By knowing the different students learning styles, teachers can plan their instruction carefully in ways that are capitalized on student preferences. The current research is done to determine specific learning styles of students.
Methods: This cross sectional study was conducted in Al Ahsa College of Medicine from 2011 to 2012. The sample included 518 students (307 males and 211 females). Kolb learning style inventory (LSI 2) was used to determine learning style. An excel spreadsheet was prepared to compute all the information to get the cumulative scores of learning abilities and calculate the learning styles.
Results: The mean values of the learning abilities; AE, RO, AC or CE for all male students were 35, 28, 30 and 26 respectively while they were 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively for female students. There was significant difference comparing male and female students regarding the mean values of AE-RO (6.7 vs 1.5) and AC-CE (4.1 vs 2.1). The male students had more convergent and accommodating styles more than those of female students. The reverse was evident for female students with more assimilating and divergent styles.
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Conclusion: The overall representation of learning styles in our sample was 31.3% convergent, 15% assimilating, 33.4% divergent and 20.3% accommodating. The main learning styles in males were convergent , and accommodating . The main learning styles in females were distributed assimilating  and divergent .
Learning style, Saudi Arabia, Kolb learning style inventory
In Kolb's model of experiential learning, learning involves a group of human activities including feeling, reflecting, thinking, and doing, where the person is required to employ each of the four key learning abilities: concrete experience (CE), reflective observation (RO), abstract conceptualization (AC), and active experimentation (AE). Individuals develop specialized preferences for such activities and abilities; that are called learning styles (1).
Learning styles refer to cognitive, affective, and physiological behaviors that perform as relatively stable indicators of how people perceive, interplay with, and respond to their environment in learning situations by recalling their stored information (2, 3). The current learning style models in the literature represent the three layers onion metaphor consisting of; instructional preferences through which they perceive information (outermost layer), information processing (middle layer) and personality (innermost layer) (4).
Many instruments were designed to measure different learning styles. One of the famous instruments concerned with the middle layer is Kolb learning style model; where the person is required to employ each of the four key learning abilities: CE, RO, AC, and AE. The combination of these four learning abilities constitutes the four fundamental learning styles. The diverging learning style specializes in the two learning abilities of CE and RO. In contrast, the converging learning style specializes in the two abilities of AC and AE. The assimilating learning style specializes in the two abilities of AC and RO. In contrast, finally, the accommodating learning style specializes in the two abilities of CE and AE (1, 5). Any learning style is neither preferable nor inferior to another, but is simply different, with different characteristic strengths and weaknesses (6).
By knowing the different students' learning styles, teachers can plan their instruction carefully in ways that are capitalized on student preferences. If educators used variety of preferred learning strategies, students can be exposed to other ways of learning and expand their strengths as they overcome weaknesses. Also, teachers should encourage them to use their strengths and adjusted learning approaches to achieve their maximum benefit (7).
Education in Saudi Arabia is, notably divided along the line of gender. The division is in line with the attitudes of the Saudi society which is based on the Islamic principles that prohibit intermingling between men and women (8).
Medical education in Saudi Arabia is based on 23 governmental Colleges and other 4 private medical colleges. A variety of medical curricula are applied including the traditional discipline based, community based, problem based and hybrid curricula. Our institute, Al Ahsa medical College, King Faisal University is composed of two separate sections; one for male and one for females as per the local cultural norm. They apply the same policy, curriculum and assessment. There is a good and recent system of closed-circuit television for communication between both sections. The College started at 2001 with a traditional discipline based curriculum. After graduation of some batches starting from 2009, the College started innovations. At 2011-2012, the College started its change into PBL based curriculum adopted from University of Groningen, Netherlands.
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During their medical training, variable methods of learning and assessment are used. One of the commonest complains all over the world is the dissatisfaction of both the students and teachers regarding teaching and assessment. Both shows dissatisfaction, especially when performance is below expected. Multiple variables may affect this phenomenon. Knowing whether and how student performance on the specific modes of assessment relates to their learning style, worth a lot of consideration. By default, determination of learning style is the first step in such investigation. No previous research was done on this aspect at our institution. The current research is done to determine what specific learning styles, our students possess.
This study was conducted in Al Ahsa College of Medicine, King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia from 2011 to 2012. Al Ahsa Oasis is the largest constituent in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia where more than one million of population is present. Al Ahsa Medical College not only serves the Eastern Region but - as all medical Saudi Colleges- students from different regions are present.
Subjects and Study design
A cross sectional study design was used. The population was all students enrolled in the College of Medicine. The sample included all the students who accepted to share and returned a filled form. It included a total of 518 from different years in the College (307 males and 211 females). The instructions for completing the form were clear, to avoid random and chance bias during filling. The male and female researchers agreed on standardizing the steps of explanation, assurance, form distribution and collection. The form was self-scored by the student. After explaining the aims of the study and the methods of data collection, all students were asked to return the distributed forms anonymously with only denoting the academic year. The female researcher helped to assure the female students and guarantee the same degree of non-biased form filling.
Instruments for determination of Learning Style
Kolb learning style inventory (LSI 2) (9) was used to collect the initial answers and ranking of each participant and then certain calculations were done to reach to the actual learning style. Validity and reliability of the LSI was previously evaluated and proved (10,11,12). The LSI is composed of 12 questions with four options from A-D per question. Each student needs to complete the 12 sentences by ranking the four choices by assigning 4 to the phrase that is most like him, 3 to the one that next describes him, 2 to the next, and finally, 1 to the ending that is least descriptive of him. Each of these choices, correspond to one of the four learning abilities in a random and non-uniform pattern. The LSI employs a forced-choice method by which to measure an individual learning orientation toward four learning abilities representing a repetitive four-step cyclical process: concrete experience (feeling) (CE), reflective observation (watching) (RO), abstract conceptualization (thinking) (AC), and active experimentation (doing) (AE) (9) .
Calculations for determination of Learning Style
An excel spreadsheet was prepared by the second author to compute all the information with formulae accounting for the cumulative score of each learning style category. Summation of numbers beside each style related items represents the degree of how much persons rely on each of such four different abilities of learning (CE, RO, AC and AE). Theoretically, the least score is 12 and the highest score is 48. The greater the score of the learning ability, the more the students prefer to learn through it. The mean values of these abilities were plotted per all group and academic years in males and females on the x axis representing the AE and RO, while the y axis represented AC and CE abilities. Learning style was presented as a diamond graph. The closer the values to the crossing point, the more balanced learning style is. If the data point is close to any of the four corners, this indicates that the learning style is heavily relying on one particular style.
Furthermore, the scores were subtracted from one sum to the other in two dialectical (opposite) abilities; describe a relative preferred way of learning. The value of AE-RO also shows how a person transforms and processes his learning experience with the active experimentation abilities or the reflective observation ones. That is, the value of AC-CE represents how a person grasps learning experience either with abstract conceptualization or with concrete experience. The values of these subtractions were represented on a scale between +36 to -36. The + 36 or - 36 comes from subtraction of 48-12 or 12-48. The mean AE-RO and AC-CE values were plotted on a scatter gram in relation to x and y axes respectively. Kolb put cut-off points of 5.9 for AE-RO and 4.3 for AC-CE as the LSI normative scores, at which X and Y axes cross. (9, (Figure a) 5). A combination of two values of AE-RO and AC-CE determines which of four learning styles persons prefer to use. The four learning styles were represented as convergent (CON), Assimilating (ASM), Divergent (DIV) and Accommodating (ACM) (Figure a)
Figure a: Cut-off points of 5.9 for AE-RO and 4.3 for AC-CE as the LSI normative scores, at which X and Y axes cross. Combination of two values of AE-RO and AC-CE determines the four learning styles. [Yamazaki Y. IJIR, 29, 5, 2005, 521-548 (5)
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Computing the values of learning styles was done by data entry to Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. (Microsoft Corporation, USA). The values of the 4 dimensions; AE (Active Experimentation or Doer), RO (Reflective Observation or Watcher), AC (Abstract Conceptualizing or Thinker) and CE (Concrete Experience or Feeler) for all students were estimated. The mean values of AE, RO, AC and CE per year and gender were calculated and graphed to present the learning style area. The values of AE-RO and AC-CE for all students were plotted at the X and Y axes respectively. Crossing at AE-RO (5.9) and AC-CE (4.3) was graphed to decide the four quadrants of learning ability; convergent, assimilating, divergent and Accommodating learning styles. These values were decided based on the different cut off scores of the norms as presented by Kolb. SPSS (SPSS Inc, Chicago, Illinois) was used to get the descriptive statistics on the AE-RO and AC-CE and to perform t- test to determine if the differences in the scores between the learning styles. (p < .05 was used to note significance).
Table 1 presented the number and percentage of sharing students divided by the academic year and by gender. The total students sharing in this study represented 65% of total students.
