Education for Health

: 2016  |  Volume : 29  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 59--60

Learning styles and learning approaches - Are they different?

Navin Rajaratnam1, Suzanne Maria D'cruz2,  
1 Department of Physiology, Saveetha Medical College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Department of Physiology, Sri Muthukumaran Medical College Hospital and Research Institute, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Correspondence Address:
Navin Rajaratnam
Professor and Head, Department of Physiology, Saveetha Medical College, Thandalam, Chennai - 602105, Tamil Nadu

How to cite this article:
Rajaratnam N, D'cruz SM. Learning styles and learning approaches - Are they different?.Educ Health 2016;29:59-60

How to cite this URL:
Rajaratnam N, D'cruz SM. Learning styles and learning approaches - Are they different?. Educ Health [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Aug 12 ];29:59-60
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Full Text

Dear Editor,

It was interesting to read the recent article by Mirghani et al.[1] which revealed that first and second year medical students following an interdisciplinary integrated curriculum had a surface learning approach (that focused on memorization, not understanding) which was least preferred among final year students. We raise the issue of the authors using the terms learning styles and learning approaches interchangeably. The instrument used by the authors – the Revised Two- Factor Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F) is used to determine surface and deep learning approaches,[2] not learning styles as mentioned by the authors while discussing their results.[1]

Are learning styles really different from learning approaches? The learning styles model, usually attributed to Kolb, is favoured by American writers and management educators.[3] Learning styles basically depend on students' psychological attributes that determine their preferences for understanding their experiences and transforming them into knowledge, and are considered comparatively stable traits that are unlikely to show short term-changes.[3] The definition of learning approaches used by Mirghani et al.[1] seems more relevant to learning styles.[4]

The learning approaches model, usually attributed to Entwistle and Ramsden, originated with the work of Marton and Saljo, was later extended by others like Biggs and is favoured by non-management British and Australian educators.[3] It is based on assumptions that there are differences in the quality of engagement of learners (with them choosing to learn for understanding, reproducing content verbatim or for achievement); and that since learning approaches are consciously chosen based on the situation, they can be controlled by manipulating learning tasks and contexts.[3] So while learning styles are stable traits, learning approaches are not.

Is there a connection between learning styles and approaches? Serif proposes that learning approaches can be considered a bridge between the learning environment and learning styles and presents an integration of Curry's onion model and Bigg's 3P (Presage, Process and Product) model of learning.[4] We feel Mirghani et al. have rightly chosen to determine their students learning approaches as a reflection of exposure to the integrated curriculum and have used the information to analyze possible causes. It is precisely what learning approaches are intended to do and certainly others will learn from their experience. We therefore disagree with their statement that the 'specific' nature of results is a limitation of their study. Having found a positive correlation between students' deep approach scores and examination scores [5] and between their surface approach scores and Perceived Stress Scale scores,[6] we understand the need to encourage students to adopt a deep learning approach that is emphasized by others [2],[3],[4] and appreciate the authors' finding that their final clinical year students had the least preference for a surface approach.

Are we squabbling about terminologies? Maybe - but it is necessary, because as the authors have proven, students' learning approaches do give useful information to teachers and 'learning approaches' need to get the credit for that!


1Mirghani HM, Ezimokhai M, Shaban S, van Berkel HJ. Superficial and deep learning approaches among medical students in an interdisciplinary integrated curriculum. Educ Health (Abingdon) 2014;27:10-4.
2Biggs JB, Kember D, Leung DY. The revised two-factor study process questionnaire: R-SPQ-2F. Br J Educ Psychol 2001;71:133-49.
3Cuthbert PF. The student learning process: Learning styles or learning approaches? Teach High Educ 2005;10:235-49.
4Serife AK. A conceptual analysis on the approaches to learning. Educ Sci Theory Pract 2008;8:707-20.
5Rajaratnam N, D'cruz SM, Chandrasekhar M. Correlation between the learning approaches of first year medical students and their performance in multiple choice questions in physiology. Natl J Integr Res Med 2013;4:43-8. Available from: [Last accessed on 2015 Sep 28].
6Rajaratnam N, Suganthi V, D'cruz SM. Correlation between the learning approaches and perceived stress of first year medical students. South East Asian J Case Rep Rev 2013; 2:289-99. Available from: [Last accessed on 2015 Sep 28].