Counselling Strategies


Learning Styles and Strategies Background 


Importance to Practice 

Dietitian roles where teaching and learning occurs can include academic instructor; precepting; providing nutrition education for health promotion, disease prevention and treatment; and can occur within a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, outpatient clinics in the community, long-term care centres or in clients' homes (1). The dietitian should be competent in counselling techniques, including cultural competence (2) when assisting learners in making healthy behavioural changes or learning new information and skills (3). For additional information, see the Cultural Competence Knowledge Pathway and the Dietetic Education and Training Knowledge Pathway


Topic Overview 
What is Learning?
Learning is defined as a relatively permanent change in attitude or behaviour that occurs as a result of repeated experience (4). Learning is an active, not passive, process. It involves the acquisition of additional information to what one knows already or it can involve a subtraction (i.e. unlearning of bad habits). Learning may also be a modification where old knowledge, skills and abilities or attitudes are adjusted to cope with new circumstances.

What are Learning Styles?
Different people have different learning styles. This statement means that people have different strengths and preferences in the way they take in and process information (4,5). These are not differences of ability but rather preferences for processing certain types of information or for processing information in certain ways (6). Learning style preferences are defined as "preferred ways of studying and learning, such as using pictures instead of text, working with other people versus working alone, learning in structured or in unstructured situations, etc." (5). Some learners may be visual learners, preferring to see items like charts and diagrams to best understand. Others may learn best by listening (auditory). A variety of different learning styles can exist among learners. Understanding how the learner learns best is an important part of selecting appropriate teaching/counselling strategies (4,5). 

If the teaching style of the dietitian and the learning style of the learner are mismatched, the learner may become inattentive, uncomfortable, and learning may not occur (7). By understanding how the learner learns, the dietitian may tailor his/her teaching strategy to the learning style of the learner and effectively stimulate learning (1-5,7). Tailoring teaching strategies is also important in group situations. People learn in a variety of ways so new information should be presented in a variety of different ways so that all group members may learn in their preferred mode for at least some of the time (5).  

While learning styles have been around for almost half a century, much of the related research only started in the 2000s beginning in the field of psychology, then spreading into other areas, including education (8). While there is evidence to support that individuals show preferences for how they want or prefer to receive information (9), research is lacking to show that learning is enhanced by tailoring teaching to a particular learning style (6), and may even have the potential to label or trap learners into fixed categories (10). A 2009 study concluded: "...there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice... limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base" (9).

Yet despite the lack of validated research, continued debate on using and even agreement on a definition, learning styles are currently used and recommended in practice with some success (8,11). Some examples include (8):

  • when there is a need to emphasize a particular approach for a learner who is having difficulty
  • academic achievement
  • clinical teaching in health/medical situations
  • career development
  • as a component, or along with other teaching and learning theories that have demonstrated effectiveness such as spacing learning over time and quizzing to improve memory (6) and using multi-sensory instruction (12)
  • influencing teachers’ understanding of individual differences
  • increasing self-awareness and motivating the learner through organized and effective approaches to learning (13). 

How are Learning Styles Identified? 
Since the 1960's a variety of learning style inventories have been developed to help people identify their learning style. Learning style inventories can provide information on an individual's choice of environment in which to learn, preference for content of learning, mode of learning, expectations of learning, active role in learning, feedback in learning, conditions of learning, mode of behaviour in deriving meaning and learning style preferences (4). Along with, or instead of, using learning style inventories, dietitians can attempt to diagnose the learning styles of their students and clients simply by observing them. They can also ask questions about their learners' preferences for learning such as: "Do you prefer to read, view, listen, or to have actual experiences?" (5).


Relevant Basic Information 

What are Some Common Learning Style Inventories and Strategies?
Below are a few common instruments and strategies to assess learning preferences, some focused in education and some in the business industry (8,13-15). 


Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST)
The ASSIST helps to identify the tendencies of students to adopt one of three approaches to learning and studying: deep, surface and strategic (16). The questionnaire that has evolved over the years contains questions about students’ conceptions of learning, study habits and preferences for different kinds of teaching. More information on the ASSIST is available from:  

The Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model
A self‐reported questionnaire asking questions related to the environment (light, sound, temperature and design); emotion (structure, persistence, motivation and responsibility); sociology (pairs, peers, adults, self and group); physical (perceptual strengths: auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic, mobility, intake and time of day); and psychology (global‐analytic, impulsive‐reflective and cerebral dominance) (13,15). Different versions are available for use with primary and secondary school children and with adults (15). More information is available from the Official Site of Dunn and Dunn Online Assessments & Community, available from:

Kolb's Learning Style Inventory
The Kolb's Learning Style Inventory is an experiential instrument that describes the way individual’s learn and deal with day-to-day situations (17,18). With respect to how learners take information in, learners are classified as having a preference for concrete experience or abstract conceptualization. With respect to how information is processed, learners have a preference for active experimentation or reflective observation. According to Kolb's model, learners are classified as one of the following:
Type 1: the Diverger (concrete, reflective)
Type 2: the Assimilator (abstract, reflective)
Type 3: the Converger (abstract, active)
Type 4: the Accommodator (concrete, active).
More information about the Kolb Learning Style Inventory and experiential learning is available from:


Index of Learning Styles
The Index of Learning Styles is a 44-item online questionnaire used to assess learner preferences on the four dimensions (active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global) of the Felder-Silverman Learning Style Model (7). The index focuses on addressing the following questions: what type of information does the student preferentially perceive; what type of sensory information is most effectively perceived; how does the student prefer to process information; and how does the student characteristically progress towards understanding (7,18). Authors encourage instructors to use the index to achieve "balanced course instruction" to help students to be able to understand and improve their learning (18). The Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire is available from:

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®)
The MBTI® is a psychological test designed to assist a person in identifying his/her personality preferences (4). The indicator does not measure trait, ability or character, but the results may offer useful insights on how learners' personality type may influence their learning process.

The test consists of forced-choice items with four alternative choices to choose from ranging from standard to in-depth (15). Each choice is oriented towards one of four bipolar concepts: extroversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving. Individuals are classified as one of 16 personality types. More information is available from The Myers & Briggs Foundation, available from:

The VARK is a 16-item questionnaire providing learners with a profile of their learning preferences (19). VARK classifies learners as visual (e.g. different formats, space, graphs, charts, diagrams, maps and plans); aural (e.g. discussions, stories, guest speakers, chat); read/write (e.g. lists, notes and text in all its formats and whether in print or online); or kinesthetic (e.g. senses, practical exercises, examples, cases, trial and error). The VARK Questionnaire is available from:


Regulatory Issues




Resources for Professionals
Practice guidelines, web links, other professional tools and resources can be found under the Related Tools and Resources tab. Use the Audience, Country and Language sort buttons to narrow your search.

Additional Resources/Readings




  1. Holli BB, Beto JA. Nutrition counselling and education skills for dietetic professionals. 6th Edition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins: Philadelphia; 2014. 
  2. Vaughn LM, Jacquez F, Baker RC. Cultural health attributions, beliefs, and practices: effects on healthcare and medical education. Open Med Educ J. 2009;2(7):64-74. Abstract available from:
  3. Dietitians of Canada. What does a dietitian do? [cited 2019 May 16]. Available from:
  4. Sims R, Sims J. (Eds). The importance of learning styles. Greenwood Press: London; 1995.

  5. Holli BB, Calabrese RJ, Maillet JO. Communication and education skills for dietetic professionals. 4th Edition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins: Philadelphia; 2003; pp 223-5
  6. Willingham DT. Hughes EM, Dobolyi DG. The scientific status of learning styles theories. Teaching. Jul 2015;42(3):266-71.doi:10.1177/0098628315589505. Abstract available from:
  7. Felder JM, Spurlin J. Applications, reliability and validity of the index of learning styles. Int J Engng Ed. 2005;21(1):103-12. Abstract available from:
  8. Li Y, Medwell J, Wray D, Wang L, Liu X. Learning styles: a review of validity and usefulness. J Educ Training Studies. 2016;4(10):90-4. Abstract available from:
  9. Pashler H, McDaniel M, Rohrer D, Bjork R. Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2008 Dec;9(3):105-19. Abstract available from:
  10. Coffield F. Learning styles: time to move on. Opinion Piece. National Colleges for School Leadership. 2003. Available from:
  11. Newton PM, Miah M. Evidence-based higher education – is the learning styles ‘myth’ important? Front Psychol. 2017 Mar;8:444. Abstract available from:
  12. Reif SF. How to reach and teach ADD/ADHD children. West Nyack, NY: The Center for Applied Research in Education; 1993.
  13. Coffield F, Moseley D, Hall E, Ecclestone K. Should we be using learning styles. What research has to say to practice. Learning and Skills Research Centre. Learning and Skills Development Agency; 2004a. Available from:
  14. Coffield F, Moseley D, Hall E, Ecclestone K. Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: a systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre. Learning and Skills Development Agency; 2004b. Available from:
  15. Cassidy S. Learning styles: an overview of theories, models, and measures. Educ Psych. 2004;24(4):419-44. Abstract available from:
  16. Entwistle N, McCune V, Tait H. Approaches and study skills inventory for students (ASSIST). Report of the development of the inventories. Updated March 2013. Available from: (incorporating_the_Revised_Approaches_to_Studying_Inventory_-_RASI)
  17. Kolb DA. Experiential learning; experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall; 1984.
  18. Felder RM, Brent R. Understanding student differences. Int J Engng Ed. 2005; 94(1):57-72. Available from:
  19. VARK. A guide to learning styles. [cited 2019 May 16]. Available from: