Huban Kutay, The Ohio State University, College of Education, The School of Teaching and Learning, Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education



From an anthropologist’s (Maddock, 1981) point of view, “science and science education are cultural enterprises which form a part of the wider cultural matrix of society and educational considerations concerning science must be made in the light of this wider perspective”(p.10).  

The purpose of this study is to identify the relationship between students’ learning styles and their culture.  Thus, Turkish and American college students in the United States were compared by means of their learning styles preferences. 

            To identify individuals’ learning styles the Building Excellence (BE) by Dunn, and Rundle (1996.1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000) has been used.  BE assesses twenty-four elements covering each person’s perceptual, psychological, environmental, physiological, emotional, and sociological processing preferences and analyzes the learning conditions for students’ individual preferences in these six areas. 

            The population of the study included all American and Turkish students in five Midwestern universities.  A non-randomly chosen 100 Turkish and 100 American undergraduate and graduate level students were the sample. 

      Out of a total of twenty four elements, eight of them were found to be different between groups.  These differences were mostly in physiological and environmental stimulus that seems to be cultural habits or practices.


Comparison of Two Cultures’ Learning Styles

From an anthropologist’s (Maddock, 1981) point of view, “science and science education are cultural enterprises which form a part of the wider cultural matrix of society and that educational considerations concerning science must be made in the light of this wider perspective”(p.10).  In addition Spindler (1987) stated that teaching science as is considered cultural transmission while Wolcott (1991) focused on learning science as culture acquisition.  In those statements culture is defined as “an ordered system of meaning and symbols, in terms of which social interaction takes place” (Geertz, 1973).  Thus, learning and culture are a partnership.

Learning style is used in the academic literature with many different definitions.  Learning styles have been researched since the late fifties and early sixties.  Dunn and Griggs (1988) explored learning styles research and confirmed the use of the definition which is used today: “Learning style is a biologically and developmentally imposed set of characteristics that make the same teaching method wonderful for some and terrible for others.” (p.3).This citation emphasizes how important it is to identify a student’s learning styles.

One determination of the purpose of education is to give certain aspects of life to individuals in order to make them civilized. In Science for all Americans (1990): “ the life-enhancing potential of science and technology can not be realized unless the public in general comes to understand science, mathematics, and technology and acquire scientific habits of mind.  Without a science-literate population, the outlook for a better world is not promising” (p. xiv-xv).  Thus it is critical to reach all students in science classrooms and achieve progress towards science literacy.  In order to make continuous progress toward literacy it is crucial to process new and difficult information using personal learning strengths. They are saying,” If students cannot learn the way we teach them, then we must teach them the way they learn.”(Dunn, et.al 1989). In this view this subject also important by means of teacher education.

There are some researches on learning styles of different cultures. (Hale-Benson, 1986;  Gordon, 1982; Leake & Faltz, 1993 Stodolsky & Lesser 1967,  De Vita,2001, Zhenhui, 2001). There is not yet a study about Turkish students’ learning styles as comparing them with American students.

Rachel Adenike Adeodu (1997) defines culture in her doctoral thesis as “the way a given society organizes and conducts itself that distinguishes it from other societies”. (p.19). Consequently, we cannot limit the culture only to dance, food, or language in that culture.  Culture is the way people think, act, and relate to each other.   Another definition of culture by Guarnaccia & Rodriguez (1996) is that “culture is both a product of group values, norms, and experiences and of individual innovations and life histories.”(p.421). These definitions delineate the variables of culture.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to identify the differences between American and Turkish students’ learning styles. How does cultural differences limit or expand their learning will be our next goal.  For this purpose 100 Turkish students who graduated from a Turkish high school and undertook undergraduate education in the US or finished their undergraduate education in Turkey and undertook their graduate education in the States (in five different universities) identified and compared to 100 American college students through learning styles data  A quantitative research analysis was conducted to analyze the results.  Our research question for one part of the study is:

What are the learning style differences between Turkish and American undergraduates and graduate students? Is it possible to make a generalization about their preferences? Which elements are more expletory for their learning styles?



To identify individuals’ learning styles we will use the Building Excellence (BE), learning style instrument which is the adult version of The Learning Style Inventory by Dunn and Rundle (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000).  BE assesses twenty- four elements covering each person’s perceptual, psychological, environmental, physiological, emotional, and sociological processing preferences and provides a comprehensive analyzes of the learning conditions for students’ individual processing preferences in these six areas.  Each subject rates 118 items on a five-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. It is described as a comprehensive method to measure an individual’s learning style based on factor analysis. 

Individuals surveyed were also requested to complete a background questionnaire along with the (Building Excellence) BE and social anxiety surveys.  After that, important categories were identified to investigate descriptive analysis.  These categories are: gender, age, academic major, education level of students, marital status, having roommate or not , and education level of parents.


A total of 200 undergraduate and graduate students participated in the study.  Of those who participated, 100 were identified as Turkish, and 100 as American students.  Among Turkish students, 29 were females and 71 were males; whereas among American students, 37 were females and 63 were males.   Overall the number of males in two groups (n=134, 67%) was more than the number of females (n=66, 33%).

