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Table of Contents
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 30-36

Learning styles of 1st-year students studying in health science university in India: A cross-sectional study

Department of Paediatric Physiotherapy, KAHER Institute of Physiotherapy, Belagavi, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission22-Jun-2020
Date of Decision10-Jul-2020
Date of Acceptance05-Apr-2021
Date of Web Publication31-Jul-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Deepa Metgud
Department of Paediatric Physiotherapy, KAHER Institute of Physiotherapy, Belagavi - 590 010, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijptr.ijptr_5_20

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Context: Learning style is an approach wherein learners save, recall, and process concepts efficiently and effectively. Determining students' learning styles provides information about specific preferences and encourages participation in the courses opted by them.
Aims: The aims of the study are to determine the learning styles of 1st-year students studying in Health Science University in India using visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic (VARK) questionnaire and to establish an association of gender and academic performance with a preferred learning style.
Settings and Design: This was a cross-sectional study conducted in 1st-year students studying in Health Science University, Belagavi, Karnataka, India.
Materials and Methods: The VARK questionnaire was distributed to 626 students of 1st year of their graduation. There were 413 females and 213 males across eight faculties including Dental, Medical, Physiotherapy, Nursing, Allied Sciences, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, and Pharmacy. The academic performance of 12th standard was noted and they were assessed and categorized based on their performance.
Statistical Analysis Used: One-way ANOVA followed by post hoc using Tukey test was used for the level of significance.
Results: The common learning style was multimodal (70.2%) and the individual sensory modality was kinesthetic style (8.63 ± 3.37). Among kinesthetic, significant mean difference in males (7.98 ± 3.41) and females (8.98 ± 3.31) was found. Kinesthetic learners showed significance between >60% to ≤70% with ≥80% and >70% to ≤80% with ≥80% in academics.
Conclusions: Within the university, regardless of gender, students had multimodal learning style. The preferred individual sensory modality, irrespective of performance of previous academic year, was kinesthetic learning, and significant association was found with both genders and academic performance.

Keywords: Academic performance, Health science, India, Learning styles

How to cite this article:
Metgud D, Coutinho SL, Crasto R, D'Souza CE. Learning styles of 1st-year students studying in health science university in India: A cross-sectional study. Indian J Phys Ther Res 2021;3:30-6

How to cite this URL:
Metgud D, Coutinho SL, Crasto R, D'Souza CE. Learning styles of 1st-year students studying in health science university in India: A cross-sectional study. Indian J Phys Ther Res [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Sep 27];3:30-6. Available from: https://www.ijptr.org/text.asp?2021/3/1/30/322922

  Introduction Top

Learning can be defined as permanent changes in behavior induced by life.[1] According to experiential learning theory, learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.[2],[3] Learning is the skill to recover information from long-term memory. Therefore, if retention is required for the purpose of learning, the important cognitive process is remembering. The ability to transfer the previous knowledge to create new knowledge involves not only recall but also understanding. The main goal of education should involve the cognitive process of understanding. The ability to execute or use information in solving problems requires the cognitive process of applying. Breaking of the information into parts and determining the relation between the parts constitute the cognitive process of analyzing. Creating is the final cognitive process which involves the ways of putting elements together or creating new ideas to form a whole.[4]

Keefe (1979) defined learning style as the composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological characters that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment.[5],[6] The visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic (VARK) instrument developed by Fleming is the most commonly used learning style taxonomy in practice and is a common tool used at all levels of education, which can be obtained in diverse forms. Scott (2010) has stated that the VARK models, i.e. unimodal, bimodal, trimodal, and quadmodal, take hold in educational settings because each category is related to a particular sense, and are concrete in comparison to the other leaning style models.[7]

Health science is an institute of applied science which deals with human and animal health. There are two parts to health science: the study, research, and information of health and using that information to improve health, cure diseases, and understand how humans and animals' function.[8] The characteristics of students of the Health Science University are diverse in terms of age, culture, level of mental preparedness, intelligence, and psychological conditions, which lead to differences in individual learning styles in sensory modalities.[9] Medical students mostly use different ways to acquire information, as their learning is affected by the learning environment, curricular issues, and teaching methods.[10] Therefore, the teaching methods have to be organized individually, according to their individual characteristics.[11] Learning style is a complex approach in which the learner should store, recall, and process the concepts efficiently and effectively.[12]

A study has determined the learning styles of students over smaller spectrum of students.[13] As India is a developing country, the number of studies done on learning styles is scarce and needs further exploration which is what this study contributes. Hence, in this study, the learning style of 1st-year students studying in Health Science University was taken, to determine a wider spectrum of learning style preferences within the health science students and whether comparing different faculties, genders, and association with academic performance makes a significant difference within the desired population. The study would help contribute in implementation of a more outcome-based program, as it would project the inclination of learning preferences and help students know their level of competence to achieve better course outcomes. The objectives of the study were to determine the preferred learning styles of 1st-year students studying in Health Science University and to correlate the academic performance with the learning styles and compare the results among the faculties.

