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Li-fang Zhang and Robert J. Sternberg

“Intellectual styles” refers to people’s preferred ways of processing information and dealing with cognitive and other tasks. Styles comprise an all-embracing way of understanding such constructs as cognitive styles, learning approaches, career personality types, thinking styles, teaching styles, and many others—constructs with or without the word “style.” The field of intellectual styles has a history of more than eight decades. Until the early 21st century, however, the field was constantly struggling with its identity as a result of three major challenges: (a) the lack of a common language and a conceptual framework with which work on styles could be understood, (b) the difficulty in distinguishing styles from intelligence/abilities and personality traits, and (c) the ambiguity concerning the link between work on styles and work in other fields. This identity crisis was exacerbated by three principal controversial issues regarding the nature of intellectual styles: whether styles are distinct constructs or similar constructs that overlap with one another but have different labels; whether styles represent traits or states, or whether they have elements of both; and whether styles are value free or value laden (i.e., some styles are more desirable than others in terms of human learning and performance). Over the years, the aforementioned difficulties inherent in intellectual styles impeded the progress of the field and confused both practitioners and the general public. Despite these and other difficulties, the field has flourished since the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Concerted attempts at theoretical conceptualizations have given some degree of unity to disparate bodies of literature. At the same time, tens of thousands of empirical investigations based on a wide range of style models and carried out in diverse populations across the globe have consistently demonstrated the critical roles that styles play in various domains of human lives. Undoubtedly, the existing literature has proved that intellectual styles are real, distinct psychological phenomena. Moreover, research findings have scientific value as well as practical implications for human learning and performance. Nevertheless, for the field to prosper further, several major limitations with the existing work must be overcome, and investigations that take into account the fast-changing world need to be initiated.


Mark Tennant

Adult learning is described as learning undertaken by adults in natural educational settings as opposed to the experimental settings often undertaken in psychological research on learning. As such, the theory and research on adult learning referred to in this article primarily draws on applied educational research reported in adult education journals. Much of this research is informed by psychological and social research and theory, and this is acknowledged in each of six adult learning themes outlined in this article. These themes are self-directed learning, experience and learning, learning styles, the development of identity in the adult years, intellectual and cognitive development, and transformative learning. While these themes focus on adult learning in a general sense, our understanding of adult learning also needs to be seen in relation to the context in question; contexts such as health, the third age, indigenous knowledge, literacy and numeracy, the environment, disability, community education, gender equity, race, and migrant and refugee education. The literature on adult learning offers very few prescriptive bridges linking research, theory, and practice. This is partly because there are competing theories posing different questions and offering opposing interpretations of research findings, but it is also because the purpose and function of education and learning is a contested field. In these circumstances the best approach for practitioners is to interrogate and improve their practice through engaging with research findings, competing models, and competing theories. In this way they are aware of the variables at play and can formulate practices that are consistent with their educational aims and purposes. The link between research, theory and practice is conceptual rather than prescriptive, with practitioners interrogating and improving their practice by engaging with the issues and the competing claims of theory and research.