Figure 1: the mean values of the 4 dimensions AE, RO, AC and CE for all College students per gender (upper half) and Scatter graph of the distribution of the cross point between AE-RO x axis and the AC-CE y axis. The mean value of cross point between AE-RO and the AC-CE was represented by a black triangle (-). The 4 learning styles were represented by convergent (CON), Assimilating (ASM), Divergent (DIV) and Accommodating (ACM)
Figure 2: the mean values of the 4 dimensions; AE, RO, AC or CE for all students per gender in each academic year were estimated and plotted to produce different diamond shaped areas of learning preferences; the pattern for male students was nearly similar in all years and similar to the overall College. They had a nearly central balanced pattern. Female students' pattern was deviated towards the concrete experience or feeler styles in second and third years. Later on, the graph showed deviation to the reflective observer or reflective pattern till it became nearly balanced and concentrated in the center of the graph at graduation.
Figure 3, the difference between AE-RO and AC-CE for all students was calculated and these values were respectively plotted at the X and Y axes. Crossing of the AE-RO axis at 5.9 and AC-CE axis at 4.3 was graphed to decide the four quadrants of learning ability; convergent (CO), assimilating (AS), divergent (DV) and Accommodating (AM) learning styles. The more scattered points in any quadrant denote to the prevalence of this quadrant as a dominant learning style. The graphs are done per each academic year and in all the College and by gender. The overall mean values of these differences (AE-RO, AC-CE) were also plotted as a black triangle in figure 1, 3.
Table 2 and figure 4 presented the number of students per each of the four quadrants representing; convergent (CO), assimilating (AS), divergent (DV) and Accommodating (AM) learning styles per each academic year and in all the College and by gender. There dots in the convergent and accommodating quadrants of male students were more than those of female students. The reverse was evident for the assimilating and divergent styles which were more dominant in female students.
The mean values of the learning abilities; AE, RO, AC or CE for all College students were 35, 28, 30 and 26 respectively for male students while they were 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively for female students. Comparing male and female students regarding the mean values of AE-RO (6.7 vs 1.5) and AC-CE (4.1 vs 2.1), there was significant difference between them. (t = 8.854, p<0.000 as of AE-RO; t = 3.679, p<0.001 as of AE-RO).
To the knowledge of the authors, no such study was done in the Gulf area to assess the whole Medical College male and female students' learning style at a time. Medical colleges usually attract a group of the best ranked students from the scientific discipline of secondary schools. This group of students is enrolled in the medical colleges according to the competitive ranking and according to their wishes of medical study. Assuming that they had the basic minimum scientific thinking, we thought about assessing their learning style as a part of the educational policy to see if it is coping with their needs. As we had two separate sections in the College; one for male and the other for female students, we also thought about comparing this situation.
The pattern for male students was similar in second, third, fourth and fifth years which were similar to the overall College male students. They had a nearly central balanced pattern with nearly equal sharing from all quadrants. Female students' pattern was deviated towards the concrete experience or feeler styles in second and third years. Later on, the graph showed deviation to the reflective observer or reflective pattern till it became nearly balanced and concentrated in the center of the graph at graduation.
Despite there was a claim that each individual has his own learning preferences, this variation and change in female students cannot be clued to true different styles in different cohorts. As had been illustrated by Cuthbert, P. 2005, we cannot exclude the effect of learner past experience in affecting his response to this questionnaire items, hence affecting the results (13).
The mean values of the 4 dimensions of learning abilities; AE (Active Experimentation or Doer), RO (Reflective Observation or Watcher), AC (Abstract Conceptualizing or Thinker) or CE (Concrete Experience or Feeler) for all College students per gender were presented. These values were 35, 28, 30 and 26 respectively for male students and they were 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively for female students. The mean value of AE-RO and the AC-CE were 6.7 and 4.1 for male students and 1.5 and 2.1 for female students.
The representations of male students in the convergent and accommodating quadrants were more than those of female students. The reverse was evident for the assimilating and divergent styles which were more dominant in female students. The learning styles in males were convergent (CON) , assimilating (ASM) , divergent (DIV)  and accommodating (ACM) . The learning styles in females were distributed as convergent (CON) , assimilating (ASM) , divergent (DIV)  and accommodating (ACM) . The overall representation of learning styles in our sample was 31.3% convergent, 15% assimilating, 33.4% divergent and 20.3% accommodating.
