Education for Health

: 2012  |  Volume : 25  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 160--164

Using Appreciative Inquiry to Help Students Identify Strategies to Overcome Handicaps of their Learning Styles

Latha Rajendra Kumar1, Thomas Vengail Chacko2,  
1 Professor, Physiology and FAIMER 2009 Fellow, Professor, Convener Medical Education Unit, Coordinator of Yenepoya Teaching Learning Centre, Yenepoya Medical College, Mangalore 575002, India, Visiting Fulbright Professor, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, UMDNJ, NJ, 08854
2 Director, PSG-FAIMER Regional Institute, PSG I.M.S.R, Coimbatore 641004, India

Correspondence Address:
Latha Rajendra Kumar
Professor of Physiology, Yenepoya Medical College, Mangalore - 575004


Introduction: In India, as in some other neighboring Asian countries, students and teachers are generally unaware of the differences in the learning styles among learners, which can handicap students with learning styles alien to the common teaching/learning modality within the institution. This study aims to find out whether making students aware of their learning styles and then using the Appreciative Inquiry approach to help them discover learning strategies that worked for them and others with similar learning styles within the institution made them perceive that this experience improved their learning and performance in exams. Methods: The visual, auditory, read-write, and kinesthetic (VARK) inventory of learning styles questionnaire was administered to all 100 first-year medical students of the Father Muller俟Q製 Medical College in Mangalore India to make them aware of their individual learning styles. An Appreciate Inquiry intervention was administered to 62 student volunteers who were counseled about the different learning styles and their adaptive strategies. Pre and post intervention change in student俟Q製 perception about usefulness of knowing learning styles on their learning, learning behavior, and performance in examinations was collected from the students using a prevalidated questionnaire. Results: Post intervention mean scores showed a significant change (P < 0.0001) in student俟Q製 self-perceptions about usefulness of knowing one俟Q製 learning style and discovering strategies that worked within the institutional environment. There was agreement among students that the intervention helped them become more confident in learning (84%), facilitating learning in general (100%), and in understanding concepts (100%). However, only 29% of the students agreed that the intervention has brought about their capability improvement in application of learning and 31% felt it improved their performance in exams. Discussion : Appreciate Inquiry was perceived as useful in helping students discover learning strategies that work for different individual learning styles and sharing them within the group helped students choose strategies to help overcome the handicap presented by the school俟Q製 teaching methods.

How to cite this article:
Kumar LR, Chacko TV. Using Appreciative Inquiry to Help Students Identify Strategies to Overcome Handicaps of their Learning Styles.Educ Health 2012;25:160-164

How to cite this URL:
Kumar LR, Chacko TV. Using Appreciative Inquiry to Help Students Identify Strategies to Overcome Handicaps of their Learning Styles. Educ Health [serial online] 2012 [cited 2020 Jul 13 ];25:160-164
Available from:

Full Text


Learning styles vary among individuals. Students' learning styles fall under four broad categories, namely visual, auditory, read-write, and kinesthetic (VARK). The four categories have been confirmed in studies that have classified the learning styles of undergraduate medical, engineering, nursing, and dental students. [1],[2] Visual learners have a preference for seeing/visualizing; auditory learners learn best through listening; kinesthetic learners enjoy learning through doing; and read-write learners learn best by reading and writing printed words. [3]

Studies have shown that understanding the learning styles of students helps instructors design and implement learning activities that lead to greater student learning. This even holds true for learning on online learning platforms. [4] Further, cognitive research has shown that a significant number of individuals have learning styles best served by pedagogical techniques other than lecturing. The modification of traditional lectures [5] is one way to incorporate active learning in the classroom by a nonauditory learner. To our knowledge, no study has assessed the perceived importance to medical students of becoming aware of their learning styles.

Appreciate Inquiry is a methodology for bringing about positive change in institutions where instead of asking, "What is the problem," one asks, "What is working around here for you in your set-up". [6] Case studies of Appreciate Inquiry have also reported individual transformation consistent with transformational learning, including increased confidence and competence in addition to increased transfer of learning and data. [7] Roberts [8] explored the use of Appreciate Inquiry in teaching and learning within the problem-based learning (PBL) environment. Appreciate Inquiry has been found to be a positive force for creating success for students who have previously known only failure. By focusing on student strengths over deficits, teachers have been able to help students gain the necessary confidence and commitment to be successful. [9]

In India there is lack of awareness in medical schools that different students have different learning styles. This prevents teachers from creating an optimal learning atmosphere in the institution by designing appropriate teaching-learning modalities that cater to students with different learning styles. One solution to this is to create awareness among teachers that different students have different learning styles and that they need to design teaching modalities and learning experiences that would cater to different learning styles of students. A step beyond this is to use Appreciate Inquiry with students to identify adaptive strategies used by successful students who have overcome the handicap presented by the teaching-learning methods of their institution.

