"One of Teresa Dybvig's exceptional
qualities as a teacher is her ability to tailor her teaching style to the
individual needs of the student."
Tanya Bertram, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Since 1998, I've worked with education
consultant Dr. Sarah Church on incorporating the principles of the Dunn and
Dunn Learning Styles system into my private teaching. The results have been
extraordinary. Put simply, as Sarah says, "Students perk up when you teach them
the way they learn best." Learning to spot their general processing style
(where they are on the global - analytical continuum), their preferred
modalities (kinesthetic, tactile, auditory, visual), and their needs with
respect to authority and structure, can speed up learning and clarify their
Since we tend to teach the way we learn best
ourselves, we often find it mysteriously difficult to reach students who learn
differently. When we don't teach in the way the student learns best, lessons
can be a struggle, even though we may like the student and believe in their
talent and intelligence. When I consult with teachers on learning styles, the
most common comment I receive is, "I never thought of teaching something that
way" -- always referring to teaching in a way they themselves would not prefer
Music demands many things of us, though, so one
thing we need to do is help students shore up their strengths in areas in which
they don't learn as easily. Global processors need to find a way to work out
details, auditory learners need to learn to look carefully, tactile learners
need to learn to use their arms and hands as well as their fingers.
You can see a poster I presented a poster at the
National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy in Oakbrook, IL (just outside
Chicago), on August 3-6, 2005. Strengthening
Musical Memory Using the Dunn & Dunn Learning Styles Perceptual
Modalities gives some ideas on how to make use of one set of the Dunn
and Dunn Learning Styles elements.
by Dr. Sarah
What is learning style? It is
the way a person processes, internalizes, and studies new and challenging
material. The cornerstone of the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model is that
most people can learn, and individuals each have their own unique ways of
mastering new and difficult subject matter (Dunn, 2000). For many people,
learning to play the piano presents a big learning challenge. For some, that
challenge is a grueling ordeal if the way they are taught does not match the
way they learn.
Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Model
The Dunns' Learning-Style Model
is complex and encompasses 5 strands of 21 elements that affect each
individual's learning. Some of these elements are biological and others are
developmental. Style changes over time. A summary of these elements is provided
below (Dunn, 2000).
- Environmental. The environmental
strand refers to these elements: lighting, sound, temperature, and seating
arrangement. For example, some people need to study in a cool and quiet room,
and others cannot focus unless they have music playing and it is warm (sound
and temperature elements).
- Emotional. This strand includes
the following elements: motivation, persistence, responsibility, and structure.
For example, some people must complete a project before they start a new one,
and others work best on multiple tasks at the same time (persistence element).
- Sociological. The sociological
strand represents elements related to how individuals learn in association with
other people: (a) alone or with peers, (b) an authoritative adult or with a
collegial colleague, and (c) learning in a variety of ways or in routine
patterns. For example, a number of people need to work alone when tackling a
new and difficult subject, while others learn best when working with colleagues
(learning alone or with peers element).
- Physiological. The elements in this
strand are: perceptual (auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic),
time-of-day energy levels, intake (eating or not while studying) and mobility
(sitting still or moving around). For example, many people refer to themselves
as night owls or early birds because they function best at night or in the
morning (time-of-day element).
- Psychological. The elements in this
strand correspond to the following types of psychological processing:
hemispheric, impulsive or reflective, and global versus analytic. The
hemispheric element refers to left and right brain processing modes; the
impulsive versus reflective style describes how some people leap before
thinking and others scrutinize the situation before moving an inch. Global and
analytic elements are unique in comparison to other elements because these two
elements are made up of distinct clusters of elements found in the other four
strands. The elements that determine global and analytic processing styles are:
sound, light, seating arrangement, persistence, sociological preference, and
intake. Global and analytic processing styles will be discussed in detail in
the next section.
Differences Among Students' Learning Styles
Do learning styles vary in predictable ways?
There are four factors that significantly differ between groups and among
individuals: global versus analytic processing styles, age, gender, and high-
versus low-academic achievement (Dunn & Griggs, 1998). The educational
implications of these four variables are important to fully comprehend and
employ because they provide direction and structure for effective teaching
strategies, especially for low-achieving students.
- Global and analytic. When learning
new and challenging topics, people tend to have one of two processing
styles-global or analytic. Certain learning-style elements cluster to form
these two processing styles in the following ways. Global learners prefer to
work in an environment with soft lighting and informal seating. People with
this processing style need breaks, snacking, mobility, and sound. Analytic
learners prefer to work in an environment with bright light and formal seating.
They work best with few or no interruptions, in a quiet environment, and little
or no snacking. The majority of young children are global processors.
- Age. Learning styles change with
age. Some learning styles are developmental and many people's styles alter as
they grow older. These style elements are: sociological, motivation,
responsibility, and internal vs. external structure. Children tend to prefer to
work with peers instead of alone and prefer an authoritative versus a collegial
teacher. For many people auditory and visual perceptual elements strengthen
- Gender. Boys and girls, and men and
women, tend to learn differently from each other. The perceptual strengths of
males are often visual, tactile, and kinesthetic. They tend to need more
mobility than females, and function better in an informal environment.
Frequently, males are peer-motivated and nonconforming. On the other hand,
females tend to be more auditory, need quiet while studying, work best in a
formal setting, and need less mobility. Often they are more conforming,
authority-oriented, and parent- and self-motivated than males.
- High- versus low-academic achievement.
High and low achieving students learn in statistically different ways from
one another. In other words, the teaching strategies that are successful for
one group will not produce similar outcomes in the other group.
References Dunn, R.
(2000). Learning styles: Theory, research, and practice. National Forum of
Applied Educational Research Journal, 13, (1), 3-22.
Dunn, R., & Griggs, S. (1998). Learning
styles: Link between teaching and learning. In Dunn, R. & Griggs, S.
(Eds.), Learning styles and the nursing profession (pp. 11-23). New
York: NLN Press.
2004-2010 Teresa Dybvig and Sarah Church