Hall (1976) proposed a cultural classification of high-context and low context cultures, based on how in each individual identity rests on total communication frameworks. Japanese, Chinese, French, and Arabic countries belong to high context cultures that are associated with the CE mode; therefore, their members tend to learn through feeling in proximate contexts. The United States, Switzerland, and Germany represent low-context cultures who would have conceptual similarities to the AC abilities; thus, those with low-context culture are likely to learn by logical thinking and analytical cognition. (14)
This supports the finding in our female students in the early college years. However, later on, all the students' male and female showed the balanced pattern without any deviation to the high or low context pattern. This can be explained within the context of transcultural acquired attitudes and changes in personality as an effect of the globalization. All the students, especially males are more exposed to different Western educational and cultural views. Multiple researches had proved the difference between male and female students in evaluation of their preferred learning style as males learn in different ways to females. Females tend to be more auditory and use feeling while males use visual stimuli (15, 16).
The mean values of AE (Active Experimentation or Doer), RO (Reflective Observation or Watcher), AC (Abstract Conceptualizing or Thinker) or CE (Concrete Experience or Feeler) were 35, 28, 30 and 26 respectively for male students and they were 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively for female students. Female students had more tendencies towards RO and CE learning abilities.
This can be supported with shame and guilt theory that play an important role as regard the emotional response of the individual; either in the shame or guilt categories. Shame originates in an individual's strong awareness of the outside world and requires the individual to feel intensely that others are watching him or her. On the other hand, guilt process concerns a reflective understanding of an internal incompatibility between specific behaviors and established inner standards. In this sense, shame process heavily depends on individual immediate experience, along with an intense consciousness about surrounding audience and environments. Hence, shame process is more associated with the CE or feeler abilities. Also, guilt understanding imposes the use of internal verbal expression with more tendencies to be present in individuals with the RO or watcher abilities. (17)
The findings of our study showed that the majority of convergent and accomodating learning styles were seen in male students more than females [85 % and 60% respectively] while the majority of divergent and assimilating styles were seen in female students more [60 % and 56% respectively]. These findings were supported by Markus and Kitayama (1991) who examined the self-construal across cultures and the interdependent-self and independent-self, patterns. Interdependent-self is represented in Asian, African, Latin American, and many southern European cultures, while independent-self is exemplified in American culture as well as many western European cultures (18).
People with interdependent-self are likely to express their learning preference of the CE and RO abilities (Divergent Style) who rely upon the tangible, felt qualities of here-and-now experience through sensory perception with careful watching and listening to others. In contrast , the American and western European independent-self is seen as an entity that contains important characteristic attributes and as that which is separate from context. For self-actualization and expressing one's uniqueness, independent-self involves the two learning abilities of AC and AE (Convergent style) with reliance upon clear concepts and distinct logic in their minds. (19).
Barmeyer's (2004) examined learning styles of 132 French, 98 German, and 123 Quebecois students and found that the learning-style distribution of French, German, Quebec students: 28.0%, 12.2%, 25.2% as of the diverging style; 34.1%, 42.9%, 38.2% as of the assimilating style; 16.7%, 32.7%, 14.6% as of the converging style; 21.2%,12.2%, 22.0% as of the accommodating style, respectively. (20).
Kolb LSI was administered to three groups at the University of Alberta: the entire 2nd year pre-clinical undergraduate medical class (N = 157). Overall survey response rate was 73%. When examined for learning style differences, the distribution of learning styles were 6% divergent, 40% assimilating, 34% convergent and 22% accommodating. (21).
One of the studies done at Saudi Arabia was conducted on 75 students admitted to a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree after high school degree (conventional program or Stream I), and on 125 students admitted to a 2-year accelerated program after university degree (Stream II). The mean scores for the four learning abilities; CE, RO, AE and AC, revealed that AE was ranked the highest [Stream II (mean = 36.7) and Stream I (35.58)]; CE was ranked the lowest [Stream II (mean = 23.12) and Stream I (mean = 25.39)]. The two combination mean scores, AE-RO and AC-CE, for the overall sample and for each stream, indicated that all emphasized active experimentation over reflection and abstractness over concreteness. (22).
In our study, the males showed a learning style which is more similar to the independent-self Western group. Convergers combine abstract conceptualization with active experimentation. They apply their knowledge to examine problems and arrive at solutions in a hypothetic-deductive manner. They prefer practical application of ideas and work on technical problems. On the other hand, the female students expressed a more tendency to the interdependent-self pattern. Divergers are described as imaginative, emotional, people-oriented, and culturally interested and also view experiences from different perspectives using divergent thinking.
