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Learning style

This article looks at popular theories relating to learning styles and the four learning styles or stages that learners use.

In the previous step, you reviewed conceptual approaches to learning of individuals and organisations. Through our exploration of these theories, you became aware of the different conceptions of learning and the importance of learning in promoting potential talent.

Through your experience, you may have noticed that, like the existence of multiple styles and types of leadership, there are different types of learners that affect leadership in different ways depending on the characteristics of the learner.

Learning Styles

There are several learning styles typologies in the literature. One of the first and popular typologies is by Honey and Mumford (1992), who classifies the learning style of learners using these two dimensions:

  • The way a learner approaches a task or what the authors call the processing continuum,
  • The emotional response to the task or what is called the perception continuum.

Mumford and Honey describe the learning styles as a continuum that moves through over time. It consists of four learning styles or stages, namely Activist, Theorist; Pragmatist and Reflector.

##The Four Stages of learning styles

Activists: They learn by having experience, doing hands-on activities and experiencing new things. Their learning experience is enhanced when they collaborate with others to solve problems, especially using techniques such as brainstorming, group discussion, and role-playing. However, activists’ learning experience is diminished when they work alone to solve a problem and when they listen to lectures.

Theorists: They learn best when they review their experiences by understanding the theory. They prefer to analyse theories, models and concepts and ask questions to form their own opinions. Their learning experience is enhanced when they understand the purpose or value of their learning, can ask questions, and rely on a theory or conceptual model that explains what they learn. Theorists’ learning experience is diminished when they are asked to solve a problem without understanding the underlying theory and when there is no clear logic or rational thinking.

Pragmatists: They learn when they practise doing the real activities and are able to see how their learning can be put into practice in their work. They are interested in finding new ways to use what they have learned in practice. Their learning experience is enhanced when they can see the added value of their learning to their current way of doing things. They need feedback on their learning from an expert and case studies that they can use as a benchmark and build on. Their learning experience and outcomes are diminished when they are not able to envision the practical application for what they are learning.

Reflectors: They use observation and reflection about what happened to learn. They delay conclusions until they collect sufficient data from different sources and perspectives. Their learning experience is enhanced when they have enough time to investigate the problem and think about it and when they are in a paired discussion and have the opportunity to observe others perform activities. Reflectors’ learning experience is diminished when they are rushed by tight deadlines and don’t have the opportunity to receive feedback or observe and investigate the issue on their own.

How can you support your people’s learning as a leader?

In the previous section you have been introduced to the typology of learners or learning styles. You will now learn some tips on how you can support your people’s learning as a leader:

  • Realise that others learn differently – Using empathy is essential to identify the different learning styles of your employees and to respond to them through appropriate learning methods.
  • Create a space for discussion and physical or virtual exchange: Many people learn best by talking about their ideas and exchanging with others in an open and transparent environment.
  • Recognise your learning style in others – helping others learn is easier when you recognise your own learning style while considering the four learning styles to support their learning and inform your expectations and interactions with them.

Reflect & Reply

Please reflect upon the key question below and respond using the comments section below.

What type of learner are you?
Identifying your own learning style will make you more aware of how you and other individuals learn and how you can promote the learning of your team members.
Considering the current situation of your organisation or team, which ways you can use to promote the learning of your group members?


Honey, P., & Mumford, A. (1992). The manual of learning styles. Berkshire: Peter Honey Publications

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