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Learning Theory Personal Essay

Ashley Walters

Concordia University Wisconsin

Everyone has a different way of learning. Some people might say that learning styles are not important, but in reality they can make a big difference. How is a teacher supposed to teach when his or her classroom is full of students with various learning styles? Teachers have the responsibility and challenge of teaching in a way in which students with all learning styles can learn effectively. But on the other hand, the responsibility does not fully rely on the teacher, but also on the student. Each student should be aware of his or her own learning style so that he or she can be actively seeking out learning opportunities to best fit his or her needs. There has been a lot of research on learning theories and styles in order that teachers and student alike can be better informed. I have examined the cognitive learning perspective, specifically the Information-Processing Theory, and my own learning style (reflective, sensing, visual, and sequential) and found that they have a strong relationship with each other.

Information-Processing Theory

The Information-Processing Theory came from research in the field of cognitive learning. The cognitive perspective explains learning by internal mental events that take information from the environment and store it as knowledge in the mind (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). Many theories have stemmed off from this school of thought, including the Information Processing Theory. This theory addresses the acquisition and modification of knowledge and asserts that current knowledge affects the future processing of information (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). The idea and definition of knowledge is at the core of understanding this theory. Human knowledge is meaningful in the mind of the learner, includes different types and representations of information, and can either isolate or relate various pieces of information (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). Knowledge is a very abstract concept and this theory helps to make it more concrete in order that the process of gaining knowledge can be performed more efficiently.

In order to help clarify the Information-Processing Theory, a model has been created to demonstrate the procedure of acquiring information. The theory model is made up of mental activities that move information around the various memory stores (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). This falls in line with the cognitive perspective of taking information from the environment and collecting it in the mind. The model includes three main stores: 1) Sensory information comes in from the environment via sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, etc.) into the sensory register, where it is held for a short time; 2) The information that is attended to moves into the working memory that temporarily holds information while it is in use; 3) All learned knowledge is stored in the long-term memory (LTM) in schemas, or related knowledge networks (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). This model helps in understanding the process of acquiring information, but not as much with understanding the modification and use of information.

(As cited in Expert Learners, 2011).

The modification and use of information in the Information-Processing Theory can be better understood through the encoding and retrieval processes. Encoding occurs in the working memory as it prepares to store information in the LTM by elaboration, associating new information with existing knowledge in the LTM, and organization, creating new connections in the LTM (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). This shows how information is modified and stored in the LTM. Retrieval is the activation and recall of knowledge from the LTM that happens by spread of activation, which is when information active in the working memory brings out related information from the LTM, such as mnemonic devices (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). This shows how knowledge is used after it has been stored in the LTM. An understanding about the processes of encoding and retrieval allows people to practice successful learning strategies. These include active learning by engaging in the thought process to understand information, aligning new information with specific and related performance situations, and review/practice of information (Fetsco & McClure, 2005). The Information-Processing Theory provides a resource that allows people to conceptualize knowledge and how it is acquired, modified, and used.

My Learning Style

In order to help narrow down my particular style of learning, I evaluated myself using the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire (ILS) developed by Felder and Soloman (2005a). The ILS is based on the learning style model created by Felder and Silverman that includes four dimensions: active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global. Overall, I found that the results of this questionnaire fit my learning style very accurately.

The ILS results told me that I have a highly moderate preference for reflective learning over active. I gain understanding by thinking things through and I like working alone, although variations of activities are still helpful (Felder & Soloman, 2005b). It can be helpful for me to talk things through or do activities, but generally I need to make sure that I understand it in my own head first. Then, discussion and activities can help build on that knowledge and help me remember it more by giving me different ways of thinking about that knowledge. This means that I like to work alone the majority of the time. I need a quiet setting with no distractions so that I am able to think through the content without being interrupted. I understand and remember content in my own unique way. Therefore, studying with others is usually not helpful to me because I am not able to think through it on my own. This is why I always make sure to read assigned readings before class and make sure that I understand them. It provides a good foundation for my knowledge to grow without any barriers when I go to class with a basic understanding of the material that we are to discuss that day.

I also found out from the ILS that I have a moderate preference for sequential learning over global, which helps to describe how I learn in my reflective process. I gain understanding through linear steps and logical progressions (Felder & Soloman, 2005b). If I do not understand the basics of content, then it is most likely that I will not understand the whole picture. I cannot see a whole picture without knowing all of the parts. It makes sense to me because usually the steps are simpler concepts that are necessary to understanding the big picture. Almost always, the steps follow a logical progression and slowly build off of one another to create a larger understanding. This concept can apply to any material. First, you learn the basic definitions and then slowly dive into more detail and complicated material until you fully understand the content and can apply it to situations that are not as cut and dry.