The majority of the Turkish students were between the ages 26-35 (n=81).  Most were graduate students, whereas the majority of American students were 25 years old and under (n=84) and mainly undergraduates. For the total sample, the number of students who are 25 years and under was 102 and 51% and the number of students between the ages 26 and 35 was 92, 46%.

Science and engineering area students were the target sample in this study. In terms of academic major areas, the majority of the students were from basic science areas such as chemistry, biology, physics, and science education with a B.S degree or pursuing a B.S degree in one of the above science areas  (n= 76, 38 %).  The second most prevalent major area is engineering with (n= 70 and 35%).

The majority of American students have a high school degree (n=71) and are undergraduate students. Many of Turkish students have 4 year BS or post graduate degrees (n=94) as most of them are graduate level students.  Of the total sample, 40% of students had a BS degree  that means they are in graduate school now, 38.5% of students had a high school degree, means they are undergraduate level now and the remaining 21.5% had post a graduate degree, means they are Ph.D students or pos-docs. 

Among Turkish students, 46 were single and 54 were married; whereas among American students, 88 were single, 11 were married, and 1 was divorced.  Overall the number of singles in two groups (n=134, 67%) was more than the number of married (n=65, 32.5%). 

As expected most of the Turkish students did not have a roommate (n=74), since the majority of them are married or graduate students; whereas most of the American students have one (n=70). Overall distribution was close to even; 48% had roommate while 52% did not have.

Two-Sample t test was used to identify the difference between Turkish and American students by means of their learning styles and social anxiety, as we have two groups.

Table 4.1

Two-sample t test table for each Learning Style Stimulus and Social Anxiety


Mean Differences


































Social Anxiety





*Significant at p≤ .05   



As seen at table 4.1, the perceptual and sociological stimuli factors were found as significantly different between Turkish and American students.  Since only perceptual and sociological stimuli factors were found as significantly different between Turkish and American students (Table 4.1), to explore deeply the differences among the elements within each stimuli, two-sample t-tests were run for each stimuli separately.

  1. Out of five elements of perceptual stimuli, only the tactile/kinesthetic element was found to be marginally significant.  Turkish students were more moderate by means of this element.  Tactile and/or kinesthetic learners can learn more effectively when they are actively involved in doing tactile/kinesthetic activities rather than listening or reading. In this regard Turkish students were found to be slightly more tactile and/or kinesthetic compared to American students.
  2. There were no differences between Turkish and American students based on their psychological preferences stimuli, which has four elements; analytic or global and reflective or impulsive.
  3. Among four elements of environmental stimuli only the seating score was found to be significantly different in two groups. American students prefer more informal seating while Turkish students prefer more formal seating in the classroom.
  4. Physiological stimuli has six elements and Turkish and American students were found to be significantly different in four of them; intake, early morning, late afternoon, and evening elements. Turkish students are less likely to have something to eat or drink when they are studying as opposed to American students who prefer eating and drinking when studying. In the area of time, Turkish students prefer early morning hours to study. In the next findings, late afternoon and evening elements support this area of time result. American students have a late afternoon and evening preferences for study in contrast to Turkish students.
  5. There is no significant difference between Turkish and American students in the emotional stimuli’s.
  6. Sociological stimuli has five elements and two of the elements were identified to be different. Turkish and American students both like to study in pairs; however, more Turkish students prefer to study in pairs then American students.  In the area of variety; American students prefer less variety while studying subjects compared to Turkish students who switch from one topic to another. US students tend to finish one subject and then start another one, whereas Turkish students move from one area to another before finishing a topic. Thus they are studying different subjects at the same time. 

 Out of a total of twenty four elements, eight of them were found to be different between groups.  These differences were mostly in physiological and environmental stimulus that seems to be cultural habits or practices.


The findings of this study have both theoretical and practical implications for effective teaching in multicultural classrooms and in order to provide equal opportunities to all students. As stated by Jones and Fennimore (1990), “children of any culture can and should have curriculum and instructional practices that draw from that culture.” p.(16). Especially in the United States, we may see rich cultural differences even in a small classroom setting. There are numerous quantitative studies demonstrating that teaching based on students’ learning styles improves both classroom success, attendance, and satisfaction

(Dunn, Beadury, & Klavas, 1989, Griggs, 1992). 

            At this time there is no specific quantitative study about Turkish students’ learning styles, that’s why this study is a critical piece.  We found similarities and differences between Turkish and American college students by means of their learning styles. These results can be used by faculty members or teaching assistants to increase the success of these students in college classrooms; they may understand that it may not be possible to reach all students by using the same teaching style.  In the literature there is evidence that when teachers modify their teaching styles according to their students’ learning styles students’ overall success increases (Hofstede, 1986; Felder  & Silverman, 1988; Milgram, Chiang,2000; Zhenhui,2001).

Utilizing your personal learning styles is the way students’ process new and difficult information.  Students and teachers need to know students’ personal learning style preferences or we are not providing equal opportunities for all learners. For future study, learning styles of instructors and teaching assistants from different cultural backgrounds can be explored.  It may also give teachers a glance of about different teaching strategies based on their own learning styles.


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