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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 46-49

Learning style preferences of medical students in Kano, Northwestern, Nigeria

1 Department of Psychiatry, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
2 Department of Medicine, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
4 Department of Community Medicine, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
5 Department of Anatomy, Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dubai, UAE

Date of Submission15-Jun-2019
Date of Acceptance14-Nov-2019
Date of Web Publication30-May-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Auwal Sani Salihu
Department of Psychiatry, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Bayero University, Kano
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/njbcs.njbcs_14_19

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Context: The current literature posited that the knowledge of learning styles can be useful to both teachers and students. This study sets out to investigate and compare the learning style preferences of medical students (2nd year–5th year). Aims: The aim of the study was to investigate learning style preferences of medical students (2nd year–5th year) and compare those styles across years in the medical school (preclinical to clinical). Settings and Design: This study was carried out in the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria. It was a descriptive cross-sectional study. Subjects and Methods: A descriptive cross-sectional study was conducted in Kano, Northwest Nigeria. The Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic (VARK) questionnaire, a self-administered instrument, was administered to 206 preclinical and clinical years' medical students in 2016. Statistical Analysis Used: Percentages, proportions, frequency tables, and charts were used in the analysis. Results: The response rate was 87.7%. The mean age of the study sample was 21.9 years. There were 124 (60.2%) males and 82 (39.8%) females. The mean score of each VARK item revealed that kinesthetic, auditory, read/writing, and visual modalities have 6.607 (standard deviation [SD] 2.265), 5.369 (SD 2.436), 4.984 (SD 2.621), and 4.345 (SD 2.468), respectively. The most common preferred learning style for both preclinical and clinical years' medical students was multimodal learning style. Conclusions: The findings in this study indicate that multimodal learning style is the most preferred, while other preferences are also common. Therefore, this has important implications on how educators deliver teaching and support students' learning.

Keywords: Kano, learning, learning style, learning style preferences, medical students

How to cite this article:
Salihu AS, Ibrahim A, Owolabi SD, Adamou N, Usman UM, Bello MM, Inuwa I. Learning style preferences of medical students in Kano, Northwestern, Nigeria. Niger J Basic Clin Sci 2020;17:46-9

How to cite this URL:
Salihu AS, Ibrahim A, Owolabi SD, Adamou N, Usman UM, Bello MM, Inuwa I. Learning style preferences of medical students in Kano, Northwestern, Nigeria. Niger J Basic Clin Sci [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Jun 10];17:46-9. Available from: https://www.njbcs.net/text.asp?2020/17/1/46/285462

  Introduction Top

Learning styles encompass a series of theories suggesting systematic differences in individuals' natural or habitual pattern of acquiring and processing information in learning situations.[1] A core concept here is that individuals differ in how they learn.[2] The preferred methods of learning adopted by students in attaining, analyzing, and interpreting their knowledge is what is referred to as “preferred learning styles.”[3] There is rapid production and changes in the nature of scientific knowledge of medicine, which present unique challenge of excessive information.[4] Thus, the challenge of imparting a vast amount of knowledge within a limited time in a way retained and effectively interpreted by a student is considerable. Recently, the trends in medical education have shifted from pedagogy to andragogy, i.e., a teacher-centered to a student-centered learning. The current literature suggests that the knowledge of learning styles can be useful to both teachers and students, in that teachers can tailor the curriculum to suit the learning styles of students.[4],[5] Consequently, it is of utmost importance for medical and allied sciences educators to recognize that undergraduate students have different learning styles and that they should tailor instructions to the characteristic ways in which students prefer to learn. The “Meshing Hypothesis” states that the learning outcomes could be highly achieved if learning matched with predominant learning style of the learner.[6] It has been suggested by the educational theory that clinical experience and success at examinations relates to learning styles.[7] Similarly, greater educational satisfaction could result by making individual student aware of his/her learning styles which could, in turn, empower him/her to identify and use techniques of learning best suited to their individual styles.[8]

Studies on learning styles of undergraduate medical students using Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic (VARK) inventory suggested diversity in learning style preferences among the students, with some being predominantly multimodal learners and some being unimodal learners. Several studies showed preponderance of multimodal learning style preferences among medical students.[9],[10],[11] Similarly, the study conducted in a medical school in Southwestern Nigeria [12] and India [13] reported 91.5% and 61% as multimodal learners, respectively. In contrast, Liew et al. studied 419 undergraduate medical students of the International Medical University in Kuala Lumpur and found that 81.9% had unimodal learning styles, while the remaining 18.1% used a multimodal learning style.[3] Learning style preferences were found to vary with the level of medical education. Samarakoon et al. reported that the mode of learning was not consistent among the three groups they studied. The majority of the 1st year (69.9%) and final-year students (67.5%) had multimodal learning styles. The preclinical and clinical students had a similar proportion of unimodal learners.[8] Shifting of learning styles preference in different levels of medical education is still a subject of further research.