My inclination towards logic also shows in my ILS result that I have a highly moderate preference for sensing learning over intuitive. I am practical and careful when memorizing facts and details and like to solve problems with well-established methods, especially when they have connection to the real world (Felder & Solomon, 2005b). The facts and details are important to me because they help me follow that logical progression. Facts are easy for me to remember because I usually come up with tricks to help me remember them. I look at the fact that I need to memorize and then think of a relationship that will help me remember what I need to know about it. My approach to learning is very practical because I take it step by step without becoming overwhelmed by the big pictures. Math is not my favorite, but algebra has always been easy for me because of the well-established methods and equations used to solve problems. Connecting knowledge to the real world helps me to understand it in a new context and apply it in my everyday life.

When memorizing facts and learning, the ILS told me that I do have a slight preference for visual learning over verbal. I remember content better when I see it visually (Felder & Solomon, 2005b). Sometimes when I am taking a test or quiz, I close my eyes and picture the page that I read with the material on it that I am trying to remember. I cannot picture it perfectly and read it word for word, but often just picturing the position of the text on the page can help me remember the information. Graphs and charts also act as another way to help me quickly remember a larger amount of information all tied together in one aspect. Although my preference is for visual learning, I do learn verbally too. I usually start with visual, seeing words written and graphs, and then strengthen that understanding verbally, as I mentioned before. I believe that seeing content visually allows me to have time to reflect on it and memorize it.

Theory and Style Relationship

One way that the Information-Processing Theory connects to my own learning style is in the importance of engaging in the thought process in order to understand information. As a reflective learner, I need to be truly focused on information or else I will not be able to think it through to make the necessary connections to remember and fully understand it. If I am in an over-stimulated environment, it is harder for me to pick out and pay attention to the necessary information coming into my sensory register. If I do not pay attention to the correct information that I need to gain the necessary knowledge, then the vital connections will not be made. This is why I need a quiet setting and prefer working alone because it allows me to pay attention to what I need to and go through my own thought process to make connections that make sense to me.

The Information-Processing Theory also relates to my own learning style when considering the encoding procedure to acquire information. Encoding connects new information to knowledge you already have and builds off of that. This fits in well with the sequential preference of learning. The definitions of the two are a little different, but the concept is the same. You start with something basic and move forward in logical steps. It makes sense that the first step of a sequential model starts with a fact that you already know to be true and moves forward from there. When you move through steps in a sequential manner, the steps for a certain topic and subject are grouped together. This is similar to the way that information is organized into schemas because they both sort like information together.

In addition, the Information-Processing Theory and my own learning style both share similar ideas on how knowledge can be retrieved. The retrieval process emphasizes that knowledge in the LTM can be retrieved by related knowledge that is active in the working memory. This fits in with my sensing preference and my ability to memorize facts easily. I use tricks like mnemonic devices or connecting what a fact reminds me of to what I need to remember about it to help me recall knowledge. Both ideas take knowledge that is easy to access and relates it to knowledge that needs to be recalled. After going over facts a couple of times, it is usually fairly easy for me to remember them. Review and practice of information, one of the theory’s learning strategies, makes those connections and associations stronger and easier to retrieve.


After examination, a strong relationship was found between the cognitive learning perspective, specifically the Information-Processing Theory, and my own learning style. The Information-Processing Theory and its model of the three main stores, sensory register, working memory, and LTM, help to show the way that information is acquired, modified, and used as knowledge. My own learning style includes reflective, sensing, visual, and sequential preferences. The two fit together in that they both require engaging thought processes, logical acquisition of information, and associative retrieval procedures. Therefore, it can be concluded that while everyone does have their own unique learning style, it can be better understood by studying the various learning theories.


Expert Learners. (2011). [Flow chart model, 1994]. How information flows according to CIP

theory. Retrieved from

Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. A. (2005a). Index of learning styles questionnaire. Retrieved


Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. A. (2005b). Learning styles and strategies. Retrieved from

Fetsco, T., & McClure, J. (2005). Understanding cognitive learning theory. In A. Burvikovs

(Ed.), Educational psychology: An integrated approach to classroom decisions (pp. 55-

90). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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