Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning

pp 1672-1675

Jungian Learning Styles

  • Alastair SharpAffiliated withDepartment of English, Lingnan University Email author 


Cognitive styles; Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); Personality traits


The phrase “Jungian learning styles” refers to the work of Carl Jung (1875–1961) on personality typing and its relationship to individual learning styles or preferences. Jung was a Gestalt personality theorist and a contemporary of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) who believed in the relative permanence of personality features throughout an individual’s life. His study of personality types was a strong influence on the development of Multitrait models of personality, exemplified in inventories such as the “Five Factor Model” (FFM), “Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire” (16PF), the “Eysenck Personality Questionnaire” (EPQ), the “Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory” (MMPI), and the “Myers–Briggs Type Indicator” (MBTI). All these instruments use sophisticated statistical measures to reduce hundreds of traits to basic descriptors. Jung’s typology offers three tiers of personality: conscious, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious. Conscious was given four functions: sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition, with two levels of conscious development denoted as extraversion and introversion. Jung’s theoretical work on personality traits was taken up by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers and developed from the 1940 onwards into various forms of the MBTI (Myers et al. 1998). The MBTI is recognized as the most direct application of Jung’s ideas on personality type theory.

“Learning styles” are approaches to learning which consider that individual’s perceive and process information in very different ways. There have been many definitions of the term however, and this has made it difficult to evaluate its precise meaning. Sternberg and Grigorenko (2001) offer a suitable core definition, seeing the construct as “a preferred or habitual pattern of learning … consistent over long periods of time and across many areas of activity.” Learning styles differ from learning strategies: the former are unintentional or automatic individual characteristics, whereas the latter are intentional actions performed to facilitate learning. Coffield et al. (2004) has surveyed the learning style literature and found that 71 learning styles have been identified, all with the presumed purpose of helping learners to understand how they learn and in helping teachers to adapt the curriculum to cope with learner differences. It is suggested that learning will be more efficient if it is adapted to meet individual learning styles preferences. Learning styles are seen as preferences or as stable traits and are usually seen as relatively unchanging. The personality types of Carl Jung have been described as learning styles and the terms have often been used interchangeably.

Theoretical Background

Jungian personality types are used to indicate the strength of learning style abilities, with no one type being considered better or worse than another. MBTI researchers have added a further type dichotomy to Jung’s original conception: judging and perceiving, and have continued to offer, as mentioned above, the most direct application of Jungian theory. MBTI is seen as more relevant to the study of learning than the often used 16PF or FFM inventories, which offer a wider and more comprehensive view of personality usable in clinical settings. MBTI offers neutral terminology – the preferences indicated in MBTI have no negative connotations (EPQ’s use of Psychoticism as a trait, for example, suggests a tendency toward instability; the trait denoted as Neuroticism has a similar negative connotation).

The MBTI instrument is published in a number of different formats and in 21 different languages. Form M (the most recent version) consists of 93 forced choice questions which categorize individuals based on their preferences or type. It does not provide the strength or degree of preference, or an individual’s aptitude for that preference. MBTI theorists believe that people have individual preferences concerning what they pay attention to, how they make decisions, draw conclusions, and how they approach and respond to tasks.

A brief summary of the four bipolar scales used in the MBTI application of Jungian theory is given below:

Extraversion (E)–Introversion (I). An extravert is said to receive energy from outside sources, whereas an introvert is more concerned with the inner world of ideas and is more likely to be involved with solitary activities. This Jungian trait does not just describe whether a person is outgoing or shy but considers whether a person prefers working alone or feels energized working with a team. Introverts are more reflective thinkers than extraverts and have a more global view. Extraverts prefer problem-based learning and collaborative-based learning techniques (The spelling of extravert, rather than extrovert follows the preferred choice of Jung [1933]).