Neil D. Fleming developed the VARK learning inventory in 1987. It was invented for the purpose of improving faculty development and helping students to become better learners.[14] The VARK inventory is categorize into instructional preferences model. The acronym VARK refers to V – visual, A – aural, R – read/write, and K – kinesthetic. Many learning style preference studies of medical students used this inventory. It proposes that visual learners process information best if they can see it, for instance, in the form of graphs, pictures, and flowcharts. Aural learners like to hear the information and process it best by listening to lectures, attending tutorials, and using tape recorders to playback learning sessions. Read/write learners like to read text and take notes verbatim and reread these over and over again. Kinesthetic learners like to process information through experience and practice and prefer to learn information with connection to reality. Multimodal category refers to those students who fall into more than one sensory modality of any combination whether bimodal, trimodal, or quadmodal.

Therefore, this study sets out to investigate the learning style preferences of medical students (2nd year–5th year) and compare those styles across years in the medical school (preclinical to clinical).

  Subjects and Methods Top

Study area

This study was carried out in the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, College of Health Sciences (CHS), Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria. The CHS spreads through the old campus of the university to the affiliated teaching hospital. Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital is the teaching hospital affiliated to Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.

Study population

The study population comprises all medical students of the CHS, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.

Study design

This was a descriptive cross-sectional study.

Sample size

The calculated sample size for the proportion of the finite population was 235. Two hundred and six medical students from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th years at the Bayero University, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, volunteered to participate in this study.

Inclusion criteria

All medical students who volunteer to participate in the study were included the study.

Exclusion criteria

All medical students who decline to participate in the study were excluded from the study.


A self-administered pretested questionnaire containing items on sociodemographic information that incorporated to the VARK learning style questionnaire was given to volunteers who consent to participate in the study. A nonteaching research assistant administered the questionnaire during recess from academic activities. All participants were offered the option of receiving feedback regarding their learning style preferences.

Data analysis

The VARK questionnaire was analyzed using the instructions obtained from the VARK questionnaire website. The data were analyzed using IBM SPSS statistics software, version 23.0 (SPSS Inc. IBM, Armonk, NY, USA), frequency tables, proportions, and charts.

Ethical consideration

The study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, Nigeria.

  Results Top

Characteristics of the respondents

The response rate in this study was 87.7% (206). The mean age of the study sample was 21.97 years, with a minimum of 17 years, maximum of 30 years, and a standard deviation of 2.60. [Table 1] shows that about 60.2% (124) of the respondents were males and 39.8% (82) were females. The highest number (137, 66.5%) of the respondents were in their 2nd and 3rd years, while the remaining (69, 33.5%) were in their 4th and 5th years of the study. Only 13 (6.3%) were married, 4 (1.9%) males and 9 (4.4%) females.
Table 1: Characteristics of the Respondents

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Learning styles preferences

The mean and standard deviation of the score of each item of the VARK shown in [Table 2] revealed that kinesthetic modality has the highest mean (6.607) and standard deviation (2.265) followed by auditory (5.369/2.436) and then reading/writing (4.984/2.621) and visual (4.345/2.468) modalities [Figure 1]. The minimum score for the modalities is 0 and the maximum scores are 13, 11, 10, and 10 for kinesthetic, auditory, read/write, and visual modalities, respectively. Visual, auditory, and read/write modalities have outliers of (12, 11), (13, 12), and (13, 12, 11), respectively.
Table 2: Mean score and standard deviation of each sensory modality in VARK score among the 206 respondents

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Figure 1: Box and Whiskers plot of VARK Score of the respondents. n=206

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The preferred learning style for both preclinical (2nd and 3rd year) and clinical (4th and 5th year) year medical students, males and females, is multimodal (combination of two or more modalities) learning style [Figure 2]. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the clinical year students of both male and female genders preferred multimodal learning style compared to about half of the preclinical year students of both the genders. Among the multimodal learners, the most frequent learning style preference among males and females of both clinical and preclinical phase of the study is the trimodal learning style (clinical [female: 43.8% and male: 46%] and preclinical [female: 40.6% and male: 39.5%]) [Figure 3]. VARK (17.5%) is the most frequent combination among multimodal learners, while trimodal learners have Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic (ARK) (12.1%) as the most frequent combination followed by the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (6.3%); Visual, Read/Write, Kinesthetic (VRK) (5.3%); and visual, aural, and read/write, (2.4%). Of the remaining students from the two phases of the study (clinical and preclinical) who use unimodal learning style, over half clinical [female: 50% and male: 60%] and preclinical [female: 43% and male: 65%]) of them use kinesthetic learning style [Figure 4]. The visual (female: 0% and male: 10%) modality is the fourth frequent unimodal learning preference among the clinical year male population, but there was no single female using this learning modality alone among clinical year students.
Figure 2: Learning Style Preferences of the Respondents. n=206

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Figure 3: Distribution of Bi- Tri- and Quad Modal Learning Style by Phase of Study and Gender

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Figure 4: Distribution of Unimodal Learning Style

