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Cornell University

Learning and Teaching Styles

Why consider the different learning styles of students?
What do we know about learning?
What do we know about teaching styles?
How can you incorporate what we know about learning and teaching styles in the classroom?

Why consider the different learning styles of students

The concept of learning styles was first recognized in the mid-1970s. The idea that individuals have learning styles or preferences is very popular today and the inventories of learning styles are abundant. There is no sufficient evidence, however, to support the claim that shaping teaching according to learning style improves learning.

What do we know about learning?

“Learning is a dynamic process that consists of making sense and meaning out of new information and connecting it to what is already known.  To learn well and deeply, students need to be active participants in that process. This typically involves doing something – for example, thinking, reading, discussing, problem-solving, or reflecting.” (Barkley, 2010, p. 94)

"The familiar surface learning approach is characterized by information recall. In contrast, learners who use a deep approach "seek meaning in study, reflect on what they read and hear, and undertake to create (or recreate) their personal understanding of things" (Marchese, 1997, p.88).

'Deep learning' is not a description of a quality of learning, nor does it describe a particular stage of learner development. Rather, 'deep learning' refers to an approach that students may take to learning, in distinction to a 'surface approach’. (Barry Jackson, Director of Learning Development, Middlesex University)

Read more about learning styles in this Knowledge Base and "Webliography."

What do we know about teaching styles?

Individual instructors have a dominant and preferred teaching style (dependent upon academic discipline, class size, and individual preferences), but will often mix in elements of other strategies. The following chart illustrates the various ways instructors may approach teaching and learning (focusing on covering content versus student learning, or focusing on what the teacher does versus what the students can do to enhance learning).





Teacher’s Role: Seller or Demonstrator

independent learning activities

Teacher’s Role: Coach or Facilitator

guiding students to develop and apply skills and knowledge


Teacher’s Role: Professor or Authority

traditional lectures

Teacher’s Role: Entertainer or Delegator

collaborative learning

Discover and reflect on your teaching style by taking the Teaching Style Inventory from Indiana State University Center for Teaching and Learning.

How can you incorporate what we know about teaching and learning styles in the classroom?

See the resources below for specific strategies.


CTI Engaged Learning

Please note that these PDF files require a CU NetID to access. The links will direct you to a login page.
CTI Learning Styles Sheet
CTI Cognitive Development and Learning
CTI Millennials

Past CTI Presentation Materials



Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grasha, Anthony F. (2002). Teaching with style: A practical guide to enhancing learning by understanding teaching and learning styles. Pittsburgh: Alliance Publishers.

Landrum, Timothy J. and Kimberly A. McDuffie (2010). Learning Styles in the Age of Differentiated Instruction. Exceptionality 18(1), 6-17.

Marchese, T. J. (1997). The new conversations about learning. In B. Cambridge (Ed.), Assessing impact: Evidence and action , 79-95. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.
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