Students’ learning styles and academic performance in first year chemistry

Alexandra Yeung, Justin Read, Siegbert Schmid


Many factors influence students’ learning – such factors include (but are not limited to) students’ learning style preferences, their interest in the material under study, and the learning environment. A student’s learning style preference refers to the way they respond to stimuli in a learning context, and to their characteristic way of acquiring and using information. These learning styles recognise that individuals learn in different ways, and thus that the students in any course will place a variety of different interpretations onto their lessons (Bailey and Garratt 2002). Felder (1993) reported that alignment between students’ learning styles and an instructor’s teaching style leads to better recall and understanding, as well as to more positive post-course attitudes. Since learning style preferences vary between students, the most effective mode of instruction will also vary. Furthermore, it has been reported that teaching is most effective when it caters for a range of learning styles, in part because occasionally having to learn in a less preferred style helps to broaden students’ range of skills (Felder, Felder and Dietz 2002). If any consideration is to be given to accommodating students’ learning style preferences when considering the design of instructional or assessment materials, then it is necessary to know firstly whether the academic performance of students is dependent upon their preferred learning style, and secondly the distribution of learning style preferences within a student cohort must be known. This paper reports the distribution of learning styles amongst first year chemistry students at the University of Sydney, and investigates the relationship between academic performance in the end-of-semester examination and these styles. Some of the implications of these findings for teaching and learning are also discussed.

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