THE LEARNING STYLES OF STATE POLICYMAKERS:
A STUDY OF ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS IN COLORADO
Paul Charles Bauman
B.A., University of Nebraska, 1973
M.A., University of Wyoming, 1979
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of Public Affairs of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Public Administration
Graduate School of Public Affairs
Copyright by Paul Charles Bauman 1985
All Rights Reserved
This thesis for the Doctor of Public Administration
Paul Charles Bauman
has been approved for the
of Public Affairs
Bauman, Paul Charles (D.P.A., Public Administration)
The Learning Styles of State Policymakers: A Study of Elected and
Appointed Officials in Colorado
Thesis directed by Professor John C. Buechner
This exploratory study examines the learning styles of elected
and appointed officials in Colorado state government in 1985. A pre-
tested instrument known as the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) was used to
identify an individuals predominant learning style and problem-solving
approach. The LSI was self-administered by the participants as part of a
one-page survey mailed to 190 state political leaders. Interviews were
also conducted with selected policymakers and others who are particularly
experienced in and knowledgeable about the use of information in political
Analysis of the LSI scores and interviews showed:
There was no significant difference in the learning styles of elected
and senior-level appointed officials.
State policymakers are predominantly active learners who rely more
on colleagues for information than written reports and technical
Professional education and experience has a strong influence on
policymakers' learning styles.
Experience in state policymaking emphasizes an accommodative
This research suggests (1) state policymakers prefer particular
kinds of information that match their characteristic learning style and
problem-solving approach; (2) awareness of a predominantly active
learning style among state policymakers helps identify the required skills
for a career in public office; and (3) state policymakers can benefit from
a knowledge of their individual learning style.
These and several other recommendations and conclusions are
based on the results from the empirical study and a review of relevant
literature in political science, public administration, organizational
psychology and adult learning theory. They are directed to public policy
educators, state policymakers as individuals, and others involved in the
formation and implementation of state policies.
faculty member in charge of thesis
I would like to thank my dissertation committee members: Dr.
John Buechner for chairing the committee and encouraging me to focus on
state-level policymakers; Dr. Dennis Donald for sponsoring my research
through the Center for the Improvement of Public Management; Dr.
Eileen Tynan for her suggestions and support throughout my doctoral
studies; and Dr. Rex Brown for his insight and understanding.
Statement of the Problem................................4
Purpose of the Study....................................4
Importance of the Study.................................5
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.................................12
Legislators ......................................... 12
Typology of Learning Styles............................19
Hypotheses About Policymakers as Learners..............24
Population and Sample.................................. 35
vi i i
Policymakers Learning Styles.......................45
Influence of Occupational Backgrounds...............54
Influence of Policymaking Experience.............. 57
Summary of Findings.................................62
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS.......................65
For State Policymakers............................ 76
For Other Stakeholders in State Policymaking........82
A. SURVEY AND COVER LETTERS..........................92
B. LEARNING STYLE PROFILE.......................... 96
C. PROFILE OF MALE AND FEMALE POLICYMAKERS...........98
D. PROFILE OF LEGISLATORS AND PUBLIC
1. Survey Population...........................................37
2. Selected Characteristics of Survey Respondents.......... .40
3. Scores on Learning Style Inventory ........................46
4. LSI Scores of Professional Groups...........................55
5. LSI Scores and Years in Public Office.......................57
1. Experimental Learning Cycle..............................22
2. Policymakers Learning Style Profile......................47
One of the most influential factors in the formulation and imple-
mentation of public policies is the problem-solving approach of individual
policymakers. The personal characteristics, biases, and perspectives of
both legislators and senior-level public managers help shape political
institutions and the policies and programs they direct (Rosenthal, 1984).
Problem-solving involves a specialized and highly individualized
process of problem definition, reflection and generation of alternative
solutions. Research has demonstrated that an individual learns a
particular style of problem-solving through experience (Kolb, 1984).
Little is known, however, about the learning styles and problem-solving
approaches of public officials.
State policymakers are facing many complex challenges. They
are required to analyze problems and seek solutions in a changing
environment characterized by debate and controversy. Their public
responsibility is no less than allocating scarce resources among diverse
groups for unlimited causes. There are few empirical studies which
demonstrate how they keep up with the flow of information and learn
about the problems they must address.
Recent changes in governance underscore the importance of
improving the efficiency of state government. Many of the policies
embodied in the Reagan Administration's "new federalism" (1980-1985)
shifted programs and fiscal responsibilities to the state and local level.
Federal grants-in-aid to states have been cut while tax or expenditure
limiting propositions and high interest rates have limited the ability of
states to generate the revenues needed to meet demands for public
services. Intergovernmental relations between state, county and
municipal jurisdictions are directly affected by changes in federal policies
and cuts in domestic spending.
The blurring of responsibilities between public and private
organizations requires regulatory changes and new financing
arrangements. Public pressure toward more representative, responsive
and efficient government compounds the challenges faced by elected and
appointed public servants to make effective policy decisions.
As the role of state government in the federal system becomes
more complex and demanding, there is a concomitant need to examine the
abilities of state government policymakers. There are demographic
studies of elected officials that describe their occupational and
educational back grounds, levels of income, race, religion and party
affiliation (Uslaner and Weber, 1977; Rosenthal, 1974). Less is known
about their personal characteristics, particularly how legislators
assimilate and integrate facts and knowledge in order to address intricate
There are also descriptive studies of the responsibilities and
multiple roles of appointed officials who serve as public managers (Moore,
1983; Allison, 1979). There is also a recognition that there is no concise
definition of what public management is or what the requirements for
entry into the discipline or profession should be (Mosher, 1975;
Golembiewski, 1979). The multiple layers and broad functional areas of
management, along with the variety of elective versus appointive
arrangements in the states inhibit an understanding of the characteristics
of appointed officials.
It has become more evident that elected and appointed officials
are involved in both the management and decision-making process as
political and administrative activities continue to overlap (Leonard, 1984;
Moore, 1983; Mosher, 1975). As these two groups formulate and
implement state policies, they obtain and share information from a
variety of sources. The ways information is exchanged between different
political interests is an important factor in the clarity and quality of
outcomes and is directly influenced by the personal characteristics of
political leaders as thinkers, problem solvers and learners (Keefe and
Research in adult education, organizational and developmental
psychology has shown adults have characteristic learning styles and
problem-solving approaches (Cell, 1984; Kolb, 1974; Cross, 1981; Knowles,
1970). Predominant modes of learning have been found among members
of particular professions and occupations. Research has also
demonstrated that skills associated with different styles, e.g., abstract
conceptualization as opposed to active experimentation, are determinants
of effectiveness within occupations (Kolb, 1984).
The increasing complexity and magnitude of issues facing state
leaders suggest that a better understanding of learning styles would be
helpful for individual policymakers as well as for those involved in
improving the decision-making capacity of state political leaders.
Statement of the Problem
Studies of elected and appointed officials in state government
have neglected to address at least two important research questions: do
state policymakers have a characteristic learning style? How does a
predominant mode of problem-solving influence the exchange of informa-
tion between public officials and their use of information in political
Purpose of the Study
This dissertation and the empirical study of state policymakers is
1. Identify and define the learning style of elected and appointed state
2. Determine whether there is a characteristic or predominant mode of
learning among this group and identify factors influencing their
acquisition of particular learning and problem-solving approaches
3. Determine whether there is a significant difference in learning styles
between elected and appointed state officials
4. Examine and weigh the findings from the empirical study with the
review of literature in related fields to determine how learning styles
affect the formation and implementation of state policies and
Importance of the Study
There are several reasons for studying state political leaders.
Rosenthal (1984; 1974) concluded there was great potential in the study of
state policymakers: "The states are where much of the action has been
and continues to be in the current era of revived federalism" (p. 3).
State policymakers are increasingly responsible for initiating
public policies because of recent shifts in intergovernmental relations
during the 1980s. Both through changes in federal government policies
and initiatives from within, state government is playing a stronger role
relative to other levels of government. State policymakers are key actors
in this shift in power (Rosenthal, 1984).
The characteristics of political officials as information users,
brokers and interpreters is an important political and administrative
research topic. Lobbyists and other state policy experts may understand
that legislators want information that is brief and politically acceptable,
but we know little about legislators' use of and preference for policy-
The political environment of public service has become more
acute as society weighs the value of individual government programs and
the changing responsibilities and relationships between national, state and
local jurisdictions. It appears that the federal government can no longer
be relied upon for awarding large categorical grants and technical
assistance to address numerous social and economic problems. State
government administrators are therefore required to be more resourceful
and efficient with limited public dollars. Similarly, public managers must
respond to demands for an increasing number of special interest groups
and to provide a wider variety of services. They have a relatively short
amount of time to accomplish objectives that are difficult to measure.
Modern public management environments are also characterized by the
increased specialization and diversification of most occupations within
As discussed earlier, research in organizational psychology has
shown different professions foster different learning styles and problem-
solving approaches (Kolb, 1984). The question of whether these diverse
professionals within elected and appointed office have learned how to
solve public policy problems in different ways has not been addressed.
There are numerous studies about the relationship between the
executive and legislative branches of state government (Bernick and
Wigging, 1981). Information about the interrelationships and
communication patterns between elected and appointed state leaders is
limited. While many scholars agree that personal characteristics of state
policymakers are an important factor in government, there is a
substantial gap in the literature about state policymakers as problem
solvers (Levitt and Feldbaum, 1980).
The ability to understand and continually learn about an
increasing number of new policies, programs and issues is a necessary skill
for effective public service. As Rosenthal stated: "Policymakers have a
big stake in learning what works and what doesnt work in order to make
policies for the future" (1974, p. 66). This study provides an insight into
the learning patterns and consequent uses of information by state-level
Legislators and senior-level public managers learn from each
other about the successes and failures of state programs (Levitt and
Feldbaum, 1980; Reynolds, 1965). The importance of productive working
relationships between these two political groups was stressed by Mosher
As the range of public problems and programs broadens, and as
knowledge relevant to each grows and deepens, it becomes less
and less possible for politically elected representatives to get a
handle on more than a few of the significant issues. Even on
these, they must rely heavily upon the information, analysis
and judgment of the appointed public servants (1975, p. 50).
Because the issues and problems of state governments are
becoming more intricate and controversial, the need for accurate and
efficient information exchange becomes more acute. The decision-
making and policy-shaping responsibilities of appointed officials and
increased demands on the time and expertise of elected leaders suggest
both groups will need to continually develop their personal expertise at
information exchange as lawmakers and public managers. There are,
however, alternative methods for improving the problem-solving
approaches of and communication between policymakers.
The nature of problem definition in the process of decision-
making and policy formulation is of critical importance. As Sharkansky
(1982), McCrae (1980) and others pointed out, problem definition is the
required first step in a rational approach to policymaking. However,
mutual problem definition is the first barrier to reliance on the rational
The definition of a problem is arrived at through a process of
observation, assessment, and abstraction from reality. Only in
theory is it possible to disengage from prior experiences and
current commitments. Thus, even the process of determining
the problem is less than rational (Sharkansky, 1982, p.
The influence of prior experience on policymaking can be studied through
an analysis of problem-solving approaches and learning styles that have
been acquired experientially. For example, an elected official who is a
trained lawyer may define a problem and analyze policy options very
differently than an appointed civil engineer. Moreover, the environment
of public service and policymaking often creates and institutionalizes a
particular learning style and problem-solving approach.
