Learning styles and motives of postgraduate distance learners undertaking a United Kingdom professional doctorate.


  • Amy Louise Sheppard Aston University, Birmingham, UK. B4 7ET




learning styles, motives for study, distance learning


Purpose: To investigate the learning styles and motives for study of students enrolled on an online distance learning professional doctorate programme. The data are required to ensure that both current and potential future programmes meet students’ needs and provide the best possible learning experiences.

Methodology: All 66 current students enrolled on a UK professional doctorate programme were invited to participate in this online questionnaire-based study. Participants completed the 44-item Index of Learning Styles questionnaire to describe learning preferences along 4 dimensions; active-reflective, sensing-intuitive, visual-verbal and sequential-global. Fourteen subsequent items explored students’ motives for study in three areas; intrinsic factors, extrinsic factors and career-related factors. Potential differences in motives for study between UK and non-UK students were explored.

Results: The cohort displayed balanced learning preferences along the active-reflective, sensing-intuitive and sequential-global dimensions, but a significant preference for visual learning was identified along the visual-verbal dimension. A moderate or strong preference for visual learning was identified in 79.2 % of respondents. Regarding the motives for study, intrinsic and career-related factors were most important, with extrinsic factors being poor motivators for respondents. No significant differences in motives for study were identified between UK and non-UK students.

Discussion: Learning styles may be easily studied amongst distance learners, and has the potential to reveal preferences that educators should consider in their teaching activities. In line with some previously published work, intrinsic factors were the most important motives for study in this cohort of mature learners, with extrinsic factors being of low importance. No evidence was found to support the assertion that East Asian students are more likely to be affected by extrinsic push factors.

Author Biography

Amy Louise Sheppard, Aston University, Birmingham, UK. B4 7ET

Lecturer in Optometry and Director of Optometry Professional Development Framework.


Brailsford, I. (2010). Motives and aspirations for doctoral study: career, personal and inter-personal factors in the decision to embark on a history PhD. International Journal of Doctoral Studies 5, 15-27.

Brown, G. (2004). How Students Learn: A supplement to the RoutledgeFalmer Key Guides for Effective Teaching in Higher Education series. Available online at http://www.routledgeeducation.com/resources/pdf/how_to_learn.pdf.

Buxeda, R., Jiménez, L., & Morrell, L. (2001). Transforming an engineering course to enhance student learning. Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Education, Arlington, Va. International Network for Engineering Education and Research.

Buxeda, R., & Moore, D. A. (1999). Using learning styles data to design a microbiology course. Journal of College Science Teaching, 29, 159-164.

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning Styles and Pedadgogy in Post-16 Learning: A Systematic and Critical Review. Learning and Skills Research Centre, London, UK (pp. 1-173).

Danby, S., & McWilliam, E. (2005). Respecting and challenging the candidate: Some developments in program design. In Maxwell, Tom W. and Hickey, C. and Evans, T. Eds. Proceedings Fifth International Professional Doctorates Conference: "Working doctorates: the impact of professional doctorates in the professions", pages pp. 1-46, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

De Vita, G. (2001). Learning styles, culture and inclusive instruction in the multicultural classroom: a business and management perspective. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 38, 165-174.

Diaz, D. P., & Cartnal, R. B. (1999). Students' learning styles in two classes: online distance learning and equivalent on-campus. College Teaching, 47, 130-135.

Fan, W., & Zheng, Y. (2010). Factors affecting response rates of the web survey: A systematic review. Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 132-139.

Fazey, D. M. A., & Fazey, J. A. (2001). The Potential for Autonomy in Learning: Perceptions of competence, motivation and locus of control in first-year undergraduate students. Studies in Higher Education, 26, 345-361.

Felder, R. M. (1993). Reaching the second tier: learning and teaching styles in college science education. Journal of College Science Teaching, 23, 286-290.

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2005). Understanding student differences. Journal of Engineering Education, 94, 57-72.

Felder, R. M., & Silverman, L. K. (1988). Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education. Engineering Education, 78, 674-681.

Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. (2004). Index of Learning Styles. Available online at: http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html (Accessed 30th November 2012).

Felder, R. M., & Spurlin, J. (2005). Applications, reliability and validity of the Index of Learning Styles. International Journal of Engineering Education, 21, 103-112.

Grasha, A. F. (1972). Observations on relating teaching goals to student response styles and classroom methods. American Psychology, 27, 144-147.

Hall, E., & Moseley, D. (2005). Is there a role for learning styles in personalised education and training? International Journal of Lifelong Learning, 24, 243-255.

Hayes, J., & Allinson, C. W. (1996). The implications of learning styles for training and development: a discussion of the matching hypothesis. British Journal of Management, 7, 63-73.

Honey, P., & Mumford, A. (1986). Learning Styles Questionnaire. Peter Honey Publications Ltd., Pearson Assessment, Oxford, UK.

Keefe, J. W. (1979). "Learning Style: An Overview," in Keefe, J. W., ed., Student Learning Styles: Diagnosing and Prescribing Programs. (pp. 1-17) Reston, VA. National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Litzinger, T. A., Lee, S. H., Wise, J. C., & Felder, R. M. (2005). A study of the reliability and validity of the Felder-Solomon Index of Learning Styles. Annual Conference of the American Society of Engineering Education, Portland, Oregan.

Litzinger, T. A., Lee, S. H., Wise, J. C., & Felder, R. M. (2007). A psychometric study of the Index of Learning Styles. Journal of Engineering Education, 96, 309-319.

Liu, J. (2010). The changing body of students: a study of the motives, expectations and preparedness of postgraduate marketing students. Marketing Intelligence and Planning 28, 812-830.

Livesay, G. A., Dee, K. C., Nauman, E. A., & Hites, L. S. (2002). Engineering student learning styles: a statistical analysis using Felder's Index of Learning Styles. Annual conference of the American Society of Engineering Education, Montreal, Quebec.

Marriott, P. (2002). A longitudinal study of undergraduate accounting students' learning style preferences at two UK universities. Accounting Education, 11, 43-62.

Mazzarol, T., & Soutar, G. N. (2002). Push-pull factors influencing international student destination choice. International Journal of Education Management 82-90.

Nulty, D. D., & Barrett, M. A. (1996). Transitions in students' learning styles. Studies in Higher Education, 21, 333-345.

Perrin, J. (1981). Primary Version Learning style Inventory. Jamaica, NY: Learning Style Network, St. John's University.

Prajapati, B., Dunne, M. C., Bartlett, H., & Cubbidge, R. (2011). The influence of learning styles, enrolment status and gender on academic performance of optometry undergraduates. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 31, 69-78.

Richardson, J. T. E. (1994). Mature students in higher education: A literature survey on approaches to studying. Studies in Higher Education, 19, 309-325.

Sheehan, K. B. (2001). Email survey response rates: A review. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 6, i: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2001.tb00117.x.

Smith, N. G., Bridge, J., & Clarke, E. (2002). An evaluation of students' performance based on their preferred learning styles. Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Conference of the UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education, Melbourne, Australia.

Thompson, M. M. (1998). Distance Learners in Higher Education. In Distance Learners in Higher Education: Institutional Responses for Quality Outcomes. Ed. C Gibson. Madison, Wisconsin: Attwood (pp 9-24).

Zeegers, P. (2001). Approaches to learning in science: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 71, 115-132.

Zywno, M. S. (2003). A contribution to validation of score meaning for Felder-Solomon's Index of Learning Styles. Annual conference of the American Society of Engineering Education, Nashville, TN.






Original Research