Learning Style Preferences Relating to Adult Students

By Cambiano, Renee L.; De Vore, Jack B. et al. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Learning Style Preferences Relating to Adult Students


Cambiano, Renee L., De Vore, Jack B., Denny, George S., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Introduction

Research pertaining to learning styles suggests that it is important to first define learning and then styles of learning. According to B. F. Skinner (1974), learning is any change in behavior. Harasyrn, Leong, Lucier, and Lorsheider (1995) define learning as "a relatively permanent change in performance by an individual" (Section s, p. 56). Sims and Sims (1995) state that learning occurs when "one adopts newly (sic) or modifies existing behavior patterns in a way that has some influence on future performance or attitudes" (p. 4).

Learning style refers to the "way in which each learner begins to concentrate on, process, and retain new and difficult information" (Dunn, Griggs, Olsen, & Beasley, 1995, p. 353). Whittington and Ravens (1995) define learning style as a "predominant and preferred manner in which individuals take in, retain, process, internalize, and recall information and can represent both inherited characteristics and environmental influences" (p. 9).

Recognizing that adults learn differently is not a new idea (Fizzell, 1984). In the early 20th century, researchers examined how to increase learning retention. It was realized that learners were using different informational processing strategies, which were cognitive strategies, to assimilate knowledge and different modes of perceiving and remembering information (Reiff, 1992). Researchers recognized that learners were not only assimilating information through cognitive styles, learners were also using affective and physiological approaches to learn. Since this recognition, researchers have been trying to pinpoint unique processes of learning, making the field of learning styles intensely rich.

Researchers have created an array of learning style inventories. Hickcox (1995) summarized the types of learning style inventories into three categories: (a) physiological styles, learning styles through environment, sociological factors, emotions, and physical stimuli (Dunn, et al., 1995; Reiff, 1992); (b) cognitive styles, learning styles through thought or mental activity (Murrell & Bishop, 1995; Reiff, 1992); and (c) affective styles, learning styles through emotions and feelings (Murrell & Bishop, 1995; Reiff, 1992).

Theoretical Framework

One of the three domains of learning style theories that encompasses all aspects of the learning environment is the physiological styles. It takes into account if a person is tactile, kinesthetic, visual, or auditory. Dunn (1984) found that learning styles are not affected by just one aspect of the learning environment. He contends that learning style depends on a person's environmental, psychological, physical, emotional, and sociological characteristics; therefore, for the purposes of this study, Dunn's learning theory will be used as the theoretical framework.

Environmental Characteristics of an Adult's Learning Style

Sound, light, temperature, and design are all environmental characteristics that Dunn (1984) discovered could affect how well a student is able to achieve in a learning atmosphere. These characteristics may not affect some adults' learning, but it may hamper the abilities of others. Temperature in a room can affect adults, especially elderly adults' ability to concentrate on new or difficult material. Therefore, there are better learning results when the environmental surroundings are comfortable and relaxing.

Psychological Characteristics of an Adult's Learning Style

According to Dunn, Griggs, Olsen, and Beasly (1995), adults learn in one of two processing styles: (a) global and (b) analytic. Global learners have the ability to learn through short stories, illustrations, and graphics. Global learners also need to know what is expected of them and why. Analytical learners focus on fact-by-fact accounts of the learning experiences. The information should be presented in a step-by-step manner in order for analytical learners to grasp new information (Burke, 1997, Dunn, 1984; Shaughnessy, 1998). …

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