Using the 4MAT System to Design Web-based Instruction
William G. Huitt
Valdosta State University

Citation: Huitt, W. (2000). Using the 4MAT system to design web-based instruction. Paper delivered at the 8th Annual Conference: Applied Psychology in Education, Mental Health, and Business, April 15. Retrieved [date] from

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There is no question that the Internet, and especially the Web, will play a significant role in instructional delivery during the next decade. At issue is how this will be done and whether it will be an improvement over current practice. The 4MAT system developed by Bernice McCarthy (1981, 1987) offers a unique way of designing instruction so as to reflect some of the best practices in instructional design as well as to accommodate for student differences in learning style and brain lateralization dominance. The purpose of this paper is to report on a variety of Web-based activities that can be used to address the four different styles and makes suggestions regarding the separate technology needs for each group.

The 4MAT System

McCarthy (1996) developed the 4MAT system as a way to translate pedagogical theory into practice. As a high school social studies teacher, she asked the question "Why do some students succeed in school and others fail?" and noticed that many of her students appeared smart in ways not considered so by the traditional school environment. This led her to a study of learning styles and to the work of Gregorc and Butler (1984) and Kolb (1984). These authors hypothesized two primary dimensions as central to the issue of learning style: perception and processing. The perception dimension consists of two preferences: concrete/experiential and abstract/conceptual.

The concrete/experiential learner prefers to gather data through his or her personal engagement with the self and the environment; that is, they derive understanding about themselves and their world primarily through their physical senses. This preference is referred to as Sensing in the terminology popularized by Jung (1923, 1976) and the Myers-Briggs Type Instrument (Myers & McCaulley, 1985). On the other hand, the abstract/conceptual learner prefers to gather data and derive understanding through the concepts and principles that are abstractions of the personal experiences. In the Jungian and Myers-Briggs terminology this preference is referred to as Intuition.

The processing dimension also consists of two preferences: action and reflection. The active learner wants to test his or her ideas in the external world. Kolb (1984) uses the term random processing for this processing preference. The reflective learner wants to structure and organize knowledge into a meaningful order. Kolb uses the term Sequential for this preference. The Jungian and Myers-Briggs terminology of Perceiving and Judging captures the essence of these preferences.

The combination of the perception and processing dimensions leads to four types of learners. Using the Kolb (1984) vocabulary these are: Concrete Random (CR), Concrete Sequential (CS), Abstract Random (AR), and Abstract Sequential (AS). In the Jungian or Myers-Briggs terminology these are referred to as Sensing Perceiving (SP), Sensing Judging (SJ), Intuitive Perceiving (NP), and Intuitive Judging (NJ).

Both left- and right-brain learners are associated with each learning style (see Springer & Deutsch, 1997). Left-brain learners are more logical, rational, sequential, serial, and verbal. Right-brain learners are more intuitive, emotional, holistic, parallel, and tactile.

There are a variety of online instruments that provide data relevant to the learning styles. For example, Solomon and Felder (1999) developed The Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire based on the work of Felder (1993, 1996). D. M. Kiersey (1998) developed the Kiersey Temperament Sorter II based on the work of D. Keirsey (1998).

Designing Instruction

The 4MAT system was conceived to provide every student with a preferred task during each lesson. Combining the four learning styles with left- and right-brain lateralization preferences for each style results in eight different types of learners. McCarthy (1981, 1987) suggests that the needs of the Concrete-Random or "Imaginative Learner" should be dealt with first. This type of learner demands to know "Why" he or she should be involved in this activity. She proposes first creating a concrete experience for the right-brain oriented learners followed by a left-brain oriented opportunity to analyze or reflect about the experience. This allows students to develop personal meaning through direct, active experience and for the Concrete-Random learner to use their strengths of listening, speaking, interacting, and brainstorming. These learners like to address learning in a playful manner.

McCarthy (1981, 1987) suggests the next instructional events should focus on the needs of the Abstract-Sequential learner who wants to know "What" to learn. Students first integrate the reflective analyses into concepts and then develop the required concepts and skills through direct instruction. This allows these students to use their skills of observing, analyzing, classifying, and theorizing.

The next set of events focuses on the needs of the Concrete-Sequential learner who wants to know "How" to apply the learning. Students first practice the defined givens developed in the previous step and then practice by adding something of oneself. This allows students to use their skills of experimenting, manipulating, improving, and tinkering.

The last set of events focuses on the needs of the Abstract-Random learner who asks "If" this is correct how can I actively modify it to make it work for me. Students first analyze the applications that were developed for relevance and then apply the learned concepts and skills to a more complex experience. This allows students to use their skills of modifying, adapting, risking, and creating.

One of the major advantages of the 4MAT system is that it requires students to engage in higher order thinking throughout the lesson. In the terms used by Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl (1956), students engage in analysis in step 2, comprehension in step 3, application in steps 5 and 6, evaluation in step 7 and, potentially, synthesis in step 8. For instructors developing Web-based courses, this model provides a constant reminder of the necessity for developing activities that allow students to elaborate on new content. Instructors must remember that Web-based instruction is more dependent on materials and activities than is classroom-based instruction. While this elaboration might be done during the teacher-lead presentation portion of a classroom-based lesson, it is likely to be omitted in a Web-based course unless specific activities are designed to do so.

Table 1: Instructional Events in the 4MAT System

(Motivate and Develop Meaning)

Left-Brain Activity

Right-Brain Activity


Create an experience

Analyze/reflect about the experience

(Reflection and Concept Development)


Integrate reflective analysis into concepts


Develop concepts/skills

(Usefulness & Skill Development)


Practice defined "givens"


Practice and add something of oneself



Analyze application
for relevance


Do it and apply to more complex experience

Web-based Instruction

The instructional events of the 4MAT system can be divided into four categories: orientation, presentation, practice, and extension/evaluation.


The first three events in the 4MAT system have the instructor provide an overview that orients the student to the lesson. This introduction is recommended by most models of instruction (e.g., Joyce & Weil, 1996; Rosenshine, 1995). Instructors teaching a Web-based course could have students engage in a simulation, complete a questionnaire or survey, complete a Web search, or view a short film clip and then analyze the activity via an online chat or bulletin board. For example, before making a presentation on the requirements for success in the 21st century, I have students view a 10-minute video titled "Connections" produced by AT&T. This video shows several vignettes that demonstrate a variety of technologies likely to be available within the next two or three decades. Students post their reactions to the video and then other students and I respond to these postings. This activity normally brings to the surface many of the issues that will be discussed in my lecture.

Another example is for students to complete The Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire (Solomon & Felder, 1999) prior to a presentation on individual differences. This allows students to reflect on the newly presented 4MAT instructional process based on their own data.

I have developed lesson objectives for each of the topics I teach in my courses. Students read the specific objective for the lesson after we have engaged in a concrete activity, but before the beginning of the lecture or engaging in a reading assignment. This provides students with a clear statement of the educational expectations for the lesson.

In summary, there are a variety of Web-based activities that can provide an introduction to the lesson. The most important point, from the perspective of the 4MAT system, is that the activity is concrete (i.e., uses the senses) and allows students to arrive at an understanding of why the topic is important through reflection about the activity. At the end of the first two steps, students should be motivated to engage in the learning activity. At the end of the third step, they should have a global understanding of the topic to be covered and the expectations for learning.


Following the introductory activity, new material should be presented. This should be done in an active manner with a clear organization of content (Huitt, 1996). There should also be a step-by-step progression from subtopic to subtopic (based on task analysis); the use of many examples, visual prompts, and demonstrations (to mediate between concrete and abstract concepts); and many opportunities to assess student understanding.

One of the easiest ways to deliver content is to assign specific pages in a text or have students read journal articles. The instructor could also develop a written presentation of a lecture that could be placed on the Web. However, I believe one of the best and simplest ways to deliver lecture material via the Web is through Power Point presentations with audio. The instructor first develops the Power Point presentation, as one would normally do for a lecture. Then the audio track is added by selecting "Record Narration" in the Slide Show selections. I have found that the setting of "44,100 hz, 16 bit, mono" provides the best audio with the least amount of storage space. The "Link narrations in" box must be checked; this will store separate audio files for each slide. An add-on to Power Point is available that will allow the presentation to be transformed into a Real Audio file. This Real Audio file can then be played and the student can hear the lecture while viewing the slide presentation. One hint: place each Power Point file in a separate subdirectory as the audio files will then be stored in that same subdirectory automatically. As an audio file is developed for each separate slide, having multiple files together in a subdirectory produces a voluminous set of audio files that can quickly become unmanageable.

A second requirement for this alternative to work is that the institution must provide a place for the files to be stored and accessed. A 20-minute, 20-slide presentation will likely produce a 1-megabite Real Audio file. Without addressing the storage issue, one can quickly run out of space.


After students have listened to or watched a lecture, read materials in a text or article, or otherwise received the information desired, it is necessary that they rehearse or practice using the information. One of the best ways is for them to interact via questions posted to a bulletin board or listserver. I presently use the Bulletin Board feature in WebCT (a Web-based program that facilitates online instruction;, although I have used a university-based listserver in the past. A major advantage of using WebCT is that there are additional features that can be used from the same program. For example, students can also interact via chat rooms or complete Web-based quizzes or study guides. Many of the textbook publishers are beginning to make their study materials available via WebCT. For example, materials are provided for at least 48 texts in psychology from eight different publishers. The topics covered include introduction to psychology, lifespan development, educational, abnormal, organizational, and social psychology.

I believe one of the most important activities in the area of practice is synchronous communication with students. While the asynchronous activities of viewing Power Point presentations or posting to a bulletin board are valuable, without some sort of "live" communication, online learning can quickly become just another correspondence course. At present, I use Yahoo Messenger [] to communicate with students. This allows me to "voice chat" with multiple students at the same time. I have successfully had five students in one chat; I can imagine working with more than that, but at some point it would more likely be a lecture than a discussion. There are two significant disadvantages to Yahoo Messenger. First, if I am in an audio conversation and a new student wants to join in, everyone in the chat has to leave the chat and a new one must be started. This disrupts the flow of the conversation. A second disadvantage is that only audio and text chats are available; there is no video, whiteboard, or active Web viewing capability. I have used text-based chat for synchronous communication, but have not been satisfied with the results. In an audio chat, when one person is speaking, everyone else is listening. In a text-based chat, the person first composes a message and then posts it to the group. Then someone else must read the message, compose a response, and post it to the chat window. I found the wait time to be very disruptive to the flow of the conversation and the resulting answers too truncated for my purposes

In order to do the latter, a Multipoint Conferencing Unit (MCU) is required. This hardware component allows multiple participants to interact via audio and video. Using a program like Netmeeting (which has become the de facto videoconferencing standard; SURA Video Development Initiative, 1999) [] or CU-SeeMe [] in combination with a MCU allows up to 25 individuals to interact at the same time. Both programs include audio and video capability as well as a white board and the ability to run a computer- or Web-based program.

According to the SURA Video Development Initiative (1999), there are four primary suppliers for MCUs: White Pine, RADVision, VideoServer, and Accord. White Pine has developed ClassPoint [], a videoconferencing application specifically designed for distance learning. It is a combined hardware and software solution that offers a full range of videoconferencing applications for the classroom environment.

Radvision ( offers a hardware solution to multipoint videoconferencing. At the present time, they have entered into an agreement with Cisco ( to distribute their equipment to the educational community.

VideoServer (, the current market leader, offers the Ezenia! Encounter server and gatekeeper system. This family of products received the product of the year award from Network Magazine.

Accord ( offers a product that combines the control and gateway functions into one unit ( It also received a product of the year award, this one from Technology Marketing Corporation, the publishers of Internet Telephony and Communications Solutions. According to the press release, the Accord MGC is the only system available today that enables visual communications over IP, ISDN, and ATM in single platform.

Several additional pieces of equipment are useful to have an effective videoconferencing session: a microphone and speakers, a video camera, and an inexpensive graphics tablet that allows the instructor to work with the whiteboard feature in a program such as Netmeeting or CU-SeeMe. I prefer to use a microphone/headset combination rather than a separate microphone and speakers. The major problem with the latter is that it is difficult not to get feedback if the microphone and speaker volumes are high enough to be useful. I have found a single-earpiece unit to be more functional than one that has two earpieces. This allows me to hear what is going on in the room around me when I am in a conference.

