Is a Virtual Learning Environment a One-Size-Fits-All Solution? A Survey of Cognitive Styles Within a University Student Population

  • Russell Barton
  • Jonathan FosterEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 620)


Over the last decade, the large-scale introduction of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) into higher education has been a boon to learners and teachers alike. VLEs enable students to have ready access to digital materials before, during, and after classes; and to a platform for subsequent discussion. Over a number of years a body of evidence has emerged, suggesting that learners differ in their cognitive styles in significant ways; and that the matching/mismatching of instructional design with these styles can affect both how learners interact with materials and perform tasks, and learning outcomes. A survey based on a revised version of the Study Preferences Questionnaire [4] was distributed to students at a UK university in order to identify their style. 229 students returned the questionnaire. Of the respondents, 140 students were categorized as holists, 73 as serialists, and 16 as versatile. The implications of the prevalence of holists for instructional design are discussed. In a conclusion, it is suggested that research attention be given to a structure/structuring criterion as a way of exploring the matching/mismatching hypothesis; while the development of versatile rather than optimal information processing may also be a more productive educational goal.


Virtual learning environments Cognitive styles Learning styles Holists/serialists Matching/mismatching Information processing 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Information SchoolUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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