Cognitive styles and learning styles are important concepts in the study of education. For a time, people used the two terms interchangeably, but experts today study both types of styles individually to determine the best methods for educating children in the classroom who may learn or process information differently from their peers.


The term "cognitive style" refers to the way a person processes information in his head in a way that is distinctive to that individual. A person is set in a particular cognitive style from birth. In contrast, a learning style is a manner in which a learner interacts with and responds to the learning material or environment. A person's cultural background may influence his learning style. The student may also use a different learning strategy depending on the task.


In the mid-20th century, most people treated kids who learned or processed information differently from everyone else as less intelligent than other students. Psychologists first started raising concerns in the 1950s and 1960s that typical intelligence tests were much too narrow in assessing a student's abilities. For example, they seemed to place a high emphasis on "convergent thinking" -- focused on predetermined answers -- and not enough on "divergent thinking," which deals with creative innovation.

Examples of Cognitive Styles

You will see a person's cognitive style come out in the way she uses her brain to solve a problem. For example, some people may need to visualize a task before starting, but others may not. Some may work quickly, but others must process information slowly and deliberately before delivering an answer. Some may look at concepts holistically, while others approach subjects in a more piecemeal fashion.

Examples of Learning Styles

Visual learning is one learning style. It refers to a student's need to see body language or facial expressions from the teacher to fully grasp the lesson. Others are auditory learners who get the most out of the lesson through lectures and discussions. They may benefit from noting things like voice, pitch and tone. Kinesthetic learners need hands-on experience with the subject, and they need to be able to explore their world or environment. They may become restless if forced to sit through long lectures with not enough activity.