In my opinion, a video camera may be a nice addition, but it is not absolutely necessary. I have communicated well with just an audio chat. What I believe is really needed is the whiteboard feature and the ability to run additional software within the conference. At least for me, the times I have been involved in a video conference, I did not get any additional information by being able to see the person. Perhaps if I were trying to monitor student attention and involvement, the video camera would be a necessity.

With regards to an input device for use with the whiteboard, I have found the Pablo graphics tablet from KBGear ( to be a very satisfactory product. I am able to write on the whiteboard with a pen, much as I would use a board in the classroom. Using a mouse never produced satisfactory results.

In summary, Welles (1999) states that the possibilities of videoconferencing are growing quickly. With the advent of the new hardware and software technologies discussed above, it is possible to have credible desktop-based videoconferencing applications that were only available via very expensive equipment just a few short years ago. This is a significant ingredient to a successful Web-based instructional program.

Extension and Evaluation

The seventh and eighth steps of the 4MAT system include analyzing and evaluating the personal applications made in step six and then extending and applying the concepts and principles in more complex ways. Requiring students to respond to other students’ bulletin board postings is one way students can evaluate other student’s work. This can also be done during audio chat by asking such questions as "Do you agree with that statement?" "Why or why not?" or "Do you believe that answer addresses all of the important issues we are discussing?" "What other points should be addressed?" This requires students to evaluate another student’s remarks before answering themselves.

Another way to engage students in this type of activity is to have them complete a simulation, view a vignette, or read a case study, and then develop a written report. Students could engage in a text or audio chat before developing their own answers. I have found that students will sometimes continue an audio chat even though the group chat has finished. As video/audio conferencing becomes more reliable and easier to use, I believe students will prefer this method of interaction, especially if commuting long distances are involved.

Of course, Web-based projects such as developing Web pages can provide opportunities for students to gain important technology skills. Students can write short essays on particular topics with hyperlinks to other Web-based material. Students can also develop sets of links on particular topics that are of interest. One caution about these kinds of activities: the Web is changing rapidly and these links become outdated rather quickly. Unless someone is responsible for updating these links, they may only have a useful life of three to six months.

Other extension/evaluation activities can include traditional written essay exams or literature reviews that can be sent via an e-mail attachment. It’s important to make sure that students send their materials in a format that can be read by the instructor. Most modern word processing programs have a function to save a file in Rich Text Format (rtf). These files are then easily read by any word processor. I grade each essay exam or paper and then engage in a private audio chat with each student. The students are instructed to have a printed copy of the document with them before beginning the chat. I can then go over the specific comments page by page with the students so they know exactly what they did correctly and where they need to improve.


In conclusion, there is no doubt that Web-based instruction will increase in the near future. As instructors develop new materials and learn new instructional techniques we have a unique opportunity to revisit some of the most important pedagogical issues that face all teachers. I believe that if we take a reflective approach to this transition, both our students and we will benefit. In my opinion, the 4MAT system offers an excellent model to guide our development of Web-based materials because it systematically identifies specific activities that different types of students will likely find interesting and enjoyable. It also demands that we have students engage with materials at higher levels of thinking. This can only benefit the teaching/learning process.

One note of caution. I believe most instructors would benefit from developing a Web-enhanced course before attempting to deliver a Web-based course. By this I mean holding class in a manner that they are most comfortable with and gradually adding Web-based components such as

1.      posting syllabi and course objectives,

2.      producing pages of relevant Web links,

3.      using Web-based study guides and quizzes developed by text publishers,

4.      using software packages such as WebCT for bulletin board and quiz activities,

5.      developing Power Point presentations that can have audio added at a later time,

6.      having students send papers via e-mail, or

7.      holding office hours or study sessions online using a program such as Yahoo Messenger or Skype.

As instructors become more comfortable and familiar with each of the components, they are more likely to have a successful first experience and attempt to deliver another Web-based course. Additionally, if the institution has systematically provided development time and support in terms of technical expertise, instructors are much more likely to continue developing the types of knowledge and skills that will be needed in this new environment.


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