Measures of Visual Learning: A Comparative Study of Performance on the Visual and Print Subtests of the Multi-Modal Paired Associates Learning Tests-III (MMPALT-III) to Performance on the Picture Number Test and Hidden Figures Test




Donna C. Browning, Angelia T. Carruth, John F. Edwards

Educational Psychology, Mississippi State University






Presentation at the Institute for Learning Styles Research (ILSR) Summer Conference, Ball State University, Muncie, IN, July 22-24, 2004








This study was designed to clarify the nature of visual memory tasks as assessed by the Visual and Print Subtests of the MMPALT-III and two ETS cognitive tests of visual performance; the Picture Number Test and the Hidden Figures Test.  The Visual and Print subtests of the MMPALT-III were administered to 176 undergraduate students at a southern university.  Of these 176 students, 153 also took the Picture Number Test  and 76 took the Hidden Figures Test.  A factor analysis was performed to determine whether the assessments were testing similar or different constructs.  It was determined that the two MMPALT-III visual subtests were similar in nature to one another.  The Picture Number Test was more similar in nature to the MMPALT-III subtests than the Hidden Figures Test.  Correlations were also performed. The conclusion was drawn that above average performance on the Visual subtests of the MMPALT-III may have a relationship to above average performance on the Picture Number Test but may not predict visual memory skills of a more spatial nature such as the Hidden Figures Test.








Although many educators and researchers refer to “visual learners” and visual learning in an anecdotal manner there is a need for empirical research to be done to determine exactly what skills constitute visual learning and memory. The Institute of Learning Style Research (see website at defines visual learning as the use of pictures, drawings, photographs, video, graphs and other visual organizational strategies to form associations between visual and non-visual information.  The current importance of this information in our increasingly visual culture cannot be over emphasized.  The power of the visual image impacts the culture, media, market place and possibly most importantly, the nature of education. The Institute’s performance assessment of learning style is the MMPALT-III which assesses associative memory or learning style across seven sensory perceptual modalities.  Two of these modalities are visual in nature, the Print modality which concerns visual information of a verbal nature (visual, verbal) and the Visual modality which concerns visual information of an iconic or graphical nature excluding the verbal ( visual, non-verbal). It is the purpose of this study to investigate more precisely what types of visual learning or memory skills the Print and Visual subtests of the MMPALT-III may measure or predict. By doing this, information about what constitutes a “visual learner” can be  understood in more measurable terms.

History of the MMPALT

Many learning style instruments are self-report of preference and/or paper and pencil instruments. The MMPALT, however, uses a paired associates format to assess perceptual modality dominances and patterns. This assessment instrument is performance based and examines seven perceptual learning modalities: print, aural, visual, interactive, haptic, kinesthetic, and olfactory (Cherry, 1981; French, 1975; Galbraith & James, 1986; Gilley, 1975; James & Blank, 1991; Nix, 1983).

The MMPALT is based on the theory that each person has individual strengths and weaknesses in the sensory modalities that determine how he or she chooses to take in information from the environment (French 1975a, 1975b). Using French’s material, Gilley (1975) developed the initial MMPALT, an instrument intended to test the individual’s perceptual learning styles. This instrument was revised and refined by Cherry (1981) and was referred to as the MMPALT-II. The MMPALT-II has since been revised  (1995) and the MMPALT-III  has been developed.

A wide age range of individuals has been assessed using the MMPALT-II. The Gilley (1975) pilot study used third grade children. Cherry (1981) replicated these results with a large sample of adults of various ages. Schaiper (1983) assessed 53 college students from the areas of education and psychology. Probably the most prolific researchers who utilize this instrument are Waynne James, William Blank, and Michael Galbraith (Galbraith & James, 1986; James & Blank, 1991b, 1993; James & Galbraith, 1984, 1985, 1991a) who have worked with adults of many different ages and education levels. These researchers have completed many of the norming and reliability studies on the MMPALT-II. Tindell (1994) administered the MMPALT-II to adults in 5 colleges of a university to examine the relationships between perceptual learning style dominance to selection of a college major. Positive relationships were found between assessed modalities and strengths needed for success in that major as compared to those predicted by deans and department heads for 4 of 5 colleges investigated. The James norming study (James & Galbraith, 1991a) is the only study that included adults who had not finished high school. Sub test reliability was calculated during this study through test-retest procedures. The reliability for each of the subtests was: print r = 0.85; aural r = 0.80; interactive r = 0.65; visual r = 0.87; haptic r = 0.74; kinesthetic r = 0.67; and olfactory

r = 0.73. Many of the researchers who have completed studies attempting to correlate the MMPALT-II with paper and pencil self-report measures of learning style have reported only weak relationships (Galbraith & James, 1986; James & Blank, 1991b, 1993; James & Galbraith, 1984, 1985, 1991a; Tindell, 1994).