Despite our students are derived from the same culture, there was a difference in the dominant learning style between male and female students. Robinson (2007) supported cultural variability among groups and cited the advantages of learning style differences. Differences may vary within cultural groups as well as between them (23).
On the contrary to the cultural differences presented in the past paragraphs, Zualkernan, et al. (2006) conducted a study to determine whether students from different cultures have different learning styles. The participants in the study were studying computer programming and engineering. The first group of participants consisted of 69 students studying at an American Midwestern University in the United Arab Emirates, while the second group consisted of 61 students from an American background. Both groups responded to the Felder Solomen index of learning styles. The researchers showed no significant differences in learning style between Middle Eastern and American computer science students (24).
Joy and Kolb (2009) aimed to examine the role that culture plays in the way individuals learn. The sample of 533 students from seven countries responded to the Kolb inventory. There was significant interaction between culture and AC-CE. There was no significant interaction between culture and AE-RO (25).
A student's learning style reflects the manner in which he or she assimilates, processes, and recalls information. Instructors must recognize learning styles as a significant source of diversity in the classroom learning and performance. The teacher's role in addressing the learning styles of students is not only to accommodate when possible, but also to teach students how to acquire a repertoire of learning styles so that they are able to adapt to a multitude of learning situations (26, 27).
The mean values of the learning abilities; AE (Active Experimentation), RO (Reflective Observation), AC (Abstract Conceptualizing) or CE (Concrete Experience) for all College students were 35, 28, 30 and 26 respectively for male students and they were 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively for female students. Comparing male and female students regarding the mean values of AE-RO (6.7 vs 1.5) and AC-CE (4.1 vs 2.1), there was significant difference between them.
The overall representation of learning styles in our sample was 31.3% convergent, 15% assimilating, 33.4% divergent and 20.3% accommodating. The learning styles in males were convergent , assimilating , divergent  and accommodating . The learning styles in females were distributed as convergent , assimilating , divergent  and accommodating .
Learning style in Saudi Medical students showed difference between males and females in the early college years.
Most of male students had convergent and accomodating learning styles, while the female dominant learning styles were divergent and assimilating.
It is not enough to develop an awareness of one's learning style (for the student) and an awareness of the learning styles of a population of students (for the teacher), this awareness must be translated into a zone of comfort for learning and teaching strategies, respectively.
The Learning Styles identification needs to be included in the planning and implementation of instruction to accommodate individual students' learning style strengths.
Prediction of student academic performance and future career choice may get benefit from determination of student learning style.
This research was based on sample from the College of Medicine, Al Ahsa, King Faisal University. Despite, all Saudi Colleges of Medicine in accept students from all regions of Saudi Arabia, we cannot guarantee that this study represent all medical students in Saudi Arabia. The sample size of this study was about 500 students. The total number of medical students in Saudi Arabia is about 20000 students. Our sample cannot be significantly representing the whole Saudi medical students.
The multiple academic levels of the students may affect the way they think and answer the questions of learning style inventory because the experience gained by College education may affect the answers. The difference between male and female student learning styles in the same academic level was not well studied. The local cultural and socio-demographic conditions may be associated with certain preferences about how our students prefer to learn.
This study depended on self-filled questionnaire about Kolb learning style inventory. As in any self-filled questionnaire, we can't separate confounding factors from this approach. Student feeling, mood and own personal perspectives may affect the findings. Despite instructions had been given to all students to fill the form in an honest and private way, we can't guarantee the absence of group work. Also, we used the English form of KLSI as we have no Arabic translation. Despite the students can read and speak in English as the study in the College is in English, yet the items of the inventory may be better if they were in Arabic to avoid different interpretation.
The authors of this research would like to thank all the students who accepted to share in this study. Also, they appreciate the efforts of Mr. Karlo Pangan, lecturer at Al Ahsa Medical College, for his meticulous and kind revision of the English language of this manuscript.
Declaration of Interest section
The authors report no declarations of interest. The article is not funded by any project or organization. The article was not published elsewhere nor was it presented in any conference.
Roles of the authors
AlBu Ali WH
Idea of article, manuscript writing, Discussion writing sharing, revise manuscript
Sharing the idea, Methodology, statistical calculations, result tabulation and graphing, manuscript writing
Al Muhaideb NS
Sharing the idea, share in manuscript writing and revision of references