[TAG:2]Materials and methods [/TAG:2]

This study was a cross-sectional study, with sample units selected on basis of probability random sampling method. The researcher presumed a 10% drop-off ratio and would try to achieve 90% response rate; hence, the sample would be n = 784, which was optimal for the proposed study considering the population. Ethical clearance for the study was obtained from the institutional ethical committee. Permission was obtained from the heads of the institutes of constituent units under KAHER University, Belagavi. A coordinator was assigned by each institute to assist in conducting the research in their respective institutes.

First-year students of Dental Sciences (n = 65), Medical Sciences (n = 140), Physiotherapy (n = 82), Nursing Sciences (n = 90), Allied Sciences (n = 74), Ayurveda (n = 73), Homeopathy (n = 28), and Pharmacy (n = 74) studying in KAHER University, Belagavi, were screened based on the inclusion criteria of being a student of KAHER University and students aged 18 and above during the study, while the absentees were naturally excluded. The participants were explained about the study procedure. A total number of 413 females and 213 males were included in the study. Verbal consent followed by written informed consent was obtained from each student.

The VARK questionnaire was self-administered, along with the data collection sheets that included demographic data and overall previous year's academic percentage (12th standard), which was further categorized into the four categories as (i) ≤60%, (ii) >60% to ≤70%, (iii) >70% to ≤80%, and (iv) ≥80%. All the students were explained about the VARK questionnaire, and the research assistants were present to clarify any doubt regarding the same. A translation to Hindi was explained to students who could not comprehend the question in English. A time duration of 20–30 min was allotted to fill in the questionnaire. In total, 626 sheets were collected by the research assistants and 5 incomplete sheets were filtered and excluded from the study.

The VARK questionnaire, which is scored out of 16, deals with only one preferred learning style of the individual. The VARK questions and their results focus on the ways in which people like information to come to them and in which manner they prefer to deliver what they have learned. The questions are based on situations where there are choices and decisions about how that might happen. It measures four preferences: visual (V), aural (A), read/write (R), and kinesthetic (K) and then categorizes the individuals as unimodal, bimodal, trimodal, and quadmodal. Unimodal students included students who preferred either V, A, R, or K. Bimodal included a combination of the four preferences, i.e. VA, VR, VK, AR, AK, or RK. Trimodal included combination of three preferences which includes VAR, ARK, VRK, or VAK. Quadmodal included all the learning preferences and a further subdivision of quadmodal into three segments, VARK type one – one who tends to examine the situation and choose the preference that suits it, VARK type two – one who tends use all their preferences to get an understanding that suits their learning, and VARK transition – individuals who fall within the VARK type one and VARK type two. Understanding the differentiation within the quadmodal can help those learners determine their exact mode of learning in any given situation.

The VARK scores for each individual were calculated by the research assistant and was produced in an Excel Spread Sheet. The data were then sent to the VARK statistical committee for analysis, and interpretation as data as VARK questionnaire needs to be calculated using a very specific algorithm to get the desired result.

Statistical analysis was done using SPSS [IBM Corp. Released 2012. IBM SPSS statistics for windows, version 23.0. Armonk, NY; IBM Corp.] v. 23.0 software using descriptive and inferential statistics. One-way ANOVA was performed followed by post hoc using Tukey test to find the level of significance between the academic performance in percentage and the individual sensory modality. P < 0.05 was considered to be statistically significant. The results along with their interpretation were then sent to the respective institutes of the University so that the preferred learning style was known to each institute.

  Results Top

In the present study, 626 (75.97%) students were included from 1st year studying in various faculties of Health Science University, which included 413 (65.97%) female and 213 (34.03%) male students.

[Table 1] depicts learning style preferences of students which showed that 70.2% preferred multimodal and 29.7% unimodal. Out of the students who preferred multimodal, 138 (22%) preferred bimodal, 97 (15.5%) preferred trimodal, and 205 (32.7%) preferred quadmodal. According to gender-wise preference of VARK mode of learning, among females, 33.4% preferred quadmodal, 14.8% trimodal, 21.5% bimodal, and 30.3% unimodal, while among the males, 31.5% preferred quadmodal, 16.9% trimodal, 23.0% bimodal, and 28.6% unimodal [Figure 1]. The subdivision of quadmodal learning preference in the University for VARK transition was n = 28 (13.65%), type one n = 36 (17.56%), and type two n = 14 (68.78%) which showed that most of the learners belonging to quadmodal use all their preferences to get an understanding that suits their learning [Figure 2].
Table 1: Visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic mode distribution among the 5-year students of the university

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Figure 1: Visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic mode distribution among students based on gender in the university

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Figure 2: Distribution of quadmodal in the Health Science University

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The individual sensory modalities of unimodal learners are illustrated in [Table 2]. The visual learners among females were 6.10 ± 3.03 and males were 5.62 ± 2.71, while 8.40 ± 3.24 females and 7.87 ± 3.42 males preferred aural learning style. Among the reading/writing preferred type of learners, 4.64 ± 2.95 were females and 4.45 ± 2.80 were males. Further, the kinesthetic learners in females were 8.98 ± 3.31 and males were 7.98 ± 3.41. The total mean score of VARK in females was 28.12 ± 8.97 and in males was 25.92 ± 8.92. VARK mode of learning style was significant in both females and males for kinesthetic learners (P < 0.01).
Table 2: Illustrates the individual sensory modalities of unimodal learners among both genders

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[Table 3] shows individual faculty-wise learning mode preference. Twenty percent of nursing students preferred unimodal, 17.8% in bimodal, 16.7% in trimodal, and 45.6% in quadmodal. Ayurveda students presented with 27.4% in unimodal, 23.3% in bimodal, 12.3% in trimodal, and 37.0% in quadmodal. Pharmacy students showed 25.7% in unimodal, 17.6% in bimodal, 24.3% in trimodal, and 32.4% in quadmodal. Allied students showed 29.7% in unimodal, 23.3% in bimodal, 9.5% in trimodal, and 40.5% in quadmodal. Physiotherapy students presented 39% in unimodal, 23.2% in bimodal, 18.35% in trimodal, and 19.5% in quadmodal. Dental students showed 29.2% in unimodal, 35.4% in bimodal, 12.3% in trimodal, and 23.1% in quadmodal. Medical students showed 34.3% in unimodal, 21.4% in bimodal, 15.0% in trimodal, and 29.3% in quadmodal. Homeopathy students presented 28.6% in unimodal, 17.9% in bimodal, 14.3% in trimodal, and 39.3% in quadmodal.
Table 3: Visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic mode distribution among 1st-year health science students expressed in percentage

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VARK mode distribution for the faculties for both male and female is also analyzed in [Table 4]. Both male and female students preferred quadmodal in Nursing and Allied Sciences faculty. Both male and female students from the Physiotherapy and Medical faculty preferred unimodal mode of learning. In the Ayurveda faculty, female students preferred quadmodal and the male students preferred unimodal and quadmodal. In the Pharmacy faculty, the female students preferred quadmodal and the male students preferred trimodal. In the Dental faculty, the female students preferred both unimodal and bimodal mode of learning whereas the male students preferred quadmodal. In the Homeopathy faculty, the female students preferred quadmodal and the male students preferred both unimodal and bimodal mode of learning.
Table 4: Gender and faculty wise distribution of visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic modes expressed in percentage

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[Figure 3] shows the VARK mode distribution among the categories of academic performance. The students with ≤60% had 26.0% (n = 20) of unimodal learners, 22.1% (n = 17) of bimodal, 20.8% (n = 16) of trimodal, and 31.2% (n = 24) of quadmodal. The students within the range of ≥60% to ≤70% had 28.8% (n = 45) of unimodal learners, 22.4% (n = 35) of bimodal, 12.2% (n = 19) of trimodal, and 36.5% (n = 57) of quadmodal. The students within the range of ≥70% to ≤80% had 26.0% (n = 47) of unimodal learners, 23.8% (n = 43) of bimodal, 16.6% (n = 30) of trimodal, and 33.7% (n = 61) of quadmodal. The students with ≥80% had 34.9% (n = 74) of unimodal learners, 20.3% (n = 43) of bimodal, 15.1% (n = 32) of trimodal, and 31.3% (n = 24) of quadmodal. A comparison of the academic performance to individual sensory modality preference is shown in [Table 5]. A significant mean difference of 0.99 exists between ≥60% to ≤70% and ≥80% category with P = 0.026. Further, a significant mean difference of 1.16 was found between ≥70% to ≤80% and ≥80% category with P = 0.004. The mean difference among the above-mentioned categories proves that students in Health Science University preferred kinesthetic learning.
Table 5: Individual sensory modalities in association with academic performance

