Using Learning Styles Inventory Information To Enhance Literacy Tutoring Methods Purpose

Does the understanding of individual learning styles by literacy tutors affect their tutoring methods?

Maureen A. Lawlor, MA Program Coordinator LVA/ACI Literacy Volunteer Program

June, 1996

This study describes the use of Learning Styles information by literacy tutors in a correctional education setting that enhanced their tutoring practices.

Theoretical Framework

Described in the literature as characteristic cognitive, affective and physiological behaviors, learning styles are generally recognized to serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact and respond to the learning environment (Kolb and Smith, 1986). In general, people are believed to possess different ways of learning, and, in and of themselves, those ways are neither good nor bad. It is my contention that an understanding of the learning process and the fact that students possess different styles of learning gives literacy tutors a greater likelihood of maximizing the learning experience.


Ten literacy tutors who are inmates in a Medium Security facility in a state correctional institution participated in this study. Each participant had been tutoring basic literacy in this facility for at least one year and had successfully completed basic literacy tutor training.


The tutor-participants were administered the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory (1985). This is a self-scored and self-interpreted testing instrument that evaluates the way one learns and how one deals with ideas and day-to-day situations. Tutors were allowed to deep the inventory and interpretation booklet as reference material since it contains information about learning styles, learning cycles and strategies for learning improvement.


This researcher conducted all activities with tutor/participants in a classroom within the Education and Recreation Center at the Medium Security facility. A total of four classroom hours were devoted to learning styles inventory (LSI) administration, researcher presentations and group and individual discussions. During the Week One hour long class, tutors were administered the Kolb LSI to familiarize them with their own individual learning style. During Week Two's class, this researcher presented information on the concepts of learning styles and the learning cycle and, held a group discussion with participants about their own styles. Week Three consisted of a presentation and group discussion on how understanding learning styles can maximize effective literacy tutoring methods. Tutors were then instructed to keep a written journal for four weeks (Weeks four, five, six and seven) chronicling tutoring activities and how-if this new understanding of individual learning styles affected their tutoring methods. In the final week of the study, Week eight, tutors and this researcher convened to discuss their tutoring activities and practices of the past four weeks in relation to learning style information.

Data Source:

By using the "self as instrument" (McCracken, 1988) method of inquiry, this researcher used discussions and interviews with each of the ten tutor/participants to gather qualitative data. Journals recorded by the tutors during this study were also reviewed and used as a source to assess any changes in tutoring practices.

Each of the tutor/participants reported a positive response to the Kolb LSI and information provided regarding learning styles whereas prior to the study, none of the tutors expressed any knowledge about learning styles. Tutors spoke of their initial surprise at how a simple inventory such as the Kolb LSI could provide them with such insight into their individual ways of learning, i.e., "The LSI showed that my strengths are in being imaginative and in recognizing problems.

As a tutor I think I'm pretty good at creating lessons so that seems to fit with my learning style."

Participants' journal entries indicated great interest in actively integrating learning style information with their tutoring activities. Many entries were surprisingly reflective (i.e., "For the first time I'm really THINKING about learning." and "In this place [prison] we need all the help we can get in order to learn.") For some tutors, the learning style information motivated them to review tutor training materials (i.e., "I picked up the tutor manual and re-read Chapter 2 Learning and Tutoring. I could relate a lot of that chapter to the learning styles information.")

Discussion and Practical Applications

The results of this study indicate that the participants used the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory information to reflect on their own learning and used that reflective process to improve upon their tutoring methods. This researcher would suggest that providing literacy tutors with information about learning styles is a valuable addition to a tutor training program. The Kolb LSI is only one of many such inventories discussed in the literature and educators may choose to investigate other instruments for possible use. Whatever learning styles inventory is utilized in a literacy training program, I would suggest, based on the results of this inquiry project, that it has great potential to enhance existing training materials.


Captive Students: Education and Training in America's Prisons (1996) Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Cheatham, J., Colvin, R., and Laminack, L. (1993) } Tutor: A

Collaborative Approach to Literacy Instruction Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. Syracuse, NY: Follett.\par

Kolb, D. A. (1985) LSI Learning Style Inventory: Self Scoring Inventory and Interpretation Booklet Boston, MA: McBer and Company

Kolb, D. A., and Smith, D. M. (1985) User's Guide for the Learning Style Inventory . Boston, MA: McBer and Company.

McCracken, G. (1988) The Long Interview Sage University Paper Series on Qualitative Research Methods, Vol. 13). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.