalised with the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator test. 

This test was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers using Jung’s ideas. The test is used to describe each person’s so-called Jungian preferences:

  • Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
  • Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P) 

While this test is typically recognised as a personality test (as opposed to a bona fide learning styles test), the MBTI nonetheless can be applied towards the understanding of learning styles. 

On the Introversion/Extraversion continuum, introverts are more likely to prefer lectures and individual assignments, while extroverts may prefer class discussions and group learning activities.

The Intuition/Sensing continuum reflects what a student focuses on. Intuitive types would prefer a learning environment where emphasis is placed on associations and meaning. Pattern recognition and gleaning global insights from disparate phenomenon are what excite intuitive types. Sensing types prefer an environment where material is presented sequentially and in great detail. Put simply, while sensing types would enjoy studying individual trees, intuitive types would rather look at the entire forest.

On the Thinking/Feeling continuum, thinkers tend to reason based on logical deductions, while feeling types would place an emphasis on common human needs and emotions.

The fourth continuum (Judging/Perceiving) sheds light on how a person deals with complexity. Judging types are motivated in structured environments and place a strong emphasis on following the syllabus and meeting deadlines, while perceiving types prefer to learn in a flexible environment where ideas can be explored freely and problems are open to creative solutions. 

I’ve taken an MBTI test online, and it says that I’m an ENTP. What does this mean? According to http://www.16personalities.com/entp-personality

The ENTP personality type is the ultimate devil’s advocate, thriving on the process of shredding arguments and beliefs and letting the ribbons drift in the wind for all to see. Unlike their more determined Judging (J) counterparts, ENTPs don’t do this because they are trying to achieve some deeper purpose or strategic goal, but for the simple reason that it’s fun. No one loves the process of mental sparring more than ENTPs, as it gives them a chance to exercise their effortlessly quick wit, broad accumulated knowledge base, and capacity for connecting disparate ideas to prove their points.

Another personality type might be the ISFJ:

The ISFJ personality type is quite unique, as many of their qualities defy the definition of their individual traits. Though possessing the Feeling (F) trait, ISFJs have excellent analytical abilities; though Introverted (I), they have well-developed people skills and robust social relationships; and though they are a Judging (J) type, ISFJs are often receptive to change and new ideas. As with so many things, people with the ISFJ personality type are more than the sum of their parts, and it is the way they use these strengths that defines who they are.

Application to learning styles and pedagogy

Applying our learning styles lens, I would prefer class discussions (E), where the learning is more flexible (P) and geared towards gaining global insights (N). I would also prefer classes which require deductive and logical thinking (T). 

On the other hand, an ISFJ student would be more keen to learn on an individual basis (I) and would be very good at learning the details in any subject (S). Because of their well-developed people skills (F), they are strong with project work and will be able to complete their work on time (J).

There is a real difference in educational outcomes too.

In subjects requiring little to no memory work and and where there is an emphasis on complex problem solving, intuitive types tend to score better.  For subjects that are more formula driven, sensing types would do better. I can attest to this anecdotally: in university I got an A- for Introductory Statistics (formula heavy) and A+ for Real Analysis (concept heavy).

Balanced instruction provided by educators play a large role as well in improving performance between different types of students. For instance, even though certain subjects are more suited to introverts (such as maths), group work requirements tends to improve the performance of extroverts as well as introverts by promoting cross-group learning.

Limitations of MBTI

However, the MBTI itself has been subject to much criticism for being an unreliable test, as subjects who take the test a few times a few months apart would get different answers each time. In personality testing, a reliable test is one in which you can get consistent results over time, while an unreliable test produces different results from different tests. The MBTI has been shown to have very low reliability: “as many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again”.

According to our favourite philosopher and writer Roman Krznaric, “if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category compared to the first time you took the test.” 

Another criticism is that the MBTI pigeonholes people into mutually exclusive types. For instance, the thinking and feeling divide that the MBTI proposes goes against research that one can like both logical thinking as well as be a people person at the same time. 

No, it does not work like that.
No, it does not work like that.

Professor Adam Grant from Wharton has written a good summary about why the MBTI is not a good test, you may read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-grant/goodbye-to-mbti-the-fad-t_b_3947014.html

To conclude, while the MBTI may have its flaws, it’s nonetheless useful for educators and parents to understand that there exists learning style differences amongst students which can translate to real differences in educational outcomes and necessitate different instructional strategies. By equipping students with the skills associated with different learning styles, they are more likely to succeed not only during their education, but also in the workplace as professionals.

This article is part of our series on Learning Style Models. Do look out for the upcoming article on the VARK model.

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

What do you think? Leave a comment