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  Discussion Top

The study found that about three quarter of the clinical year medical students and about half of the preclinical year medical students preferred multimodal learning style with a preponderance of male multimodal learners than female learners among preclinical and clinical year students. The most common mode of multimodality is quadmodal. Similar findings were reported from some studies conducted in Southwest Nigeria [12] and Sri Lanka [8] that the multimodal learning is the most common preferred learning style among medical students. This indicates that a blended teaching and learning approach is needed to cater for students with this learning style preference.[15] The most frequent learning preference among the unimodal learners was kinesthetic learning modality with males more than females, indicating that most of the students may do better with manipulation and activities such as role play, simulation, practicum, and bedside teaching. This is similar to Khanal et al.[14] reported predominance of kinesthetic mode of learning preferences in a review of preferred learning styles in medical education using the VARK model.

The findings in this study suggest that the use of teaching methods that target VARK's multiple learning modes may likely enhance understanding among the students. Educators should consider using visual aids such as multimedia projectors, videos and illustrations, models, tutorials, discussion groups, practical, simulation, and bedside teaching as oppose to mostly traditional lecture method which mainly focuses on auditory learning mode.

The awareness of learning styles as reported by Bhagat et al.[16] can help students to be aware of their strength and can motivate them to adapt other learning styles previously not use and harness the mixture of learning styles currently preferred. In this regard, this study collected interested participants' matriculation numbers and mobile phone numbers to privately inform them of their learning style preferences. The medical school may consider the adoption of VARK questionnaire in checking and informing new students their preferred learning styles which we believe can enhance learning among students as well as the use of a variety of teaching methods among medical educators in the institution.

  Conclusion Top

This study is cross-sectional, and the causal effect cannot be determined. Future research effort on learning style preference should consider looking at the effect of awareness of learning style preferences on their academic performance longitudinally and the effect adjustment of teaching style by medical educators to match the learning style preference of medical students.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

James W, Gardner D. Learning styles: Implications for distance learning. In: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1995;67:19-31.  Back to cited text no. 1
Pashler H, McDaniel M, Rohrer D, Bjork R. Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2008;9:105-19.  Back to cited text no. 2
Liew SC, Sidhu J, Barua A. The relationship between learning preferences (styles and approaches) and learning outcomes among pre-clinical undergraduate medical students. BMC Med Educ 2015;15:44.  Back to cited text no. 3
Gurpinar E, Alimoglu MK, Mamakli S, Aktekin M. Can learning style predict student satisfaction with different instruction methods and academic achievement in medical education? Adv Physiol Educ 2010;34:192-6.  Back to cited text no. 4
Dunn R, Giannitti MC, Murray JB, Rossi I, Geisert G, Quinn P. Grouping students for instruction: Effects of learning style on achievement and attitudes. J Soc Psychol 1990;130:485-94.  Back to cited text no. 5
Peers IS, Johnston M. Influence of learning context on the relationship between a-level attainment and final degree performance: A meta-analytic review. Br J Educ Psychol 1994;64:1-17.  Back to cited text no. 6
Sankey M, Birch D, Gardiner M. The impact of multiple representations of content using multimedia on learning outcomes across learning styles and modal preferences. Int J Ed Dev Using Inf Commun Technol 2011;7:18-35.  Back to cited text no. 7
Newble DI, Entwistle NJ. Learning styles and approaches: Implications for medical education. Med Educ 1986;20:162-75.  Back to cited text no. 8
Samarakoon L, Fernando T, Rodrigo C. Learning styles and approaches to learning among medical undergraduates and postgraduates. BMC Med Educ 2013;13:42.  Back to cited text no. 9
Breckler J, Joun D, Ngo H. Learning styles of physiology students interested in the health professions. Adv Physiol Educ 2009;33:30-6.  Back to cited text no. 10
Ramirez BU. The sensory modality used for learning affects grades. Adv Physiol Educ 2011;35:270-4.  Back to cited text no. 11
Whillier S, Lystad RP, Abi-Arrage D, McPhie C, Johnston S, Williams C. The learning style preferences of chiropractic students: A cross-sectional study. J Chiropr Educ 2014;28:21-7.  Back to cited text no. 12
Ubah JN. Learning styles among medical students, a case study of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology medical school, Osogbo, Western Nigeria. J Educ Pract 2012;3:47-51.  Back to cited text no. 13
Khanal L, Shah S, Koirala S. Exploration of learning styles in medical education using VARK modal. Russ Open Med J 2014;3:1-8.  Back to cited text no. 14
Ojeh N, Sobers-Grannum N, Gaur U, Udupa A, Majumder MA. Learning style preferences: A study of pre-clinical medical students in Barbados. J Adv Med Educ Prof 2017;5:185-94.  Back to cited text no. 15
Bhagat A, Vyas R, Singh T. Students awareness of learning styles and their perceptions to a mixed method approach for learning. Int J Appl Basic Med Res 2015;5:S58-65.  Back to cited text no. 16


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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