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Figure 3: Visual/auditory/read-write/kinesthetic mode distribution among students based on academic performance

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  Discussion Top

The current cross-sectional study aimed at understanding the different learning styles among the 1st-year students of Health Science University using the VARK questionnaire and determining the relationship between academic performance and gender with their learning style preference.

The results of our study showed that 70.2% of the students preferred multimodal, out of which 32.7% preferred quadmodal, 22% preferred bimodal, and 25.5% preferred trimodal. A similar study was done in 162 1st-year medical students in Turkey in which multimodal (63.9%) was most preferred followed by bimodal (30.3%).[13] On the contrary, a cross-sectional study conducted in a medical university in Kuala Lumpur with a sample of 419 revealed that 81.9% had unimodal style while 18.1% had multimodal style of learning.[14] The reason our study had higher multimodal preference could probably be because, it embodied a larger sample size (n = 626) and included various faculty of health sciences. An individual learning style predominance can be related to the learning experience, course content, field of study, and teaching method.[15] The present study findings are attuned with the previous study, which depicted that both males (33.4%) & females (31.5%) preferred quadmodal learning. Analogously, Studies done on undergraduate medical students in India and the USA deliberated that learning style preference was not influenced by gender.[15],[16]

Among the unimodal learners, majority had kinesthetic learning style. Similar studies conducted in 1st-year nursing students in Australia and medical students in Saudi Arabia found that students preferred kinesthetic mode of studying.[17],[18],[19] Conversely, a study conducted on 1st-year medical science students in Iran found that preferred learning styles were aural and reading/writing.[6] We postulate that since anatomy being the common subject amid the programs in Health Science University, they were inclined toward kinesthetic learning mode as practical understanding is important for the overall understanding of the subject. Among the unimodal learners, there was a significant difference between female and male students preferring kinesthetic learning style (P = 0.0004) with females presiding over males. On the contrary, a study in Mangalore reported no significant difference in gender among the unimodal learners.[15]

Of the students who were categorized according to their academic performance, kinesthetic learning style was preferred. However, a study led in Mangalore on medical students (n = 415) reported a varied learning preference within each category.[15] The rationale behind, our study having kinesthetic as the preferred learning style could be due to the incorporation of various faculties of health science university and a larger sample size (n = 626).

Amid the 8 different constituent units of the University encompassed in the study revealed that Nursing, Ayurveda, Pharmacy, Allied, and Homeopathy preferred quadmodal. Dental exhibited bimodal learning preference followed by unimodal learning preference, while physiotherapy and medical indicated unimodal preferences in learning styles. A similar study was done with the aim to discern the pattern of learners among the 1st- and 2nd-year medical students from different institution in India. The results showed that aural and kinesthetic styles were preferred.[20] In the present study, amid the university students, the majority portrayed quadmodal learning style as their preference. Furthermore, the subdivision of quadmodal learning preference was transition, type one, and type two out of which VARK transition was n = 28 (13.65%), type one n = 36 (17.56%), and type two n = 14 (68.78%). To the best of our knowledge, our study would be the first of its kind to include such a variation within quadmodal learning style.

The drawbacks of our study were that a high percentage of female students were present which may lead to gender bias, self-reported learning styles were not procured, and this study did not consider confounding factors such as socioeconomic status, race, and culture.

Future studies can be done within each faculty, to evaluate the previous academic performance with their preferred learning style. Confounding factors such as socioeconomic status, race, and culture can be assessed using other scales.

  Conclusions Top

The study concluded that, within the University, regardless of gender, students preferred quadmodal. It was also determined that among the individual sensory modalities of learning, students preferred kinesthetic learning. Majority of students, irrespective of academic performance, preferred kinesthetic learning style. A significant relationship was found between gender and academic performance in kinesthetic learners.


We would like to extend our gratitude to Ms. Heather Lander for assisting us and answering our queries regarding the questionnaire. Authors also thank Neil D. Fleming for permission to use the VARK questionnaire ©Copyright Version 8.01 (2019) held by VARK Learn Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand. We would like to thank the Heads of the faculties, their coordinators, and the participating students.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]


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