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Designing Training for Multicultural Learners
Part Four: Learning Styles as Applied to Multicultural Learners

by: Dawn Zintel

In Part Three, I introduced Dr. Howard Gardner's seven ways that people learn and related those seven "intelligences" to preferred learning ways of certain broad cultural groups. In this article, I am continuing with the theme of learning styles and the role they play in training multicultural learners. This information is based on research by Dr. David Kolb who developed the Learning Styles Inventory.

Kolb's Learning Styles
Kolb identified four learning styles that became the basis for his work in experiential learning: Concrete Experiencing, Reflective Observing, Abstract Conceptualizing, and Active Experimenting.

Kolb's research indicates that the combinations formed by the perceiving and processing techniques form four unique learning style types as represented by the numbered quadrants: Diverger, Assimilator, Converger and Accommodator.

Other research that correlated job types to the preferred learning style types is shown below in italic. This research shows that teachers are Assimilators who like to learn primarily through lecture. This research reinforces what I stated in my last article - teachers and instructional designers tend to teach the way they learn best unless they make a concerted effort to teach to all learning style types. The correlation of preferred jobs to learning style types is useful to instructional designers and teachers who are delivering training to one target audience such as sales representatives, managers, or engineers.

Learning Style Types

  1. Diverger - This person's greatest strength lies in his/her imaginative abilities and performs well in situations that require idea generation. This person learns best by interacting and discussing. Divergers are interested in people and tend to be emotional and imaginative. They are sometimes called "idea people."

    Preferred jobs: Actor, athlete, artist, musician, designer, counselor/therapist, social worker, personnel manager, management consultant.

  2. Assimilator - This person's strength lies in the ability to create theoretical models through inductive reasoning and turning disparate observations into an integrated explanation. The Assimilator learns by a combination of watching and thinking through concepts (processing). Assimilators learn best through lecture and reading. Assimilators are less interested in people and more concerned with abstract theories.

    Preferred jobs: Teacher, writer, librarian, minister, planner, R & D scientist, researcher, financier.

  3. Converger - This person's greatest strength lies is the practical application of ideas, and does best where there is a single correct answer or solution to a question or problem. This type learns best by doing, through coaching and hands-on experimenting. Convergers prefer to deal with things rather than people.

    Preferred jobs: Civil engineer, chemical engineer, production supervisor, physician, engineer, computer programmer, medical technician, industrial salesperson, manager.

  4. Accommodator - This person's greatest strength is doing things - carrying out plans and experiments- and involving oneself in new activities. The Accommodator does best in situations where one has to use one's intuition and adapt to specific immediate circumstances. This type learns best through self-discovery. Accommodators have strong "people skills."

    Preferred jobs: Accountant, manager/supervisor, administrator, salesperson/retailer, politician, PR specialist, general manager.

Applying Learning Styles to Multicultural Learners
There has been some research using Kolb's model on the preferred learning styles of different cultures. One study conducted by Shelley L. Smith at Portland State University in 1987 showed that 80% of the total sample (N = 105) of International students were dissimilar in learning style from the normative style established by Kolb for Americans in their chosen field of study. The results of this study are shown below.

This study demonstrates that within each culture the learning styles vary among individuals, although there may be preferred learning styles within a culture.

During training, the ideal is that the instruction will address all of the students' learning styles. However, the majority of schools and adult training programs in the U.S. rely mainly on lecture and question and answer methods which appeals to the Type 2 learner, the Assimilator. Dr. Bernice McCarthy sums up the situation by saying, "The other three learning types either cope and adapt, or they fail. Spending energy adapting and coping, while admittedly a kind of learning, diffuses energy needed for other learning." Focusing on one learning type also places an additional burden on the student who has English as a second language. That individual must cope with the stress of learning in another language, as well as experiencing different cultural norms and customs. So, keep this in mind if you are delivering a training program in English to International students either here in the U.S. or in other countries.

In Part Five, I will Use Kolb and McCarthy's work as the basis to describe instructional methods that accommodate the different learning styles of multicultural learners.

©1993, 1998, 2002, Dawn E. Zintel

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