Knowledge about learning styles of political leaders assists in the
design of more meaningful information exchange and the development of
alternative learning experiences. Political scientists and public
administration scholars have recognized the importance of continuous
learning for effective policymaking (Sharkansky, 1982; Cleveland, 1980;
Bok, 1979). Yet, professional competencies required for public
policymakers are not well defined, there is no core of knowledge, there is
an absence of firm boundaries within the discipline and there is no
definition of what it is (Golembiewski, 1979; Mosher, 1975). The findings
and recommendations from this study may be useful for those engaged in
preparing people for policymaking roles and for improving the abilities of
If the learning styles and problem-solving approaches of elected
and appointed officials can be gauged, the influence of legislative and
administrative interactions and the process of policymaking can be
evaluated. If there is a predominant learning style among state
policymakers, there will also be an associated set of characteristic
learning and problem-solving skills (Kolb and McIntyre, 1971). These skills
may be the foundation for what is required in the task or occupation of
This study examines the learning styles of elected and appointed
officials in Colorado state government in 1985. A review of published
literature produced no similar research as a basis for comparison.
Variables that influence learning styles and problem-solving approaches
focus on elected versus appointed office, age, sex, political experience
and professional background. Specific and historical determinants, such
as the psychological and sociological forces that lead individuals into
certain professions were not examined. Learning styles were assessed by
a self-administered questionnaire and other qualitative information gained
through personal interviews and written responses to open-ended
The following operational definitions were used as general
research boundaries and were modified for the empirical study of state
political officials. The diverse nature of government service prevents
more specific definitions of groups or categories of individuals and
Elected Officials Members of the 1985 Colorado General
Assembly, which includes 35 senators and 65 representatives
Appointed Officials The term "appointed" denotes managers of
Colorado public agencies who have been administratively appointed
as opposed to elected to their position. This group includes agency
directors appointed directly by the governor and division directors
appointed under civil service procedures and selected by executive
Policymakers Individuals involved in formulating and
implementing public policies are denoted as policymakers. They
include both elected and appointed officials. Appointed officials are
defined as policymakers because of their policy "shaping"
responsibilities as senior-level department and division heads.
Learning Styles and Problem-Solving Approaches For purposes of
this study, David Kolbs typology (1984) of four separate styles was
used: diverger, assimilator, converger and accommodator. These four
styles are associated with sets of learning and problem-solving
NOTES CHAPTER I
1. David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1984. Kolb developed the learning style typology
in the 1970s with David McIntyre and has refined the distinctions and
characteristics of the four learning modes through a series of
research projects using the same instrument employed in this
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The expanded role of the states in the American federal system
has generated considerable research into the characteristics of state
policymakers. Literature from the disciplines of political science and
public administration contain demographic information about legislators
including their voting patterns arid degree of representativeness. No
empirical studies were discovered about the learning patterns of either
legislators or senior-level appointed officials. The following brief review
of the literature is, however, descriptive enough to generate some general
hypotheses about their characteristic learning styles.
According to Jewell (1982), modern state legislators are devoting
more time to their public office. Legislators also have more staff assis-
tance than was the case in the 1970s.
The demands ... for legislative action and district and
constituency services are much greater than in the past. In
short, the job of being a representative is more complex and
demanding than it used to be" (Jewell, 1982, p. 6).
There is considerable diversity among the 50 states in the length
of legislative sessions and level of staff support. There is also a diversity
of political cultures and social values between and among institutions in
different regions of the United States (Wright, 1978). However, several
studies conclude that there is a consistent trend in state legislatures
toward greater professionalism and increased staff resources (Rosenthal,
1984; Jewell, 1982; Levitt and Feldbaum, 1980).
The literature focusing on the personal characteristics of
approximately 7,500 representatives in the 50 states is small in
comparison to the work on staff resources and the political make-up of
state legislatures. According to Jewell (1980) this lack of data is
primarily because of the constant turn over of elected officials.
As in most public and private organizations, there is a
recognition that legislators are recruited, elected and socialized into the
organization in a characteristic pattern (Jewel, 1980; Keefe and Ogul,
1968). There are a number of studies about the demographic character-
istics of state legislators, undertaken primarily by sociologists and
political scientists. According to Levitt and Feldbaum (1980):
Most state legislators are .. male, white, middle-class,
college graduates, with professional occupations. The largest
proportion are lawyers .. certain types of persons are more
prone to be recruited than others. High levels of education and
socioeconomic status generally relate to a greater knowledge
and awareness of politics and a higher sense of civic obligation,
political efficacy and interest.. certain vocations are
"political in nature, that is, the practitioner of "brokerage
occupations" (e.g., lawyers and businessmen, as opposed to
industrial wage earners, service workers, or farm laborers)
(1980, p. 77).
A 1968 study by Keefe and Ogul described state legislators in
similar terms. Some of these homogeneous characteristics, such as higher
levels of income, have raised concerns about the representativeness of
state elected officials. For purposes of this dissertation, it is important
to consider the similar experiential bases of state legislators that may
accompany these socioeconomic patterns. The following five generali-
zations were derived from a variety of longitudinal studies of state
legislatures conducted by Keefe and Ogul:
1. Most legislators are drawn from a relatively narrow social base. A
disproportionate number come from middle- and upper-class
2. Legislators acquire their political interests, values and attitudes in a
variety of ways and at different periods in their lifecycles. In a
four-state study, four out of every ten legislators indicated that
their initial interest in public affairs occurred during adulthood
often after college.
3. American legislators have significantly higher levels of education
than their constituents. Formal educational attainment appears to
be a central criteria in recruiting and electing state legislators.
4. The predominant occupations found among legislators are the social
and legal professions, business and farming (depending on the extent
of an agricultural economy in a state)... lawyers predominate.
5. The typical American legislator is male, white, protestant, and of
anglo-saxon origin. Racial, ethnic and religious minority groups are
elected to office much less frequently than their proportions of the
United States population (1968, p. 121-128).
Several other comprehensive studies conclude that state
legislators are often similar to each other, but different from, and not
demographically representative of their constituents (Ranny, 1976;
Fiellin, 1967; Barber, 1965). For example, Hispanics comprised 11.7
percent of Colorados population in 1983, but no Hispanics had ever been
elected to major statewide office.*
Another way of describing state legislator characteristics is to
focus on the individual in relation to specific requirements while in
office. This approach gives a better sense of legislative life while also
providing important implications for the social, political and economic
processes by which individuals become legislators.
Rosenthal (1980) argued how the nature of legislative work and
individual orientations interact to produce a particular legislative
climate. Such a climate generally supports the attainment of concrete
results where committee findings are unambiguous and indisputable.
According to Rosenthal (1980) and others (Levitt and Feldbaum, 1980;
Huwa, 1977), legislators believe they do not have sufficient time to do
everything that they should do or that is expected of them. Most
legislators are part-time representatives, with outside occupations and
are consequently unable to spend adequate time in pursuit of each role.
They try to avoid trouble and want to secure information that is quick,
brief and comfortable to handle.
The use of information in different forms from diverse sources is
a major factor in legislative performance. Huwa and Rosenthal (1976)
observed that the most difficult task for legislators is converting
information into public policy-relevant knowledge.
Studies of interactions between legislators and their professional
staffs have revealed different styles of information use:
Even on the same committee, members vary in their
preferences as far as the medium and the messages are
concerned. Some prefer short, succinct statements .. other
legislators insist on painstaking detail.... Many legislators
favor a written response to their inquiry .. other legislators
want oral summaries, explaining that the extraordinary
demands on their time prevent them from reading much at all
(Hawa and Rosenthal, 1977, pp. 21-22).
Another important characteristic of legislators is their
increasingly limited tenure in office, and consequent inexperience with
state policymaking. State legislators in the 1970s and 1980s have shorter
tenure in office than any time in history. Studies show an increasing
percentage of freshmen representatives in most legislatures. There is
considerable speculation about the impact of the rate of turnover in
elected office in state and local government. One implication is that
legislators as decision-making groups are becoming more reliant on
problem-solving experiences and knowledge gained out side of the policy-
Scholarly literature about state-level appointed officials is more
difficult to trace than descriptions of state legislators because the
terminology in political science and public administration describes
appointed officials in several different ways.
Appointment to a public, managerial position connotes a political
yet non-elected assignment that is generally one step below the elected
executive, which in state government is the governor. There are a large
number of senior-level, appointed state officials who may be another step
removed from the governor, such as division directors who are appointed
by a civil service process and who answer to department directors. The
important distinction is the political and managerial character of the
It would be convenient for both the reader and the authors
were it possible to begin with a clear and simple definition of
the term "public manager." Unfortunately, repeated efforts by
many writers have failed to produce such a definition (Crane,
1982, p. 6).
Graduate education programs in public administration employ
the category "public managers" to include senior-level appointed
officials. "Public manager" appears to be a workable term in that it is
inclusive of the managerial function and the political nature of an
appointed position. It is also broad enough to encompass the multiple
arrangements state organizations make to appoint a senior executive.
The terminology issue prevents a clear review of appointed
officials as compared to elected state legislators. As Crane (1982)
observed, public management in the United States is an extremely diverse
enterprise. Public managers can be appointed to administer personnel,
analyze budgets, coordinate research, monitor grant compliance, collect
taxes and manage a myriad of other public service activities. Senior-level
appointed officials may range somewhere between politicians and career-
oriented bureaucrats, depending on the background of each individual, the
method of appointment and the nature of the work they perform.
In terms of demographic variables, Goodsells study (1982) of
state and local civil servants provided some insights into the makeup of
public managers. Goodsell pointed out that minorities have
disproportionately low levels of responsibilities relative to total numbers
employed in state and local government. In other words, senior-level
positions are less frequently held by minorities than by non-minorities. As
is the case with state legislators, senior-level public officials have higher
levels of education than the population as a whole (Meier, 1975).
There is a sense of career and occupational orientation asso-
ciated with public managers, as compared to state legislators. Directors
of state agencies are managers, although they may be professionals from
numerous occupational fields other than public management. Examples
include lawyers managing state regulatory agencies, doctors managing
public health services and geologists and biologists administering natural
resource agencies. When considering the professionalization of public
administration and public management, Schott (1976) concluded that
public servants as a group may be more technically professionalized than
in the past, but not because of public administration as a discipline.
According to Garson and Overman (1983), professionalization has
stemmed from training in a wide variety of other fields, many from the
scientific disciplines. Consequently, within public management and within
a particular state agency there are collections of public managers with
different professional backgrounds.
Because senior-level public managers are appointed to their posi-
tions, political considerations may supersede professional competencies or
direct experience in a particular agency function. For example, a
governors campaign chairman, with a background in real estate, might
well be appointed director of a department of personnel.
As was the case in reviewing the charactistics of state legis-
lators, it is important to consider aspects of the work of public
management in relation to the individual.
Management theorists agree that senior-level managers face
difficult issues which require a diverse and flexible set of skills.
Mintzberg (1975) stated that "study after study has shown that managers
work at an unrelenting pace, that their activities are characterized by
brevity, variety and discontinuity" (p. 50). Allison (1979) felt that public
managers face more contentious policy decisions than private managers,
with the added components of public accountability, political pressure,
and vague indicators of performance.
In either public or private settings, senior-level managers must
learn to adapt to internal and external organizational pressures and to
listen and respond to numerous sources of information. As Buechner and
Koprowski (1976) observed, "the government bureaucratic executive .. .
adapts himself to the practice of handling situations cooperatively and in
an interdependent fashion.... [A skill] developed even before the
executive enters government service" (p. 39).
Typology of Learning Styles
A relatively new view of learning has been characterized by
McKeachie and others:
Human beings are learning organisms seeking, organizing,
coding, storing, and retrieving information all their lives;
building on cognitive structures to continue learning
throughout life (certainly not losing capacity to learn);
continually seeking meaning (McKeachie, 1980, p. 88).
Knowles (1973) observed that most of what is known about
learning has been derived from studies of children and animals. It has
only been in the recent past (1960s and 1970s) that comprehensive studies
of adult learning have been published (Cross, 1981; Weathersby, 1976). In
the 1950s, primary school teachers began to recognize that each student
had a distinct learning style. In the 1980s, research has demonstrated
that most adults have developed a predominant, subconsciously preferred
style or pattern of learning, although specific factors in its formation are
not clear. Price (1983) defined learning style as follows:
When people learn, they perceive and think. They also interact
with resources, methods, and environments. The tendencies
and preferences that accrue from this personal experience
bring about ones learning styleones characteristic ways of
processing information, feeling, and behaving in learning
situations (1983, p. 49).
David Kolb's conception (1971) of learning style is based on a
four-stage cycle of experiential learning and problem-solving. In this
cycle, there are four distinct modes of learning: (1) Concrete Experience,
(2) Reflective Observation, (3) Abstract Conceptualization, and (4) Active
Experimentation. Immediate concrete experience stimulates reflection
and observation and one's observations are subsequently assimilated into
theories or generalizations. Generalizations are used as guides in acting
to create new experience. To be effective as a learner or problem-solver,
a person needs all four abilities. vAs Kolb defined it, a person's learning
style involves a predominant emphasis on one or several of these four
modes. Figure 1 depicts Kolb's experiential learning cycle with additional
concepts that help to identify the four learning styles.
Kolb's extensive research in experiential learning through the use
of a Learning Style Inventory (LSI) has produced a four-quadrant typology
of learning styles. This typology sets forth four typesaccommodators,
assimilators, divergers and convergersand describes major character-
istics of each pure type (Kolb, 1984; Kolb and Fry, 1974).
Experiential Learning Cycle
The Convergers dominant learning abilities are Abstract
Conceptualization (AC) and Active Experimentation (AE). An
individuals greatest strength lies in the practical application of
ideas. Kolb labeled this learning style the Converger because such
persons seem to do best in those situations which are similar to con-
ventional intelligence tests where there is a single correct answer or
solution to a question or problem. Ones knowledge is organized in
such a way that, by hypothetical-deductive reasoning, one can focus
on specific problems. Such individuals tend to have narrow
interests, and choose to specialize in the physical sciences. Kolb's
research indicates that this learning style is characteristic of many
The Diverger has the opposite learning strengths of the Converger.
Divergers are best at Concrete Experience (CE) and rely on imagin-
ative ability. Divergers excel in the ability to view concrete
situations from many perspectives and in organizing many relation-
ships into a meaningful gestalt. Kolb labeled this style "Diverger"
because a person of this type performs better in situations that call
for generation of ideas such as in "brainstorming idea sessions.
Divergers are interested in people and tend to be imaginative and
emotional. They have broad cultural interests and tend to specialize
in the arts. This style is characteristic of persons with humanities
and liberal arts backgrounds. Counselors, organizational develop-
ment consultants and personnel managers often employ this learning
The Assimilator's dominant learning abilities are Abstract
Conceptualization (AC) and Reflective Observation (RO) where
their greatest strength lies in the ability to create theoretical
modes. Assimilators excel in inductive reasoning; in assimilating
disparate observations into an integrated explanation. They are less
interested in people and more concerned with abstract concepts, but
are less concerned with the practical use of theories. Such persons
believe it is important that a theory be logically sound and precise.
As a result, this learning style is more characteristic of the basic
sciences and mathematics rather than the applied sciences. In
organizations, this learning style is found most often in research and
The Accommodator has the opposite strengths of the Assimilator,
and is best at Concrete Experience (CE) and Active Experimentation
(AE). Their greatest strength lies in doing things; in carrying out
plans and experiments and being involved in new experiences. They
tend to be more of a risk-taker than those people with the other
three learning styles. Kolb labeled this style "Accommodator"'
because such persons tends to excel in those situations where one
must adapt to specific immediate circumstances. In situations
where the theory or plans do not fit the facts, accommodators will
most likely discard the plan or theory. (The opposite type~the
Assimilatoris more likely to disregard or reexamine the facts.)
Accommodators tend to solve problems on an intuitive trial and
error basis, relying heavily on other people for information
rather than on their own analytic ability (Stabell, 1973). The
Accommodator is at ease with people but is sometimes seen as
impatient and 'pushy. Their educational background is often in
technical or practical fields such as business. In organizations,
people with this learning style are found in "action-oriented jobs,
often in marketing or sales (Kolb, 1984, pp. 67-69).
This typology is similar to Jung's personality types (1923) which
served as the basis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (M3TI), a widely-
used psychological self-report instrument (Myers, 1962). Kolb correlated
scores on the MBTI and the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) to test the
validity of both instruments relative to Jungs personality types. Kolb
cautioned users of the LSI and other self-descriptive psychological tests
that they are nothing more than they appear to beself descriptors:
When it is used in the simple, straightforward and open way
intended, the LSI usually provokes an interesting self-
examination and discussion that recognizes the uniqueness,
complexity and variability in individual approaches to
learning. The danger lies in the verification of learning styles
into fixed traits, such that learning style types become
stereotypes used to pigeon-hole individuals and their behavior
(1981, p. 290).
A review of scholarly literature provides substantial support for
the construct validity of the LSI as well as other operational measures of
experiential learning theory (Kolb, 1981; Carlson, 1980; Clark, Oshiro,
Wong and Yeung, 1977; Gish, 1979).
Hypotheses About Policymakers
Based on a review of political science, public administration and
adult learning literature, there appears to be a significant series of
relationships between public policymaking and learning styles. Given the
limited amount of research in this area, the following two hypotheses are
exploratory and serve to stimulate additional discussion and scholarly
inquiry into the topic.
1. State legislators and senior-level public managers have similar
2. State legislators and senior-level public managers are accommodative
and active learners.
The over-riding political nature of state policymaking suggests
both legislators and public managers have a characteristic learning and
problem-solving approach. Elected and appointed leaders often possess
similar backgrounds in terms of vocations and experiences that have led
them to a political orientation to solving problems (Keefe and Ogul,
1968). The processes of organizational and professional socialization
include recruiting people from similar backgrounds and subjecting them to
similar stimuli resulting in shared preferences, beliefs, values and norms
(London, 1985; Mont joy and O'Toole, 1979). These different value systems
may be overlapping in the case of legislators and senior-level public
managers, where both groups share a commitment to public service.
It is clear that elected and appointed officials are continuously
involved in political problem-solving, making high risk decisions through
negotiation, analysis and compromise (Leach, 1975). Policymaking
requires the ability to understand complex and technical information, a
high level of verbal and interpersonal skills and the ability to market and
compromise ideas and interests (Keefe and Ogul, 1968).
There is also an overlap between politics and administration in
government. The development of policy analysis as a public management
profession includes the political feasibility of policies and programs along
with administrative and technical considerations (Meltsner, 1972). Moore
(1983) observed that program managers have always been involved in
setting goals and shaping political consensus, even though it was con-
sidered a function reserved for elected officials. Jones (1982) observed
that a modern understanding of a public manager's role more realistically
includes a deep involvement in policymaking. Overlap from the
legislative to the administrative (political to the managerial) functions of
state government is a result of increasing involvement in oversight. Gove
(1981) observed that "one of the most dramatic changes in state legisla-
tures over the past 20 years has been their growing concern with legis-
lative oversight" (p. 99). Dye (1979), Bernick and Wiggins (1981) and
Rosenthal (1980) recognized the increased power and impact legislators
have in the management and implementation of state policies and pro-
grams by increasing their participation in overseeing the operation of
The nature of the balance of power between the executive and
legislative branches of state government has historically been studied and
debated. The purpose of this review is to underscore the character of
state policymaking, in which both elected and appointed officials are
involved in complex choices that contain both political and administrative
considerations. Because there is a grey area and overlap between these
functions, there is also an interplay and interdependency between the
two. There is also direct and ongoing communication between policy
formulators and policy implementors as state programs develop over
time. Moore (1983) described how appointed public managers are
influenced by and influence their legislative overseers as they both
function in the areas of politics and administration.
Studies of both groups suggest legislators and public managers
have learned to solve political problems through a similar set of educa-
tional, professional and public service experiences (Levitt and Feldbaum,
1980). Their comparable experiential base suggests legislators and senior-
level appointed public officials have similar learning styles. Rosenbloom's
work in 1983 on political values suggested that legislators and senior-level
public managers have significantly different problem-solving approaches.
He concluded that the executive, legislative and judicial branches of
government have "relatively separate origins, emphasize different values,
promote different organizational structures and view individuals in
different terms" (1979, p. 219). Research has not been conducted on
whether these different governmental functions represent different
experiential learning patterns, with opposing or contrasting problem-
solving approaches. State policymakers learn how to adapt to their
surroundings and integrate information to solve political problems. State
policymaking as an occupation appears to reinforce an active,
accommodative learning style where ideas and policies are bargained for
and experimented with.
Analysts of the political and interpersonal dynamics of policy-
making employ the same language Kolb used for accommodative learners
when they depict the cognitive processes involved in negotiating between
various factions and interests in the allocation of public resources. Kolb
describes accommodative learning as: emphasizing concrete experience
and active experimentation .. the adaptive emphasis of this orientation
is on opportunity seeking, risk-taking and action ... relying heavily on
other people for information (1984, p. 78). This learning style seems
descriptive of the skills required by legislators and public managers
working as public servants.
Compare accommodative learning with Sharkanskys (1982) view
of policy-making through mutual adjustment:
A set of procedures for accommodating demands has been
labeled mutual adjustment." The techniques of adjustment
include discussions with representatives of various interests
[and] a willingness to bargain with protagonist. ...
Intellectual search and discovery is less to the point of mutual
adjustment than is the accommodation of demands (p. 234).
Weathersby (1976) asserted that administrators or governmental
program officers are accommodative learners because of the political
nature of their daily responsibilities. Her observation serves as an
example of how learning styles can influence the success of individuals
returning to the "assimilative character" of most university programs for
mid-career masters degrees in public administration (p. 124).
Studies by political scientists often focus on the voting patterns
of legislators as indicators of individual and group decision-making.
Palaich (1983) cited numerous studies of voting on state education issues
to illustrate how legislators rely heavily on their colleagues for
information and cues on how to vote. The learning-information sharing-
voting process in state legislatures is achieved primarily through verbal
communication, which reinforces policymakers reliance on an active,
accommodative learning style.
Mintzberg (1975) and Allison (1979) described manager prefe-
rences for verbal, interpersonal information which also reinforces the
hypothesis that policymakers learn through accommodation.
The alliances of "like-minded" government administrators who
possess similar types of professional training described by Sharkansky
(1982) may be the result of similar learning styles and associated
preferences for different forms of information. Mintzberg's discussion of
the use of information by senior managers is not unlike early descriptions
of legislators as information brokers:
Managers strongly favor the verbal media ... [they] seem to
cherish "soft" information, especially gossip, hearsay, and
speculations ... every bit of evidence suggests that the
manager identifies decision situations and builds models not
with aggregate abstractions .. but with specific tidbits of
data .. the processing of information is a key part of the
manager's job (1975, p. 277).
Sharkansky's statements about the impact of personal interests
and professional backgrounds in policymaking underscore the significance
of learning styles in terms of approaching problems:
When it comes to the selection of goals and the development of
policies, however, the organization must face the individuality
of its members ... professional training provides norms as well
as skills. These norms affect the professional's view of
problems as well as the goals adopted to confront them (1982,
Legislators' and senior managers' relatively common experience
in brokerage occupations may explain legislators' frequent requests for
staff, which again supports and reinforces an accommodative learning
style. Accommodative learners are characterized by their preference for
information from interpersonal sources (Kolb, 1984).
Information is an abstraction legislators cannot really grasp.
But professional staff and expert consultants have a fleshy
quality that legislators can relate to (Huwa and Rosenthal,
1976, p. 55).
Perhaps the strongest impact on learning and problem-solving in
state government is the climate of government service itself. If, for
example, an appointed publie manager believed it was important to
maintain "politically neutral competence," the manager may avoid the
reflective, imaginative mode of learning that Kolb described as a
divergent learning style:
The greatest strength of this orientation lies in imaginative
ability and awareness of meaning and values. This style is
called diverger because a person of this type performs better
in situations that call for generation of alternative ideas and
implications (Kolb, 1984, p. 78).
Depending on the institutional and political environment, an
administrator may or may not be expected to "generate alternative ideas
and implications" and over time will minimize learning through divergent
thinking and problem-solving. The extent to which a particular learning
style exists among state policymakers indicates where and why ideas are
being produced and evaluated. The hypothesis that state policymakers are
primarily accommodative learners suggests there is a greater orientation
toward experimentation, e.g., emphasizing what works, than on generating
new solutions, such as attempting to think of something different.
Descriptions of government bureaucrats as predominantly
narrow-minded, rigid and inefficient individuals is contrary to the
hypothesis that they have developed highly active, accommodative
problem-solving skills. Merton as well as Bensman and Rosenberg (1960),
Hummel (1977) and Peters (1981) concluded that the climate of public
bureaucracies leads the official to be cautious, conservative, impersonal
As we begin to climb the administrative ladder, a dominant
personality type does emerge (or maybe its that a certain
element in civil servants personalities comes to dominate as
they climb the ladder) and an excess of caution is certainly one
of its characteristics (Peters, 1981, p. 14).
This description places public managers in a passive rather than
an active learning mode, where ideas are considered and there is little
active experimentation. Public managers as bureaucrats is a very
different view of senior administrators than those cited earlier, in which
they learn an intense atmosphere of negotiation and accommodated
implementation. Goodsell's positive description (1982) of bureaucrats as
creative and active participants in political decision-making is consistent
with the hypothesis that public managers are active, accommodative
Perhaps the most significant evidence for the hypothesis that
policymakers are accommodative learners is the influence of policy-
making experience on learning styles. When learning is defined
experientially as a process of the individuals adaption to the environment,
the demands of a job tend to shape a person's adaptive orientation.
According to Kolb (1984), executive jobs, such as general management,
that require a strong orientation to task accomplishment and decision-
making in uncertain circumstances require an accommodative learning
Huwa and Rosenthal (1977) theorized that more experienced and
seasoned legislators are more likely to rely on interpersonal information
from a wide variety of sources including appointed public managers. The
increasing demand on state policymakers for making quick decisions on a
wide variety of subjects is a strong environmental influence that would
require an active learning style. Adaption to and reliance on concise,
verbal information, however, requires experience in a demanding, fast-
moving environment. Huwa and Rosenthal (1977) stated: Younger
legislators, having matured in an age of research, are more receptive to
technical information" (p. 7). Blair (1952) observed: "It is only actual
experience in a legislative body that enables a legislator to acquaint
himself with the intricacies of governmental machinery .. and to enable
him to develop the facility for compromise and bargaining" (p. 353).
These observations suggest that more experienced legislators and public
managers reflect a learning style that is characteristic of what is needed
for public policymaking.
NOTES CHAPTER II
1. Thomas H. Simmons, Colorado" in The Political Life of the
American States Rosenthal and Moakley, eds. New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1984. Hispanic legislators comprised seven percent of
total membership of the fifty-third General Assembly (1983).
Colorado had one of the highest proportions of women legislators in
the nation in 1983, where they constituted 25 percent of the total
2. Louis Weschler, "Implementation Issues in State and Local
Government," presentation given at the Rocky Mountain Program,
Copper Mountain, Colorado, August 1985. Weschler cited reports
from the International City Management Association that illustrated
trends in state and local government leadership.
In order to test the hypotheses generated from the review of
pertinent literature, an empirical study of Colorado state government
policymakers was conducted. This descriptive and exploratory study
included a survey of policymakers that incorporated a quantitative measu
of learning styles along with open-ended questions and personal interviews!
with policymakers and others knowledgeable about the problem-solving
approaches and learning styles of state political leaders. Jick (1979)
described this form of research strategy as convergent methodology or
triangulation, in which quantitative and qualitative methods are viewed as
In accordance with the purpose statement for the dissertation, 11
foHowing specific procedures were attempted:
1. Identify and define the learning style of a representative sample of
elected and appointed state policymakers
2. Determine whether there is a characteristic or predominant learning
style among the sample of state political leaders
3. Determine whether there is a significant difference in the learning
styles of elected versus appointed public officials
4. Examine the implications of policymaker learning styles on the
formation and implementation of state policies
The first three procedures were conducted concurrently through
the survey. The fourth objective was to synthesize the findings from the
research into some meaningful conclusions and recommendations. This
involved a re-examination of the literature on learning and problem-solving
after a preferred learning style was discovered among the sample
The findings from the empirical study include both statistical
analyses of the scores on the Learning Style Inventory and anecdotal data
from the surveys and interviews. In some cases, comments from state
policymakers are included to augment the quantitative findings. This
method was used to increase the accuracy of judgment about a concept as
broad as learning styles. As Mintzberg (1983) pointed out!
For while systematic data create the foundation for our
theories, it is the anecdotal data that enable us to do the
theory building. Theory building seems to require rich
description, the richness that comes from anecdote. We
uncover all kinds of relationships in our hard" data, but it is
only through the use of this "soft" data that we are able to
"explain" them, and explanation is, of course, the purpose of
research (1983, p. 113).
Population and Sample
The population for this study consisted of state legislators and
senior-level appointed public managers from Colorado state government.
Colorado has been described as embodying many of the social and
political characteristics found in several western states (Rosenthal, 1984;
Peirce, 1983; Naisbett, 1983; Stoiber, 1967). Colorado has a notably
diverse economy and contains both urban centers and large rural areas. In
1985, Colorado had an increasingly heterogeneous population of 2.8 million
residents. Many of the modern public policy issues and problems stem from
the trade-offs between rapid growth on the one hand and preservation of
the environment and quality of life on the other. Peirce (1983) compared
Colorado with other resource rich, environmentally fragile states such as
Arizona, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
Colorado is also similar to other midwestern and eastern states in
that population migration from other parts of the nation has resulted in a
majority of residents who are not native-born Coloradans. A large
proportion of political leaders are also non-native residents (Simmons,
1980). As in other states, political office holders in Colorado are highly
educated and come from the middle-class segments of the population
(Rosenthal, 1984). The Citizen s Conference on State Legislatures (CCSL)
ranks Colorado as twenty-eighth in terms of legislative capability and staff
resources. Rosenthal (1984) described Colorado's legislative committees as
"medium performing" relative to other states in meeting deadlines during
the session or being productive during the interim.
The actual representativeness of state government and political
leadership is difficult to determine. However, there is little reason to
suspect that a study of Colorado policymakers would not be relevant and to
some extent comparable to other state legislators, particularly in the
west. Colorado is geographically representative of both midwestern farm
states and arid Rocky Mountain states, and its diverse economy and popu-
lation reflect many of the issues in states across the country.
Because of the relatively small number of senior-level
policymakers in Colorado, the entire population of state legislators and
appointed public managers was included in the survey.
The population for this study is described in Table 1:
State Policymakers Population
Cabinet heads 15
Division heads 60
The list of appointed officials was constructed with the assistance
of staff members from the Colorado Department of Personnel. The cri-
teria for. this list was based on senior-level managerial responsibilities
within state government, and formal political appointment to the position.
In Colorado, department heads are appointed directly by the governor and
division heads are appointed by state civil service selection procedures and
The survey instrument used for this study was constructed in
consultation with the dissertation committee. This brief, one-page
A Learning Style Inventory, which contains instructions for self-
administration and a series of words and concepts which are rank-
Demographic questions to determine possible variables influencing
An open-ended question on improving information provided to state
A series of pre-tests with elected and appointed officials was
conducted.^ The survey was administered through direct mail to all 190
state policymakers. Self-addressed stamped envelopes were provided for
returning the survey. They were numerically pre-coded to determine
possible response patterns. Based on recommendations from the
dissertation committee, a cover letter explaining and endorsing the study
was included in the mailing. Colorado State Senator A1 Meiklejohn (R-
Jefferson County) provided a cover letter for the legislators and Dr. Dennis
Donald, Director of the Center for the Improvement of Public
Management, University of Colorado, provided the cover letter to the
In order to assure a high response rate, non-respondents received a
second mailing of the survey approximately ten days after the first
mailing. The remaining non-respondents were then contacted by telephone
and encouraged to complete the survey. The response rate is described in
Learning styles and problem-solving approaches were identified
through an instrument known as the Learning Style Inventory (LSI)
developed by David Kolb (1971).
There are several instruments that measure learning styles,
cognitive styles, and other closely related concepts. For example, Hill's
Cognitive Style Interest Inventory (Hill, 1973) is a one-hour self-report
instrument in which visual, tactile and auditory perceptions; motor
coordination; and social interaction are ranked as preferred models of
learning. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers, 1963) is similar to the
LSI in measuring adaptive patterns using Jungs research on psychological
types. Dunn, Dunn, and Price (1981), Ramirez and Castaneda (1974),
Schmeck (1977) and others have developed a variety of instruments,
interview techniques and observations for diagnosing adult or
elementary/secondary student learning styles. Kolb's LSI is noted for its
construct validity, applicability and ease of completion (Price, 1983). The
LSI measures characteristics of learning and problem-solving that are "a
single process of experiential learning that generates concepts, rules and
principles from experience for new situations" (Kolb, 1971, p. 22). The LSI
can be used to identify the kinds of learning skills needed for success in a
task or occupation and for determining the form in which information is
predominantly sought (Weathersby, 1976).
Selected Characteristics of Survey Respondents
Characteristic ELECTED OFFICIALS Population Percent Respondents Percent
Mean Age 49 47
Mean Years in Office 6 4.7 9m~
Democrats 29 29 13 34
Republicans 71 71 26 66
Rural 21 21 10 25
Urban 79 79 29 75
Senate 35 35 12 31
House 65 65 27 69
Male 76 76 31 79
Female 24 24 8 21
Mean Age 45
Mean Years in Office 9
Agencies Represented 23 20 87
Directors 23 9 39
Directors 67 41 61
Rural signifies a legislator representing three or more counties.
These considerations suggest the LSI is well suited for a study of
state political leaders.
The LSI identifies the learner's relative emphases on four learning
modes: (1) Concrete Experience (CE), (2) Reflective Observation (RO), (3)
Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and (4) Active Experimentation (AE). The
inventory yields four scores, CE, RO, AC and AE. These scores are
compared with composite scores of a normative population developed by
Kolb (1976) as a reference for individual scores.^ The circular target in
Appendix B contains the four learning and problem-solving quadrants
described in Chapter II. A graphic representation of learning styles is
obtained by plotting the four scores on the circle and connecting them with
straight lines. By comparing the shape of a profile of an individual or mean
scores of a group, the four basic learning modes most emphasized can be
The LSI can be completed in 10-15 minutes, which should
facilitate a high response rate. The LSI has been validated and used
extensively by over 55 researchers for theses, dissertations and studies of
professional education programs. Permission was obtained from Dr. Kolb
for the use of the LSI in this study.
' NOTES CHAPTER III
! 1. The T-test of statistical significance was used for comparing the mean
j scores of two samples. A two-tailed test was used because the
direction of the relationship between LSI scores was unknown. Susan
| Welch and John C. Comer, Quantitative Methods for Public
j Administration, Homewood, 111.: The Dorsey Press, 1983.
i 2. According to the authors of these reports, most measures of legislative
performance are imprecise and subject to interpretation.
: 3. The survey instrument is included in Appendix A. State policymakers
! were asked their occupation, education, years in office, age and sex.
| Responses to the demographic questions were cross-checked with data
from the 1985 Directory of the Fifty-Fifth General Assembly and the
j Colorado Department of Personnel.
4. The survey instrument, including the Learning Style Inventory, was
| pre-tested in May and June, 1985, with Richard Jonson, Deputy Direc-
tor and Legislative Liaison, Western Interstate Commission on Higher
! Education; Patricia Klaas, Montana Citizens Action Group, Helena,
Montana; Jerry Davies, Colorado Department of Personnel; and Chris
Gates, Colorado Democratic Party Treasurer. All of the pre-tests
were self-administered and completed in less than 10 minutes.
| 5. Both cover letters are included in Appendix A. Senator Meiklejohn was
! given the dissertation proposal and a briefing on the administration and
scoring of the Learning Style Inventory. Dr. Donald served on the
| dissertation committee and was familiar with the research.
f 6. A copy of the Learning Style Inventory is included as Question No. 2 in
j the Policymakers Survey in Appendix A.
| 7. David A. Kolb, The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual,
Boston: McBer and Company, 1976. Norms for scores on the LSI were
| developed from a sample of 1,933 men and women ranging in age from
18 to 60 and representing a wide variety of occupations. LSI scores
1 are interval level measures. The highest score for Concrete Exper-
I ience (CE) and Reflective Observation (RO) are 22 and the highest
| scores for Abstract Conceptualization (AC) and Active Experimenta-
! tion (AE) are 24. Numerical values, one to four, are distributed
i between nine sets of four words.
Before presenting the findings from the empirical study, the
characteristics of the sample of state policymakers will be reviewed. This
brief overview is included both to build a case for making generalizations
from the findings and to provide the limitations of the study.
As in other states, political officeholders in Colorado are highly-
educated professionals from the middle-class segments of the population.
Hjelm and Piscotte (1968) described the typical Colorado legislator of the
1960's as white, protestant, male, 35 to 55 years old, college educated, and
a lawyer or businessman. Rosenthal (1984) suggested this profile was
essentially the same in 1984 and the respondents to their policymakers
survey reflected such a profile. The average age of Colorado legislators in
the 1985 General Assembly was 49, arid the average age of the survey
respondents was 47. Keefe and Ogul's analysis (1968) of state legislators
across the country found that the majority were either lawyers or
businessmen. The make-up of the Colorado legislature and the subset of
survey respondents reflect this professional background. Forty percent of
the survey respondents were either lawyers or businessmen. Over 50 per-
cent of Colorados legislators are either lawyers or businessmen. Legis-
lators responding to the survey were also representative of the overall mix
of urban and rural office holders. Twenty-one of Colorado s one hundred
legislators are from rural areas of the state, while 25 percent of the survey
respondents came from rural areas. Rural legislators were defined as those
representing three or more counties which are apportioned by the General
Assembly based on total county population.* This geographic represen-
tation is similar to the mix in many states with large agricultural
economies (Levitt and Feldbaum, 1980; Keefe and Ogul, 1988).
Colorados high percentage of women in the state legislature (24
percent) was also evident in the sample of survey respondents in which 21
percent were women. The sample of appointed officials responding to the
survey included a higher percentage (61 percent) of division directors than
department directors (39 percent). However, both division and department
directors are considered senior-level positions and both are appointed to
administrative roles. Limited data on the characteristics of appointed
public managers prevents a thorough analysis of appointed officials in
Colorado in comparison with other states, or between the general
population of appointed officials in Colorado with the survey respondents.
The professional occupations listed in the survey by the appointed officials
were similar to the makeup of the elected officials, with a majority being
either lawyers or individuals with under graduate degrees in business
administration. The principal difference in the two groups was the subset
of state representatives listing agriculture as their occupation versus the
subset of appointed officials with backgrounds in public administration.
Colorado appears to be representative of many states in terms of
the characteristics of its elected legislators. The sample of Colorado
legislators responding to the survey was representative of the general
population of legislators. Limited information on the characteristics of
appointed officials in Colorado and in other states precludes any general-
izations about the sample of appointed respondents. However, there is
little reason to believe senior-level appointed officials in Colorado would
be significantly different from appointed officials in other states.
Policymakers* Learning Styles
This section presents two major findings about state policymakers
learning styles followed by additional findings on the influence of selected
Colorado's Elected and Appointed State Policymakers
! Have Similar Learning Styles
I Table 3 lists the mean scores of elected and appointed officials on
the four categories of learning styles:
Scores on the Learning Styles Inventory
Concrete Exper- ience Reflective Observa- tion Abstract Conceptual- ization Active Experimen- tation
Elected Officials (Mean) 13.4 12.1 17.9 15.8
Standard Deviation (S) 3.23 3.08 4.53 2.10
(Mean) 13.3 12.0 18.1 16.3
Standard Deviation (S) 2.87 3.59 3.74 2.39
T-Score .15 .13 .22 1.03
T (.05)* 1.99 1.99 1.99 1.99
Level of significance for two-tailed test.
The statistical T-test of significance shows no significant
difference in any of the four scores between the two groups of
policymakers. The biggest difference in scores between the two groups was
in Active Experimentation (AE), where the appointed officials scored
slightly higher than the elected officials.
If the mean scores of elected and appointed officials in all four
learning categories is plotted on the learning style profile (Figure 2), the
similarity of their learning styles can be described.
Policymakers Learning Style Profile
This profile reflects a relatively well-balanced learning style,
where all four learning modalities are used. As Kolbs research demon-
strated, it is important for learners to use all four modes of experiential
learning in order to be effective. Problem-solving requires the learner to
choose which set of learning abilities to bring to bear in any specific learn-
ing situation. The learning style profile displayed in Figure 2 indicates
state policymakers have developed all four learning modes. An analysis of
individual scores indicates the greatest variability was in Abstract Concep-
tualization and the least variability in Active Experimentation. The high-
est score in Abstract Conceptualization (AC=2) came from an appointed
official with a Ph.D. in physics. The lowest score in Abstract Conceptuali-
zation (AC=12) came from a state senator with a degree in journalism.
The scores from Table 3 can be compared to a normative group
developed in 1971 by Kolb. Percentiles were developed from a sample of
1,933 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 60 and representing a wide
variety of occupations. The concentric circles in Figure 2 indicate where
the normative group scores would be placed. Comparison of policymaker
scores with the normative scores is another indicator of the similarity of
learning styles of elected and appointed political leaders.
Both the elected and appointed policymakers scored in the 33-36
percentile on Concrete Experience (CE), signifying that 74-77 percent of
the normative population scored higher on Concrete Experience than in the
sample of policymakers.
Even in their most differing score, which was Active
Experimentation (AE), both elected and appointed officials were in the 50-
Elected and appointed policymakers had lower scores in
Reflective Observation (RO) than the normative group scores. Both
political groups were in the 35-40 percentile, signifying that only 35-40
percent of the normative group scored lower than the policymakers on this
particular measure of learning style.
A characteristic learning style was also indicated by the written
comments in the survey and during the selected oral interviews with
policymakers and state policy experts. Both legislators and senior-level
public managers consistently requested "concise," "outlined," "summarized"
information, preferably from face-to-face communication. This "quick and
easy" information request conforms to the finding in Rosenthal's 1982 study
of state legislators and Mintzbergs 1975 study of senior-level managers.
This expeditious form of information flow in the political arena may help
establish a characteristic learning style among state policymakers and it
may also be brought to the political arena by individuals experienced and
educated in the information brokering occupations.
This dissertation and the literature about the characteristics of
state policymakers indicate they are highly professionalized, relative to the
general population. According to Keefe and Ogul (1963) and Levitt and
Feldbaum (1980), a majority of representatives in the United States Con-
gress and the states are either lawyers or businessmen. Forty percent of
respondents to this survey also came from these two occupations. Approxi-
mately one-third of the appointed officials listed one of the "brokerage
occupations," such as law, business administration and management. Fifty-
four percent of the elected officials were either lawyers or businessmen,
and 32 percent of the appointed officials were from these two
The learning profile presented in Figure 2 represents the pre-
dominant learning/problem-solving patterns of individuals who are engaged
in political information brokering. There is a diversity of professions
represented among both elected and appointed policymakers aside from law
and business. For the legislators, these occupations were listed as employ-
ment outside the legislature. Approximately one-half of both groups
responding to the survey listed education, health and engineering as their
professional occupations. The principal difference in occupations between
the two groups was the subset of legislators who listed agriculture as their
vocation and the subset of appointed officials with backgrounds and edu-
cation in public administration. This difference may account for the slight
difference in aggregate scores in Active Experimentation, where the
appointed officials^ higher score may be based on greater involvement by
senior-level administrators in actively experimenting with state programs
and services. Kolbs 1984 characterization of the active experimentation
learning style is descriptive of the functions of senior managers who are
appointed to get things done and actively influence people.
State Policymakers are Predominantly
Convergent and Accommodative Learners
Figure 2 illustrated the learning style profile of the sample of
state policymakers by a graphic display of the aggregate scores in four
basic learning modes. The higher scores in Active Experimentation (AE)
and Abstract Conceptualization (AC) were reflected in the profile
extending toward the two left quadrants. Using Kolbs typology of the four
quadrants, the policymakers appear to rely on convergent and
accommodative learning over the other two quadrants, and convergence is
slightly more pronounced than accommodation. Convergent learning styles
result from high scores in Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experi-
mentation, while an accommodative learning style is expressed through
high scores in Active Experimentation and Concrete Experience. The
highest score of any four learning modalities is in Active Experimen-
tation. Kolb described this orientation as:
Active Experimentation focuses on actively influencing people
and changing situations. People with this orientation are
willing to take some risk in order to achieve their objectives.
They also value having an influence on the environment around
them and like to see results (1984, p. 69).
This description from experiential learning theory is very similar
to the popular view of the nature of political decision-making and public
There is not a strong preference of convergence over
accommodation and it appears both learning modes are characteristic of
state policymakers. According to Kolb (1984), the greatest strength of the
convergers approach lies in problem-solving, decision-making and the
practical application of ideas. Convergers tend to seek a single correct
answer or solution. Aecommodators are known for opportunity seeking,
risk-taking and action, and rely heavily on other people for information
rather than on their own analytic ability.
A review of the written comments from the policymakers survey
reinforces Kolbs characterization of accommodative learners, which
supports the original hypothesis derived from the review of the literature.
The following statements are responses to the open-ended question,
"Comments and suggestions for improvements in ways of providing
information to policymakers":
Person-to-person information is by far the best. As a
legislator, I appreciate persons who take the time to talk to me
on a personal basis.
A personal discussion is worth ten books.
Personal contact is far stronger than indirect contact over the
telephone. Least effective is written material.
Face-to-face. Keep information short: outline.
More round table discussions in preparation for legislative
One to one is also effective, assign an interested person to one
legislator perhaps .. provide that person with certain
information to pass on. Must be a good match of personalities.
These recommendations conform to what Rosenthal and Huwa
(1984) and the Citizens Conference on State Legislators (CCSL, 1973) found
as state legislators highest priority for improving public policy:
information through professional staff. The accommodative learning style
among policymakers may explain a preference for personal staff as opposed
to more indirect information, such as computerized data bases about legis-
lation that could be more detailed and comprehensive. An accommodative
learning style, where information is more acceptable through people than
from other abstract sources, may also explain the success of lobbyists and
special interest groups who also may rely on a particular style of learning
Personal interviews with lobbyists and members of organizations
that assist state policymakers helped explain policymakers' accommodative
and convergent learning styles. Kolbs description of convergent learners as
"seeking the one, best answer" is, as one lobbyist explained, the reality of
what state policymaking requires:
Legislators have two buttons on their desk in the chamber, and
eventually they simply vote yes or no, right or wrong. Unfor-
tunately, they have learned to make black/white decisions, and
that is really what is expected of them. They are making
decisions, but not solving problems. They are not looking at
the problem long enough, but get ahead of themselves by talk-
ing about their one solution. They have to operate this way
sometimes, given the 600 pieces of legislation on 500 different
topics. The problem with this is that we need decisions and
policies that solve problems, that take into account opposing
views and groups, or else a policy cannot actually work.
This perception of policymaking helps to explain why legislators
may become convergent learners through an experiential pattern of quick
decision-making by choosing a clearly right or wrong answer. According to
Kolb (1984), Myers's 1963 description of the extroverted thinking type is
consistent with a convergent learning orientation and relevant to a
typology of state policymakers:
He lives his life according to a definite set of rules that
embody his basic judgments about the world. Any change in his
ways requires a conscious change in the rules. He likes to
decide what ought to be done and to give the requisite orders.
He abhors confusion, inefficiency, halfway measures, and
anything aimless and ineffective (Myers, 1962, p. Al).
This characterization conforms to the role of a senior-level public
manager who must give orders and live by a definite set of rules. State
legislators also fit this description in terms of their dislike of confusion and
inefficiency. In 1980, Rosenthal stated that legislators
... enjoy findings that are unambiguous and indisputable
(legislators) more often than not don't care to know facts but
want to know only those facts that agree with whatever
preordained course of action they believe necessary.. ..
Discovering problems also is to be avoided, particularly if no
clear solutions are likely to be available (pp. 140-141).
Written comments from the legislators themselves verify this
decision-making, information sharing style.
The first decision of whether or not to read or keep the
information is: Is it relevant to my job, to decisions I must
make? If it is, the information must be concise and factual.
Perhaps a recommendation.
Keep the information consistent, accurate and ensure that it is
received by those for whom it is intended.
Believe in your cause. Have a good understanding of the
problem. Determine the timing and be realistic.
Keep it simple and to the point.
Cut the long sentences written in "bureaucratize." Journalistic
and advertising style is best for starters. Then make additional
information available if legislator wishes in-depth knowledge.
It is understandable why a policymaker would want information
that supports his or her position about a specific issue, and it suggests the
convergent style of learning and problem-solving is appropriate for the
The accommodative style of learning and problem-solving is more
accepting of relatively good answers as opposed to the convergers need for
the one, best answer. The accommodator is oriented more toward learning
through concrete experience than abstract conceptualization.^ The
lobbyists statements about the weakness of making policies by holding to a
single solution as opposed to collaborating with different groups involved in
the decision suggests these differing approaches have a large impact on the
quality of state policies over time.
Influence of Occupational Backgrounds
The extent to which individual policymakers are predominantly
accommodative or convergent learners is related to occupational back-
ground and professional training. An analysis of two subsets of the sample
of state policymakers illustrates this relationship. These two groups
coincide with Kolbs research (1984) on the learning styles of the "social
professions" and the "technical professions." The subjects in this
dissertation who described themselves as researchers were grouped with
the technical professions based on information from the Colorado
Department of Personnel which showed that the senior-level appointed
officials who described their occupation as "researcher" held Ph.D. or
masters degrees in some area of academic or technical research.
LSI Scores of Professional Groups
Concrete Experience Reflective Observation Abstract Concep- tualization Active Experimen- tation
Law 13.2 11.9 18.3 16.2
Business 13.9 13.4 17.1 15.8
Engineering 11.3 9.8 19.7 16.4
Research 11.6 10.7 20.6 15.7
Policymakers from the social professions scored higher on
Concrete Experience (CE), while those from the technical professions
scored higher on Abstract Conceptualization (AC). Both subsets scored
relatively high in Active Experimentation (AE), and the orientation toward
either Abstract Conceptualization or Concrete Experience pulls the learn-
ing style profile toward accommodative or convergent learning. These
findings reinforce Hudsons (1976) work on learning styles and their rela-
tionship to undergraduate majors. Hudson predicted a relationship between
the physical sciences and an abstract and active learning style. The scores
in Table 4 follow this trend, particularly the difference in AC and CE
scores between the two subsets of policymakers.
There is considerable research about the influence of professional
education and the differences in problem-solving approaches associated
with each field or discipline (Stokes; 1984; Houle, 1982; Cross, 1981). Kolb
(1984) offers some important cautions when he described the influence of
professional education on learning styles:
Whether people are shaped by the fields they enter or because
of the selection processes that put people into and out of
disciplines is an open question .... Most probably, [two]
factors are operatingpeople choose fields that are consistent
with their learning styles and are further shaped to fit the
learning norms of their field once [they] are in it (1984, p. 88).
The social professions consist of the same disciplines that the
political science literature labeled as "brokerage occupations." In 1980,
Levitt and Feldbaum explained the relationship between professional skills,
political office and learning styles when they typified the "brokerage
Moreover, certain vocations are "political" in nature, that is,
the practitioners of "brokerage occupations" interact
frequently with the political system or political decision-
makers. Not only do prestige occupations demonstrate
achievement and success, they demand skills that enhance the
ability of individuals in political roles. These are verbal skills
and bargaining and compromising abilities (p. 77).
The results of the policymakers' survey suggest this set of skills is
also characteristic of a particular learning style and approach to solving
Influence of Policymaking Experience
If learning is defined in experiential terms, the influence of actual
experience in state policymaking will shape learning styles. Table 5 lists
the LSI scores of state policymakers based on years of experience in public
LSI Scores and Years in Public Office
Years in Concrete Reflective Conceptual- Experimen-
Office Experience Observation ization tation
ELECT APPT ELECT APPT ELECT APPT ELECT APPT
1- 2 12.2 12.7 11.6 11.1 17.5 18.6 16.0 16.9
3-10 13.3 13.5 12.4 13.2 17.8 17.6 16.2 15.7
11 + 15.3 13.7 11.6 13.0 17.1 18.1 14.5 16.7
These scores illustrate that both elected and appointed officials
who have more experience in office also have higher scores in Concrete
Experience and slightly lower scores in Active Experimentation. The
biggest change in LSI scores was between legislators with one to two years
in office and those with 11 or more years in office. This difference
reflects a shift from the 20th percentile to the 55th percentile relative to a
normative group score in Concrete Experience as a learning style. First
term legislators scored lower in Concrete Experience than 80 percent of
the normative group, while legislators with six or more years in office
scored about the same as the normative population. Scores of appointed
officials in Concrete Experience also reflected this difference of a greater
emphasis on Concrete Experience as a learning style with increasing
experience in political office.
The apparent increase in emphasis on Concrete Experience among
more experienced policymakers suggests a greater person-to-person
orientation in their approach toward learning. Rosenthal and Huwas (1977)
study of legislators confirms the shift away from theoretical information
and toward interpersonal, verbal exchanges among peers and staff as
preferred means of gaining information and influence in policymaking.
The scores in the other learning style measures suggests these
learning modalities are affected by the first few years in office and then
level off, where all four learning modes are relied upon over time.
The written comments from the survey and discussions with
policymakers during the oral interviews provide a rationale for the move
toward a people orientation as a learning style. Both legislators and
public managers expressed some degree of concern about their inability to
review written information and what they generally considered credible
technical data from any of a number of sources because of limited time for
making decisions. All respondents agreed that staff briefings and trusted
lobbyists were the best sources of knowledge within the political environ-
ment. Several policymakers emphasized that they simply preferred
"personal information" and "face to face" exchanges over "stuffed mail-
boxes. Responses to a question about written information consistently
focused on "concise, outlined and "summarized reports:
A more extensive report could be included, but cannot expect
policymaker to plow through the report to find the gems. Put
them up front in a summary.
Must be provided in concise, condensed form. Time is at a
premium and every report should be prefaced with a one-page
summary. No morel
The need for concise and briefly written summaries is one of the
consequences brought about by longer legislative sessions and limited staff.
An emphasis on interpersonal information is particularly signifi-
cant when one considers the high level of education and professional
specialization that policymakers bring to their elected jobs. The similarity
of the experienced policymakers scores to the scores of the entire popu-
lation of policymakers involved in this dissertation reinforces the existence
of a predominantly active learning style among state policymakers.
A review of the policymakers survey, field notes from the oral
interviews and scores on the LSI yield several additional conclusions about
the learning styles and problem-solving approaches of the public officials.
These findings, however, are more speculative than are the data supporting
the two hypotheses. Conclusions about the similarity between elected and
appointed officials' learning styles and the characteristically active '
learning orientation were based on scores from the sample of 190
policymakers. Policymakers can be further examined according to other
characteristics, e.g., sex and years in political office. The resultant
smaller sample size, however, precludes the formation of any statistically
meaningful inference between these variables and their impact on learning
style. They are briefly presented as tentative findings or hypotheses for
There was minimal difference in the learning style of female and
male policymakers. The 14 female respondents who completed the LSI
generated a learning style profile that was slightly more reflective
(RO=12.9) than the male policymakers (RO=11.9). The female state
policymakers scored lower in Abstract Conceptualization (AC= 16) than
male policymakers (AC=18.3).5
There is very limited secondary data on the differences in male
and female learning styles. Merzirow (1978) found that the increasing
number of women entering colleges and universities in the 1970s were more
reflective than men in their orientation to learning. No studies were found
on learning style differences between male and female policymakers at any
level in government. However, the increasing percentage of women
entering elected office and higher education warrants an investigation of
possible differences (Naisbett, 1983; Cross, 1981). Another observation
about female policymaker scores on the LSI is their lower scores in
Abstract Conceptualization (AC). In 1981, Reed described a dominant
cultural perspective toward higher education in which abstract
conceptualization is emphasized. According to Reed's theory, men have
historically had greater participation in abstract learning, while women
have relied more on concrete experience and reflection. The differences in
learning styles among state policymakers in this dissertation appears to
support this view.
There are other subsets of policymakers within the population and
possible cross-tabulations of variables including professional education and
Appendix E presents the learning style profile of: elected survey
respondents who described their occupation as "legislator1* (the 1985
Directory of the Fifty-Fifth General Assembly listed these same represen-
tatives as "legislator" as a primary occupation outside the General
Assembly); and appointed survey respondents who described their occu-
pation and professional background as "Public Administrator." The self-
defined "legislators" produced a learning style profile that was highly
reliant on Concrete Experience (CE) and Reflective Observation (RO).
These scores produce a divergent learning style characterized by
... imaginative ability and awareness of meaning and
values ... adaption by observation rather than action .. .
interested in people and tend to be imaginative and feeling-
oriented (Kolb, 1984, p. 77-78).
This learning style characterization is parallel to Wahlkes (1962)
description of the "tribune" role in a legislature where these represen-
tatives spend their time "calling attention to the existence of constituents"
(p. 141-2). The divergent learning style and this legislative role is similar:
both are highly interested in constituents and "feeling-oriented."
The self-described public administrators were more oriented to-
ward Active Experimentation (AE) and Abstract Conceptualization (AC).
This orientation produces a convergent learning style that focuses on the
practical application of ideas "focusing on specific problems with a single
correct answer" (Kolb, 1984, p. 79). This learning orientation was apparent
in some of the written comments from the appointed public managers who
appear to be advocating a clear solution for policy-related information-
Document perceived or actual situation. Cite alternative ways
to handle desired result with examples if available. Suggest
possible outcomes or various actions or inactionpositive or
negative affect on different publicsbusiness ... etc ...
I suppose that better goal orientation might help. But I am
convinced that all of this emphasis on getting "information"
disseminated is misplaced. We need to get over the notion that
more information will solve our problems. We need to learn
how to treat each other as rational human beingsnot as
pieces in an information puzzle.
Discussions with the appointed officials with experience and
education in public administration support a convergent learning
orientation, where the abstract-conceptual skills gained in a graduate
program or other form of professional training are actively applied to solve
a specific problem. These senior-level public managers appear to reflect
on issues less than other subsets of state policymakers and actively
experiment through the implementation to state policies and programs.
Summary of Findings
A review of the data collected through both quantitative and
qualitative methods produced the following general findings:
There is no significant difference in the learning styles of elected and
senior-level appointed officials.
State policymakers are predominantly convergent and accommodative
Professional background is correlated with policymakers learning
The social professions support an accommodative learning style while
the technical professions support a convergent learning style.
Years of experience in state policymaking are associated with an
accommodative learning style.
There were some indications of possible relations between
learning styles and other variables. Major difference between male and
female policymakers* learning styles were not found. State representatives
who describe their occupation as legislators had a divergent learning style,
while public administrators emphasized a convergent learning style.
NOTES CHAPTER IV
1. Following reapportionment in the middle 1960s, legislators from
agricultural backgrounds dropped to about ten percent of all
lawmakers. However, the lower turnover and greater seniority of rural
legislators has resulted in their holding a disproportionate number of
leadership positions. Lee Olson, "Rural Bossy in Saddle," Denver Post,
September 25, 1980, p. 22.
2. This difference (.5) was well below the T-score of significance.
3. Interview with Deanne Butterfield, Colorado Governor Richard
Lamms legislative liaison, August 26, 1985.
4. The difference between convergent learners and accommodative
learners is where the hypothesis developed earlier in Chapter III differs
from the empirical findings. The hypothesis in Chapter III stated that
state policymakers are accommodative learners while LSI scores
reflected both an accommodative and convergent learning profile.
Kolbs depiction of both accommodators and convergers describe an
active versus reflective learning style.
5. Appendix D shows the two learning style profiles of male and female
policymakers. Both groups reflected a well balanced profile where all
four learning modes are emphasized. Kolbs description of learners
emphasizing Reflective Observation suggests this group is more
intuitive than analytical in their approach to problems. This intuitive
approach relates to the research on left brain versus right brain
thinking and the somewhat common generalization that women are
more intuitive than men. The higher scores by women in Reflective
Observation on the LSI supports this view, but is limited by the small
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This chapter presents conclusions and recommendations from the
empirical study of Colorado state policymakers and the review of related
literature. These findings are relevant to (1) educators directly involved in
the training and continuing education of public officials, (2) policymakers
as individuals who are interested in improving their skills as information
brokers and lifelong learners, and (3) other persons interested in the out-
comes of state policymaking. Many of the recommendations are pertinent
to all three groups and are relevant to policymakers in local and national
Knowledge about Learning Styles of Policymakers
Can Improve the Design and Implementation
of Continuing Education Programs
The usefulness of understanding characteristic learning styles
among several professional groups has been demonstrated both in terms of
improved academic achievement and increased participant satisfaction
with instruction (Price; 1983). Knowledge about learning styles has been
incorporated into courses and workshops in order to foster self-confidence
and "learning how to learn" (Smith, 1982).
Weatherby's (1976) synthesis of research on adult learning con-
cluded that learning style diagnosis directly contributes to improving
Learning style theories give specificity to the concept of
learning as an interactive process between an adult and an
instructional or experiential environment. Knowledge of
learning style biases of students, faculty and subject matter
facilitates careful attention to the components of course
design and evaluation (1976, p. 126).
The. convergent and accommodative learning style of the state
policymakers in this dissertation implies that certain teaching techniques
and program modifications are more effective than others. These two
learning styles are both contingent on an active-experimentation tendency
which these policymakers consistently identified. This learning orientation
is associated with a particular learning environment:
Small-group discussions, projects, peer feedback, the teacher
behaving as a model of the profession, and activities designed
to apply skills to practical problems ... hinderances include
... lectures, teachers serving as taskmasters, and having work
evaluated as simply right or wrong (Kolb, 1984, p. 201).
Instructional programs for state policymakers can incorporate these
considerations. The use of case studies, for example, emphasizes the
application of skills to practical problems.
The similarity between the learning styles of elected and
appointed officials suggests these two groups can learn together and
simultaneously participate in educational programs. A 1984-1985
evaluation of the Rocky Mountain Program for Senior Executives in State
and Local Government supports this idea.* Bauman and Ott (1984) found
that state and local public officials were highly supportive of a specialized
program designed to emphasize active learning experiences, small-group
exchanges and time for reflection. These researchers (1984) examined
senior-executive programs across the country and found no other continuing
education programs that combine elected and appointed officials in an
intensive, residential, learning environment. The similarity of the two
groups' learning styles, combined with a faculty that relied on highly
interactive teaching techniques, is one example of how instruction can be
designed to meet the needs of the participants as active learners.
More specific design elements can be included in both traditional
higher education programs and informal training sessions. For example, a
group of legislative leaders with extensive experience in elective office
could be offered a different format than a group of more technically
trained policymakers, e.g., legislators on a public works committee who
have engineering backgrounds. The technical professionals have adapted to
abstract, theoretical information, while the social professionals, such as
lawyers and businessmen, are more accustomed to concrete ideas shared
Educators Need a More Detailed Learning Typology
of State Policymakers
The two major findings from this studythat elected and
appointed officials have a similar learning style that is accommodative and
convergentserves as a basis for constructing a new typology in the
literature about state policymakers. Diamond (1977), Wahlke (1966),
Barber (1965) and others have identified public officials relative to political
roles and behavior in office. Analyzing policymakers as convergent and
accommodative learners adds a new dimension to the limited information
about public officials as learners. It is important to recognize that
policymakers participating in continuing education and training programs
are generally middle-aged adults. Most are working full-time and have
considerable experience in management, and/or expertise in a specific
technical or professional field.
Knowledge of predominant learning styles contributes to a more
descriptive typology of policymakers as problem solvers. If effective
educational programs for public officials are to be developed, further
research needs to be conducted, not only to verify the convergent and
accommodative learning style this dissertation found, but also to determine
the learning style of policymakers at other levels of government.
Educators Need to Consider How Individuals Learn
Policymaking Along With What They Should Learn
Literature in public administration and political science has
consistently set forth priority topics which should be included when
preparing people for careers in either elected or appointed office
(Sharkansky, 1982; Jewell, 1980; Waldo, 1980; Mosher, 1975; Keefe and
Ogul, 1968). The literature which focuses on the education of public
servants is limited as it relates to teaching and learning about public
policies. In 1973, a series of papers were produced at a conference
sponsored by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and
Administration (NASPAA) which examined the use of adult education
methods and techniques in teaching public administration. There has been
limited interest in alternative educational approaches in the field of
political science (Young and Eddy, 1982). According to Bok (1985) less
attention is given to how policymakers learn than to what they should
learn. He pointed to public administration as a subject in which
"instructors [tend] to rely on numbers, precision, and logical demonstration
while overlooking subtler aspects of human problems that are particularly
important in politics (1985, p. 36). In experiential learning terms, Bok
observed that instructors have limited their perspective or biased their
emphasis toward the abstract conceptual realm and perhaps have avoided
the integration of information and problem-solving approaches from all
four learning modes. Bok's discussion of the importance of the functional
application of knowledge is comparable to Kolbs description of active
experimentation, which this dissertation illustrates is the preferred way of
learning for state policymakers.
Additional critiques of the educational process for public
policymakers direct their attention to other quadrants in the learning style
typology. Leman stated policy economists should take time for
introspection on how to make decisions, apparently referring to the
importance of reflective observation as an essential learning skill (1981).
A basic understanding of experiential learning and a sincere
concern with how to learn as well as what to learn can foster more
integrated educational programs. The 1984 Rocky Mountain Program
(Bauman and Ott, 1984) made a provision for reflective observation along
with active experimentation in its overall design. Participants gathered in
a resort away from the office for a series of classes that allowed time for
discussion and analysis. The case study approach required participants to
examine issues on the basis of their knowledge gained from concrete
experience. Time was allowed for reflection about ones role in
government. Abstract, conceptual learning was stressed during more
technical lectures on fiscal policy and presentations from guest speakers.
Perhaps the most important consideration in this example of continuing
education is the experientially gained knowledge and preferred learning
styles that the policymakers brought to the program.
For State Policymakers
State Policymakers Can Benefit From a Knowledge
of Their Predominant Learning Style
The challenges of elected and appointed office in state govern-
ment are formidable. The ability to obtain and integrate information from
several sources is one of the most complex and constant demands a
political leader must face. Knowledge of one's own strengths and weak-
nesses as an information manager has direct benefits to the individual.
Policymakers can more effectively articulate their rationale for the form
of information they are seeking as well as the style in which it is pro-
vided. For example, the request by a state legislator for staff needs to be
considered in light of their preference for interpersonal, verbal information
as active, accommodative learners. Several states have attempted to
improve the legislative process primarily through computerized information
systems, which often prove to have little impact on the efficiency of a
legislative body. An awareness that legislators are predominantly trained
as verbally oriented, information brokers may support the need for
similarly trained staff versus more technical and abstract information
A political environment demands a set of learning and problem-
solving skills that one may not possess or be accustomed to upon entering
political life. According to Weathersby (1976) adults tend to be more
comfortable and successful in learning environments that reflect their
established learning styles. Several of the state policymakers and
professionals involved in this dissertation expressed their frustration with
political leaders who dont seem to care about comprehensive studies of
the issues ... but simply rely on favored colleagues or lobbyists. The
findings from this dissertation help explain the strong orientation to a
particularly verbal and expeditious form of information exchange.
Policymakers Can Easily Discover Their Preferred
Learning Style and Problem-Solving Approach
Kolb's Learning Style Inventory was successfully self-administered
by over 190 policymakers in Colorado. The LSI can be completed in five to
ten minutes and has proven to be a highly reliable indicator of learning
styles (Smith, 1982).^ The LSI and related materials can be used in a group
setting to help individuals understand their profiles and, in the case of state
policymakers, stimulate discussion and broaden an understanding of why
different sources of information are more or less effective.
An Awareness of a Predominant Learning Style
Among State Policymakers Helps Identify the
Required Skills for a Career in Public Office
The existence of a predominantly active learning style, which is
associated with a reliance on information from peers, is helpful for those
entering political life. By examining the learning environment, one can
analyze how well learning skills match those required and emphasized in a
political setting. Knowledge of one's own preferences and tendencies in
learning is useful for making choices about what, when, where and how to
learn; it can also help pinpoint personal difficulties or explain problems
with particular subjects, methods, or information providers. Kolb (1971)
found that people's success and happiness within an occupation or discipline
can depend on the match between their favored modes of learning and
those required by their work.
Because of an awareness of a predominant set of learning and
problem-solving skills among public officials, an individual policymaker can
develop a conscious learning strategy to adapt to the type of information
flow that exists in the political arena. There are considerable anecdotal
data about how individuals adapt to political roles, but there are no
comprehensive studies from the perspective of policymakers as learners.
Results from this dissertation could be combined with other findings to
develop preparatory programs for public officials to help them adapt to the
constant flow of important information.
Knowledge of the Variety of Learning Styles Legitimizes
Alternative Forms of Education and Professional Development
Learning is often associated with formal classroom education in
which some individuals are more successful and experienced than others. A
realization that learning also occurs outside the classroom supports non-
traditional ways of obtaining knowledge and developing problem-solving
One of the state legislators interviewed voiced his frustration
with the formal hearing process which presumably is designed to "get at the
issues." He recommended informal discussions with witnesses, experts and
program managers as a more productive way to analyze and resolve com-
Politics is an activity which allows entry from non-traditional, and
perhaps non-technical backgrounds. Both elective and appointive offices
are open to diverse ethnic, racial and socio-economic groups. Scholarly or
financial achievements are not necessarily prerequisites for elected
office. Experiential learning recognizes non-academic, non-traditional
sources of knowledge and assumes ideas are not fixed and unchangeable.
Knowledge is formed and reformed through experience and every one's
experience is of equal value.
State Policymakers' Recognition of Experiential
Learning and Various Learning Approaches Could Generate
Supportive Policies for Non-Traditional Forms of Education
There are many ways to become an expert. Several studies of
graduate education have drawn attention to the limitations of traditional
higher education programs (Fletcher, 1976). Political science and public
administration scholars have debated the fit between graduate programs in
their disciplines and the real world demands of political life. Given the
roles of the states in providing public education, personal recognition by
political leaders of experience-based education and the multiple patterns of
learning available could foster innovative approaches to improving educa-
tion and lifelong learning. Cross (1981) suggested the best use of the
learning style construct may be as practical help in rectifying the over-
emphasis on cognitive abilities designed for traditional scholarly and
academic success. Weathersby (1976) stated that recognition of diffe-
rences in learning styles might legitimate recognition of excellence in
broader dimensions of human capabilities and might have practical use in
career development. By recognizing the importance of an integrated learn-
ing style, where all four learning modalities are highly developed, it is
possible to generate a more pragmatic view of higher education that is
frequently limited to very specialized, but narrow adaptive competencies.
Recognition of the Similarity in the Learning Style
of Elected and Appointed Officials Could Improve
the Level of Communication and Cooperation
Between Key Actors in State Government
This research about Colorado policymakers showed elected and
appointed policymakers possess very similar learning styles and
experientially developed problem-solving approaches. Not only is it
possible for these groups to learn together but they may be able to
communicate better than one would expect. The demographic and
sociological studies cited in the review of the literature depict both groups
as having similar social, educational, and professional backgrounds.
Factors beyond learning style and problem orientation are apparently
separating these two groups when poor or counter-productive
communication exists. The productivity and frequency of interaction
between legislators and senior-level public managers will certainly vary
depending on a number of political variables. Nonetheless, it is important
to seek cooperative relationships among public officials as policies and
information become more complex. Results from this study suggest
elected and appointed leaders often share common experiences and
approaches in similar ways. Knowledge of this similarity should foster a
greater degree of trust and communication.
State Policymakers Need to Develop
a Well-Balanced Learning Style
Given the challenges faced by political leaders and the increasing
role of state governments in providing public services, elected and
appointed officials need to adapt to multiple sources of information and
influence. The public policies they generate are becoming more intricate
as society itself becomes more technical, interdependent and diverse.
Policymakers need to be able to reflect on issues as well as apply abstract
concepts to solve problems through active experimentation. Studies by
Clarke (1977) and Gypen (1980) found that as the level of responsibilities in
managerial occupations increased, a more integrative perspective on
learning was required and eventually attained by successful managers.
Kolb (1984) found that individuals with well-balanced learning styles and
greater adaptive flexibility experienced less conflict in their lives than
those with low adaptive flexibility and a learning style that relied on a
limited set of learning skills. Gardners (1981) Self Renewal included the
observation that: "The truly creative person is not an outlaw but a
lawmaker" (p. 39). Gardner emphasized the importance of all four learning
modalities when he stated:
The individual of high originality, having opened himself to
such a rich and varied range of experience, exhibits an
extraordinary capacity to find the order that underlies that
varied experience. I would even say an extraordinary capacity
to impose order on experience (1983, p. 38).
The literature about national, state and local policymaking and
the popular media concern about the quality of government suggests
political leaders need to be creative and able to impose order on
experience. In a sense, policymaking is a score card or symbol of how
representatives order the collective experience of society. Political
scientists consider policymaking as an ongoing, iterative process, just as
learning is understood as an ongoing iterative process by an experiential
learning theorist. Sharkansky (1982) stated: "Because of diverse personal
and professional interests the process of goal and policy formulation
involves continuing learning ... as changes occur it is necessary for
participants to learn about the implication of these changes and perhaps to
renegotiate (p. 220). Studying policymakers as learners from an
experiential perspective goes beyond the limited and often cynical view
that legislators and senior-level government officials "don't have learning
styles because they don't seem to learn anything. We are all learning from
I experience, and the challenge policymakers must constantly face is how to
utilize the information they receive which in reality can only be achieved
; by recognizing and then developing a well-balanced learning style.
For Other Stakeholders in State Policymaking
There is an infinite number of lobbyists, policy analysts,
; consultants, researchers and representatives of diverse interests who are
invested in the process and outcomes of state policymaking. Some are
focused on influencing the results, while others struggle to improve the
bargaining process. All those who vehemently criticize state legislators and
public managers must be responding to some interest in the outcomes of
the political process. The following recommendations are aimed at that
! general audience.
j State Policymakers Prefer Information
That Matches Their Learning Styles
Policy-related information needs to be provided to legislators and
senior-level public managers based on a strategy that considers their needs
and traits as learners. If political leaders are "information brokers," the
challenge to their staff and other stakeholders in state policy decisions is
to provide useful and manageable information:
There are real problems today with using information
effectively in the governmental process .. data must be
selected and organized with respect to uses, problems, time,
place, and function if it is to be of value (Arnold, 1972, p.3).
The policymakers involved in this dissertation consistently
recommended that information be concise, summarized and relevant to the
specific issue with which they are dealing. They pointed out how problems
frequently arise in the interpretation of their needs and purposes and the
inadequate provision of assistance by professionally competent staff who
are not aware that politicians may integrate data dif ferently than the
"experts." As Havelock (1969) observed, when considering the dis-
semination and utilization of knowledge, the user is the starting place and
without the consumers needs being weighed, innovative information is
Colorado officials involved in this approach consistently expressed
their concerns about the quantity of information they are required to
review. Many felt that the information society, brought about by computers
and high speed telecommunications, is more of a problem than a benefit in
making political decisions. Both elected and appointed officials pointed to
a shortage of time and staff and an oversupply of data. One of the public
managers said he agreed with the notion that information is the biggest
barrier to knowledge. Frequent requests for staff and "face-to-face"
information sharing reflected an active, accommodative learning style that
was depicted by the learning style profile drawn from the responses to the
Learning Style Inventory.
Rosenthal and Huwas (1977) recommendation for gathering and
reporting information for legislators is consistent with the active learning
style found among Colorado policymakers. They recommended that
information be presented orally and quickly to the legislator who requests
assistance. More detailed written responses may be provided as a follow-
up to an oral report, if it is requested. One Colorado policymaker
Special interest groups often feel their view and the
information they present is more important than anyone elses
and they are not aware of the quantity and diversity of
information we receive. ... If they want to be effective, they
can briefly explain their position, and the pro's and cons of
Consider the Influence of Experientially-Gained
Knowledge in the Decision-Making Process
As several observers have pointed out, policymakers are not
neutral, input-output mechanisms (Leach, 1975), but are influenced by their
own values, beliefs and backgrounds. Sharkanskys (1982) reasoning why the
rational model of decision-making is difficult to achieve helped explain the
significance of experiential learning in the thinking process of state policy-
makers. One Colorado lobbyist described his ability to predict the
decisions of legislators on various issues, based on their professional and
It may not be as frustrating to accept the notion that
policymaking is often a non-rational process when one considers the other
sources of knowledge and problem-solving skills that influence decision-
making. In experiential learning terms, state policymakers emphasize
practical applications as opposed to reflective understanding, a pragmatic
concern with what works as opposed to what is absolute truth (Kolb, 1984).
Experiential Learning is Particularly Relevant
to Understanding and Influencing Elected Officials
There is steady turnover among elected officials, and according to
Weschler (1985) legislators are remaining in office for shorter periods of
time. It is reasonable to conclude that state legislators are drawing more
on their previous experience and established problem-solving approaches
than on experience within the legislature. Colorado legislators are quick to
point out that they are citizen representatives with full-time occupations
outside the legislature.
Rosenthal's study (1984) of committee behavior showed that
committee assignments and expertise were based more on professional and
occupational experience than on experiences gained while serving on a
committee. It is increasingly important to consider what legislators bring
to the legislative process in terms of customary approaches to using
information and learning about issues.
Further Research Needs to be Conducted
on How Policymakers Learn
Rosenthal, one the foremost experts on state policymaking,
concluded that much can be gained from a study of the states and that
there is a pressing need for further study of state policymakers (1980). No
studies were found on the learning styles or other learning characteristics
of state, federal or local policymakers. There is an implicit awareness of
the need for policymakers to continuously learn about the problems and
issues on which they make decisions. But little is known about how state
officials have learned to learn. This dissertation is a response to the need
for research about learning and policymaking.
There is a need to compare the findings that state policymakers
are active, accommodative, convergent learners with policymakers from
states in other regions in the country. Additional studies at other levels of
government could add to a typology of public officials as continuing
learners and information brokers. Discussions with David Kolb (1985)
suggest there are no other studies of the learning styles of policymakers or
politicians as a professional or occupational group. A clearer sense of the
strengths and weaknesses of political leaders as learners could help those
attempting to provide useful information on important issues.
NOTES CHAPTER V
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