This study was undertaken to assess medical students' perceptions of the usefulness of being made aware of their learning styles. It also assesses the perceived usefulness of the Appreciate Inquiry process as a way to help students discover the learning approaches that have worked for them in the past given their own learning styles and to learn what has helped fellow students with similar learning styles.

The intervention

The intervention was carried out with 100 first-year medical undergraduate students at Father Muller Medical College in Mangalore, South India. The school is a unit of Fr. Muller's Charitable Institutions, a Religious Minority Educational Institution established primarily for the benefit of the members of the Christian Community. The mission of the medical school is to impart value-based medical education, render better service by preparing medical doctors deeply committed to "Care and Comfort" the suffering humanity. Human subjects study approval was obtained from our institutional review board.

The VARK questionnaire is an inventory of learning styles that provides users with a profile of their learning preferences. As an example, one VARK item reads: " You are helping someone who wants to go to your airport, town centre or railway station. You would: write down the directions, go with her, draw, or give her a map, tell her the directions." The subject is allowed to choose more than one preference if a single answer does not match his/her perception. Through scores on the 16 items the predominant learning style is derived. The VARK questionnaire was used to identify students' preferred learning style, with permission of its creator. [10]

A pretest (see below) was conducted before students were told about their learning styles. After an initial orientation to learning styles for all first-year medical students, they were all administered the VARK learning style inventory questionnaire to identify their own learning styles. This was followed by a large group discussion on the implications of the learning style scores obtained by individual students. The practical implications of knowing one's learning style was communicated to students in a large group. Since this was the first time students had heard about learning styles it was felt important to provide individual or small group counseling about their learning styles. Students were invited to meet the designated faculty. Sixty-two of the 100 medical students volunteered to receive individual help through an interview session. During the interview session, the individual student's VARK inventory scores indicating their learning style was first shown to him or her. After reiterating the implications of knowing their style of learning as identified by the VARK inventory, they then participated in the four-stage Appreciate Inquiry process [11] in which the following questions were asked and responses noted down:

The Discovery stage - "The best of what is": Now that you know your learning style, think back in your classroom, locate a moment that was a high point in learning when you felt engaged and effective as a learner. What skill helped in your learning? What was its key to success? Other questions that helped students identify their personal strengths were also asked. For example, visual learners were asked "What successful strategies did you use (if any) to convert materials/sessions/methods that were delivered to you in a non-visual way to convert it into an understandable/remember-able form? How did you overcome the handicap of the learning material/session being in a non-visual way (to identify other general successful strategies). Are there ways where you found you could adapt to different styles of different teachers?"

Students were then encouraged to identify common themes behind their examples of excellence that left them enthused, excited, energized, and empowered with learning strategies that worked for them and for others. They were also asked to reflect on what happened that made this such a memorable learning experience for them. The Dreaming stage - "What could be": After the discovery of their learning styles was complete, they were encouraged to develop a future vision. The students developed a picture of the ideal future as efficient and successful learners. To achieve this, the students were encouraged to dream, visualize, and imagine what may be possible on being aware of their individual learning styles. The Design stage- "What should be": The students were asked to design ways by which they can use their understanding of their learning style in both in their classroom/tutorials and during individual meetings with teachers. Through consensus, short and long-term goals were developed to achieve the dream based on "provocative proposition." An example of provocative propositions is "Building on my learning style I will do whatever is necessary to make learning easier, accurate, interesting and enjoyable." The Delivery stage - "Action plan and execute": This is the action planning and execution stage. Students were encouraged to put their identified strategies and plans in place to meet the goals of the provocative proposition.

Through four stages, in conformity to Appreciate Inquiry principles, students were encouraged to maintain a positive mindset.

In addition to the above strategy, students were counseled that adapting to multimodal learning styles can lead to greater academic success. For example, an auditory learner could adapt to visual and read-write technique and draw effective illustrations and diagrams for learning anatomy. Moreover, as part of the strategy sharing part of the intervention, poor performers were counseled on adopting some of the strategies discovered through the Appreciate Inquiry process that were used by high performers. Examples were to learn by making actions with one's hands to help understand the blood flow pattern in cardiac output, and writing important key words in the classroom to enhance memorization. Since the kinesthetic and read-write learners perform well in tests, [12] some of their strategies were shared with other students so that they too could perform better.

Evaluation Methods

A pre and postintervention questionnaire was designed to capture the change in students' self-perception about usefulness of the intervention in bringing about improvement in their learning. Pretesting of the pre/posttest questionnaire for validation was done with 10 paramedical nursing students to help avoid ambiguity of wording. A Cronbach's alpha score for reliability (0.82) was obtained. Content and construct validity was done by seeking opinion of 7 Foundation for the Advancement of International Medical Education (FAIMER) faculty and 16 FAIMER fellows from the list-serve of PSG- FAIMER Regional Institute.

The quantitative data generated through the pre/posttest was analyzed using SPSS software package version 13.0. Only the 62 students who volunteered for the intervention were considered the study subjects. Their pre and postintervention scores were compared using paired t- test to evaluate the students' perception of being helped in various aspects of learning by the intervention. Further, we identified the extent to which they agreed (using a 5-point Likert scale) that the intervention helped them with various components of the learning process, whether it improved their capability to apply their learning, and whether it improved their performance during subsequent tests.


Of the 62 students who volunteered for the intervention, 35 were female and 27 male, with a mean age of 17.2 years. The volunteers did not differ by age-sex from the 38 who did not volunteer (24 females and 14 males with mean age of 18.2 years).

Student's perception about usefulness of the intervention in improving their learning

Before the intervention, students' perception of the usefulness of knowing learning styles in improving their learning was low (mean scores less than 3 out of 5) for all aspects of student learning [Table 1] Mean ratings were particularly low for perceptions that knowing learning styles would lead to improvement in learning of skills (2.49) and performance on tests (2.46).{Table 1}

After the intervention, there was statistically significant increase in their posttest perception scores (P < 0.0001) for all the aspects of learning, including better understanding of concepts and becoming more confident in learning using their own learning style. Scores improved greatly (more than 1 full point on a 5-point scale) for all measures except the perception that the intervention can improve their performance in tests, for which the score increased only from 2.96.

After the intervention, students were asked about the areas that they benefited the most [Table 2].{Table 2}

All students who participated in the study agreed that awareness of learning styles facilitated learning in general and improved their understanding of concepts. There was less agreement that the intervention helped them better apply knowledge learned (29%) and improved their performance in examinations (31%).


Medical students spend considerable time gaining knowledge of human systems, acquiring information and learning how to apply it to patients and in examinations. The syllabus being vast, students desire to obtain information in a simple and comprehensible form. There is a need to introduce innovative teaching-learning practices that address all students of all learning styles. This study's findings suggest that becoming aware of their learning style helps students learn, as students perceive that this intervention was useful in improving their learning. There was less agreement among students that knowing their learning style helped their performance in exams.

We do not know why student's awareness of their learning styles did not help them in their performance in examinations. It may be that mere awareness of learning styles is not enough to help students. The intervention assessed in this study used Appreciate Inquiry and counseling to help students discover a wider range of learning strategies that work within the existing teaching-learning environment of their school. Students informally reported to the instructors that becoming aware of their learning styles has helped them practice the learning of important lessons by adopting methods appropriate to their learning style, develop other learning styles, and strategies appropriate to their learning styles.


Only 62 out of 100 students participated in the intervention. The others who did not volunteer to participate may have had lesser or more problems in learning and may or may not have felt that they similarly benefited from the intervention. The data is also limited by being self-reported and so only elicits students' perceptions of benefit; whether students actually improve in their learning behaviors and performance remains to be proved.


The medical students felt that it helped them become better students by being made aware of their learning styles and with Appreciative Inquiry it helped them to discover their positive adaptive strategies and to learn of other strategies that have helped other students at their school.



1Kumar LR, Voralu K, Pani SP, Sethuraman KR. Predominant learning styles adopted by AIMST University students in Malaysia. South East Asian J Med Educ 2009;3(1). Available from: [Last accessed on 2013 Jan 23].
2Tierney, Brunton. Learning Styles: A factor in course choice. B.Sc. Project in Health and Leisure, Institute of Technology, Tralee, 2005.
3Dobson JL. A comparison between learning style preferences and sex, status, and course performance. Adv Physiol Educ 2010;34:197-204.
4Grasha A. Teaching with style: The integration of teaching and learning styles in the classroom. Teach Excell 1996;7:31-4.
5Jon G. Why Many College Teachers Cannot Lecture. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas; 1984.
6Fitzgerald SP, Murrell KL, Miller M. Appreciate Inquiry: Accentuating the positive. Bus Strategy Rev 2003;14:5-7.
7Mohr BJ, Smith E, Watkins JM. Appreciative inquiry and learning assessment: An embedded evaluation process in a transnational pharmaceutical company. OD Practitioner 2000;32:36-52.
8Roberts GW. Advancing new approaches to learning and teaching - introducing Appreciate Inquiry to a problem-based lea r ning curriculum. J Appl Res Higher Educ 2010;2:16-24.
9Strength -based reform- A Primer, Testing and state standards, Institute for teaching. Available from: [Last accessed on 2013 Jan 23].
10Fleming N. Available from: and [Last accessed on 2013 Jan 24].
11Hammond, Sue A. The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry. (Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing Co.; 1996), Plano, Texas: CSS Publication Co; SBN 0-78800917-6.
12Kumar LR, Voralu K, Pani SP, Sethuraman KR. Association of kinesthetic and read-writer learner with deep approach learning and academic performance. Can Med Educ J 2011;2:23-7.