Learning styles and approaches: implications for medical education

Med Educ. 1986 May;20(3):162-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.1986.tb01163.x.


This paper reviews the recent literature on learning styles and approaches to learning. It identifies two separate streams of research, one originating from mainstream cognitive and psychometric psychology and one from research undertaken within the everyday learning environment. The latter is dealt with in greater detail as it seems to have more immediate practical relevance. A simple model of the teaching-learning process is presented showing how students learn in different ways which are partly attributable to their preferred learning style and partly to the context in which the learning takes place. Three basic approaches have been identified: surface, deep and strategic, each resulting in a different learning outcome. The most desirable and successful is the deep approach. The way in which the teaching and the policies of the department and school influence the students' approach to learning are reviewed in some detail. A consideration of these characteristics in medical schools suggested that many may hinder rather than assist in the development of the desired approach. The work reviewed here suggests that the remedy will require not only substantial changes in the teaching, curriculum and, particularly, assessment, but also a new strategy based on identifying and assisting individual students whose approaches to study are not those expected of a competent university-educated doctor.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Cognition
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • School Admission Criteria
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Teaching / methods