Sensing (S)–Intuition (N). A sensing preference relies on gathering information through the five senses, attending to concrete, practical facts. Sensers are less likely to see the “bigger picture” and are more likely to follow a step by step approach, with structured lectures and clearly organized materials being preferred. An intuitive thinker is more likely to be drawn by abstract possibilities, meanings, and relationships and will be drawn by the innovative and theoretical, preferring discovery learning and an integrated framework to aid understanding.

Thinking (T)–Feeling (F). This learning style relates to whether an individual makes decisions through logic and the use of clear criteria or prefers to focus on human values. A thinking person is more likely to prefer decisions made in an impersonal way or in a logical, objective manner. A feeling person will make decisions based on personal values, relationships, and the feelings of others and would prefer, for example, learning through small group exercises, rather than large group discussion. Women are more likely to be feelers.

Judging (J)–Perceiving (P). This indicates whether the learner views the world as part of either a structured and planned environment or as a spontaneous environment. The judger is more likely to be a self-starter and look for a planned and controlled life, seeking closure, focusing on the essentials, and taking action quicker. Perceivers are curious, adaptable, and spontaneous. They deal with the outside world through sensing or intuition but prefer flexibility, freedom, and autonomy. They see deadlines as flexible because they like to leave their options open to make changes at the last moment. Teachers are more likely to be judging types.

The scales summarized above are considered as preferences, and do not state that individuals are cutoff from operating from one side of the pole or the other. Each of the four dimensions is independent of the other three, so the scales combine to yield sixteen possibilities: ISTJ, ESTJ, ISFJ and so on (see Myers 1998, for a full description of these learning style types).

The Relevance of Jungian Types

It has been possible to link Jungian learning styles to particular learning techniques. Studies have found, for example, that extraverts prefer collaborative learning, active methodologies, and concrete experience. Introverts prefer auditory and visual presentations and learning alone. Intuitive students have been found to prefer holistic learning and are more field dependent and innovative. Sensers prefer “hands on” methods and moving from the particular to the general. Those with a preference for thinking styles prefer methodical study and serialist learning. With thinking types teachers may be more effective if they present logical arguments and the reasons behind assignments, while feeling types will be helped more if solid relationships are established and more reassurance provided (Di-Tribero 1998). Some evidence has also been found which suggests intuitive students achieve higher mean scores on tests of academic aptitude. It has been suggested that introverts achieve more success academically, particularly at adolescence and beyond (see the work of Eysenck on these features).

Important Scientific Research and Open Questions

The Jungian theory of psychological type has been criticized because it was based on observation and introspection and has never been tested under controlled scientific study. Some research describes reliability and validity rates as low (see Pittenger 2005, for details of some studies). There is also the question of whether the MBTI is really a direct measure of Jungian personality types at all. Certainly, a range of articles are available which are cited as providing strong support for MBTI being a valid and reliable tool for measuring Jungian styles (e.g., Kirby and Barger 1998), but there are also studies doubting these claims.

Many different learning style models and much variation in terminology make this area difficult to evaluate. MBTI has strong commercial applications (the instrument is said to be used two million times a year) and it is certainly possible that research on the efficacy of MBTI may be affected by marketing as much as objective questions of validity and reliability. MBTI uses self–reporting scales and is thus subject to error, as some users may be unable to understand their own preferences. MBTI uses a self-evaluating procedure (best-fit techniques) and allows the inventory to be used only by trained personnel in an attempt to overcome these criticisms.

Learning style theory posits that in order to be a successful learner, learning activities must be matched to individual learning styles. However, some writers say there is little research evidence to support this, even suggesting that the reverse might be true: expanding rather than limiting the range of educational approaches may have potential to increase learning. Further studies shed doubt on the whole idea of learning style preferences existing at all. It has been suggested, for example, that learning styles are subject- or task-dependent: the style necessary to learn various topics will depend on the task requirements more than on personality/learning style preferences.


Affective Dimensions of Learning

Cognitive Learning

Cross-Cultural Learning Styles

Learning Styles

Personality and Learning

Personalized Learning

Person-Centered Learning

Preference Learning

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012
Show all