What Difference Can Learning Style Make?

This month, we’re beginning a two-part article that focuses first on the concept of learning style. Next month, we will explore learning style as it relates to space. Many thanks to Susan Rundle for the information she has shared about learning style and the Dunn and Dunn Model. This model has been chosen because it is one of the most comprehensive in use today. As a result, it provides us with an opportunity to link learning and classroom design. By understanding learning style at the pre-planning phase of a project, you have an opportunity to plan for optimal learner-centered classrooms that foster improved attitudes, behavior, and achievement.

Learning Style: What is It?

In recent years, the concept of learning styles has become widely accepted and is used by researchers and educators because of the emphasis it places on identifying and understanding students’ individual learning preferences, needs, and strengths, and the modes of individualized instruction that can be subsequently created. Learning style has numerous definitions and understandings, many of which depend on who is doing the actual research. For example, some researchers have specified learning styles as distinctive behaviors that provide clues to the mind of individual learners and how they perceive and order patterns in the world. Others have defined learning styles as unique behaviors expressed when individuals search for meaning. Still others have considered learning styles as perceptual modalities, experiential learning, or cultural dimensions. These are just a few of the many models in use today. We add to the list the Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Model, which incorporates 26 elements that either hinder or stimulate the way in which each individual begins to concentrate on, process, internalize, and retain new and difficult information.

We begin by introducing you to Building Excellence. Based on the original Dunn and Dunn (1993) learning-styles model, Dunn and Rundle created an updated version in which minor changes are used to better reflect the complex nature of the perceptual and psychological domain (see Figure 1). The“perceptual domain” identifies auditory, visual text, visual picture, tactual, kinesthetic, and verbal kinesthetic perceptual strengths for remembering new and difficult information. The“psychological domain” focuses on global-versus-analytic and impulsive-versus-reflective processing. The “environmental domain” focuses on preferences for sound, light, temperature, and seating, while concentrating on new and difficult information. The “physiological domain” identifies time-of-day energy patterns, the need for mobility versus passivity, and/or intake. The “emotional domain” examines levels of motivation, persistence, responsibility (conformity versus nonconformity), and need for structure. The “sociological domain” addresses preferences for learning alone, in pairs, in small groups, in large groups, with authority figures present or not, and in a variety of patterns or routines.

Two critical factors distinguish the Dunn and Dunn Model — the brain-behavior relationships (biologically imposed characteristics) that stimulate or hinder learning, and the developmental process (previous learning experiences). Richard M. Restak, M.D. author of The New Brain, and Armin Thies, Ph.D., Yale University Medical School, confirmed the importance of these factors. Both Restak and Thies ascertained that at least three-fifths of learning style is derived biologically.

Follow up with us next month to see how classrooms can be planned and designed to support various learning styles.