Research on the MMPALT-III is in progress at the present time.  In 2002 (Browning, Hall, & Renfroe-Michel) conducted a study to determine that the revision of the MMPALT-II to the MMPALT-III met the desired criteria of the board of the ILSR.  This criteria was that the revision maintain the original integrity of the MMPALT-II while altering the visual subtest to be more modality pure.  The major change in this subtest was the changing of the visual subtest from a geometric shape (hence namable) to a more ambiguous shape which would require greater visual associative skill .  The 2002 research showed this to be the case with the mean for the visual subtest on the MMPALT-II to be 7.49 and the subsequent, more difficult visual subtest of the MMPALT-III to be 6.14.  At this time test-re-test reliability estimates were performed for a sample of the 167 participants and found to be: print r = .86, visual r = .88, and aural r= .81.

Validity information (especially construct validity) is difficult to obtain for this instrument due to the complexity of the variables involved. Tests of perceptual learning styles that attempted correlational studies are minimal. Future possibilities may involve correlational studies of the MMPALT-III and assessment used by Lowenfeld (Lowenfeld’s Visual/Haptic Tests, Lowenfeld, 1982), and Kee & Davis (1979), as cited in Jonassen (1993). Criterion validity would seem to be indicated by the Tindell (1994) st udy where prediction of success in a college major may be possible by knowing the dominant perceptual learning style. Content validity for the short-term memory processing of paired associates seems to be supported by nearly all the previous studies cited. It is interesting to surmise whether this instrument primarily measures short term memory (James & Galbraith, 1991a) and as such contributes to measuring the initial stages of learning, or whether it may measure organizational processes related to learning. Much future research needs to be done in this area. The present study seeks to expand this body of knowledge by comparing the print and visual subtests of the MMPALT-III to two tests of visual performance, the Picture Number Test and the Hidden Figures Test.

Picture Number and Hidden figures Test

The Picture Number Test and Hidden Figures Test were chosen as visual performance instruments for comparison with the visual subtests of the MMPALT-III for two reasons. First they were developed by ETS several years ago (1976), were available, and reliability and validity information was readily available in the ETS Kit of Factor-Referenced Cognitive Tests manual.  In addition these tests were chosen because the Picture Number test was identified in the ETS Kit manual as measuring the construct:  associative memory and the Hidden Figures test as measuring the construct: flexibility of closure in a visual array. Scores on the HFT have also exhibited variance for the constructs: Visualization and Spatial Orientation. Many researchers requiring a valid measure of spatial intellect have included HFT in their basic test batteries. Since it was our intent to see what type or types of visually related constructs the MMPALT-III may be measuring, we chose these two for diversity of visual construct.


Visual subtests of the MMPALT-III were administered to 176 undergraduate college students at a southern university.  The majority of the participants were in the College of education.  The sample was a convenience sample based on classes made available to the researchers by various professors.  Extra credit was given for participation in the research project.  Of the participants 44 were male and 135 were female.  Ages represented were:

18-22 (102) participants, 23-29 (56), and 30-39 (9), and over 39 (12).  Other demographics are shown in Table 1.






















Testing Procedure

Visual and Print subtests of the MMPALT-III were administered in a group setting to 176 participants using timed effect Power Point slides.   PNT was administered in a group setting to 153 of the 176 participants and the HFT was administered to 76 of the original 176 participants.  All measurements were scored according to the recommended procedures and scores were analyzed in the following manner : Visual: Mean = 6.44, SD 2.71, Print: Mean= 5.32, SD 2.70.  there are 10 total elements in each subtest.  The PNT consists of 42 items, PNT  Mean= 28.95, SD 9.27.  For the HFT which consisted of 32 total embedded figures, Mean 10.24, SD = 4.91.

Data from all assessments was used on a factor analysis in Lisrael . It was determined that the two MMPALT-III subtests were testing similar constructs, the PNT was also similar although the relationship was not as strong and that the HFT was measuring something else entirely.

When correlations were performed between instruments certain limitations were in place because not all 176 participants took all 3 instruments. Therefore we focused on only those participants that scored 7 or above on the visual subtest for comparison and who had taken either all 3 measures or 2 of the 3 measures.  Our only correlations of significance were:

N= 83 and the Visual subtest: PNT  .300 at .01 level of significance.  We also noted a negative correlation of -.218 between those scoring 7 or above on Print and those taking HFT, however N was only 20 for this comparison .


While the two subtests of the MMPALT-III appear to be measuring constructs similar to each other, probably associative memory, and to the PNT, we cannot conclude the more spatially oriented constructs measured by the HFT are predicted by either of the two visual subtests of the MMPALT-III.  More research needs to be conducted to carefully ascertain what skills an efficient “visual learner” on the MMPALT-III can be said to perform.  Any generalizations about an efficient visual learner being able to perform all visual and especially all visual spatial skills should be avoided.





















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