“Intellectual styles,” an umbrella term for all style constructs, with or without the root word “styles,” refers to people’s preferred ways of processing information and dealing with tasks (Zhang & Sternberg, 2005). Different scholars have their own preferred style terms, both in their writings and in the talks they deliver, including “cognitive style,” “learning style,” “thinking style,” “mind style,” “mode of thinking,” or “teaching style.” However, many contemporary styles researchers agree that “style” constructs are encompassed by the term “intellectual styles,” which was initially proposed by Zhang and Sternberg (2005) in their “a Threefold Model of Intellectual Styles.”

Learning style is also sometimes synonymous with cognitive style (Pask, 1976; Entwistle, 1981) while others disagree stating that learning style is a preferred strategy, thereby implying that a person’s learning style can change, while cognitive style is an immutable characteristic of personality,

Sternberg and Zhang (2001) took a position that both acknowledged the commonalities among all styles and recognized the unique characteristics that each style possessed. Specifically, while acknowledging that all styles share a key feature in that they are different from abilities. An ability refers to what one can do, whereas a style refers to how one prefers to use one’s abilities. Using government as a metaphor, Sternberg argued that just as there are many ways of governing a society, people have many ways of managing or governing their activities, and they do so in a style with which they feel comfortable.

Sternberg and Zhang articulated the differences among learning styles, thinking styles, and cognitive styles by stating how each of the style constructs could be used:

Learning styles might be used to characterize how one prefers to learn about (particular material/information); ... (a learning style may be defined as a habitual pattern or a preferred way of acquiring knowledge or doing something ).

Thinking styles might be used to characterize how one prefers to think about material as one is learning or after one already knows it; ...( Your thinking style is your characteristic way of processing information. It's the way you acquire your knowledge, organize your thoughts, form your views and opinions, apply your values, solve problems, make decisions, plan, and express yourself to others.)

Cognitive styles might be used to characterize ways of cognizing the information” (Sternberg & Zhang, 2001, p. vii).( According to Sharma “cognitive style refers to the characteristic way in which an individual organises his environment and accordingly acts on it. These are intrinsic information-processing patterns that represent a person’s typical mode of perceiving, thinking, remembering and problem-solving.”)


The term ‘styles’ has been used to convey the marked differences in preference shown by people as they carry out task.

The term ‘strategy’ has been used to convey preference which are more task related whereas the term ‘approaches’ has been used to convey “processes” and “pre-dispositions” to adopt particular processes.

Learning styles operate without individual awareness and imply a higher degree of stability.

On the other hand, learning strategy implies operations followed to minimize error during decision-making process and involves a conscious choice of alternatives and is dependent on the task or context.

Learning approach refers to

  • (a) the processes adopted during learning, which directly determine the outcomes of learning and
  • (b) the predispositions or orientations to adopt particular processes.
Learning orientation describes distinctive set of values, motivesand attitudes relating to a learning process, which can be used to explain a students consequent behavior.

Enwistle uses the term orientations to describe general approach to learning. Each orientation in learning is composed of approaches, learning styles,and different forms of motivation.

In short, the relationship between these concepts can be ordered as follows: