Do You Know the 5 Elements of a Learning Style?

Knowing how your child best learns enables you to create an optimal learning environment.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of a “learning style.” It is apparent in our everyday interactions with family, friends and strangers that everyone is a little bit different, and everyone learns a little bit differently. An internet search lead us to the discovery that there are 71 proposed learning styles. One model that stands out is the Dunn & Dunn learning style model.

Dunn and Dunn Model

This model was created out of a desire to empower and educate teachers and parents to analyze and motivate their children and students, to optimize their education to their unique learning preferences. The creators recognized that children learn differently, and some children need to be taught differently. This model doesn’t prescribe a fixed style for each learner, but rather lays out a comprehensive set of elements that can influence a learner.

There are five elements to the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles model:

Environmental

Emotional

Sociological

Physiological

Psychological

Each element has specific factors that accompany the element, which a parent or educator can use to gain a deeper understanding of the young minds they are nurturing and guiding, and optimize the learning environment for those individual learners.

Environmental Elements

The first category in the Dunn and Dunn learning styles model is Environmental Elements. This refers to where students like to learn, and the physical environment that is most conducive to learning.

Specific Environmental Elements Include:

Sound

If your child needs quiet, ensure that there is some quiet space at home or in the classroom, or try out headphones to minimize noise. If your child welcomes sound, try playing ambient or classical music when learning.

Light

If your child likes bright lights, try removing window treatments, or using full-spectrum bulbs. If your child thrives with lower lights, consider installing dimmer switches or lower wattage bulbs in learning areas.

Seating

If your child likes to learn in an informal environment, let them study where they are comfortable. If your child prefers a formal environment, keep studying focused at a desk or table.

Temperature

The temperature may affect your child’s ability to concentrate on the subject at hand. Whether they think better in cooler or warmer environments, help make the space conducive to what is most comfortable for learning.

Emotional Elements

Learning can be emotional, and emotions definitely affect how students learn. Emotional elements of a learning style include support, motivation, and/or structure. These play a part in the complex and highly personal identity of a learning style.

Specific emotional elements include:

Motivation

Some students are driven internally by a desire to succeed academically. Others are not. Pairing students from both groups together may be a good way to encourage peer-to-peer learning and teaching.

Responsibility

Does your student move to the beat of their own drum, or are they compliant and willing to cooperate with instruction? If your child doesn’t like to do something just because someone asks them to, try speaking to them as an equal. Explain to them why the task you are requesting is important. Connecting the task to their personal interests may reinstate their feelings of autonomy and willingness to participate.

Task Persistence

Looking to help your child “stick with it” and finish what they start?

Try breaking down tasks into smaller short-term assignments, or encourage working with other children who have more task persistence. Using praise during the process of working on a task, as well as when it is completed may be good motivation.

Structure

Structure refers to a child’s preference for specific instruction. If your child is uninterested in instructions before diving into a task — he or she may flourish when you provide objectives, timelines, and creative opportunities instead of specific directions.

If your child needs specific instructions, ensure they understand the task, expectations, and resources available.

Sociological Elements

How we interact with others plays a role in our learning styles. Working independently or working in a team, whether under supervision of an instructor or without it, may play a role in how we learn. Learning styles may also vary depending on the specific subjects being learned.

Independence

Working alone or in a group may say more about your child than just how social they are. Some children learn by bouncing ideas off of others. Others prefer to work alone, or independently but close to other peers.

Authority

Some children feel more comfortable when an authority figure, teacher or parent is present in their learning. Other children prefer independence and autonomy. Understand your child’s needs and be available accordingly.

Physiological Elements

Learning happens with the body — so how the body can be best utilized to be a conductor of learning, is what the physiological elements address.

Mobility

Some students need to move to learn. How long can your child sit still? Some children need more frequent breaks, or learn better when they have the freedom to move around.

Some children can sit still and be engaged, especially when they are interested in a task. Even if your child sits comfortably when engaged in learning, a stretch break is always nice.

Intake

Some children concentrate better when fidgeting or chewing. Talk to your child’s teacher about allowing healthy snacks or an approved fidget gadget at your child’s workspace.

Time of day

Your child may learn best at a certain time of day. Experiment with introducing new material at different times of the day, and see how your child does with retaining the new knowledge.

Psychological Elements

Each learner will process information differently.

Analytical

Some students can grasp concepts more effectively when they are presented in a pattern of steps that lead up to a larger concept. Some students learn more easily when the educator leads with the higher concept first and follows up with the details.

Impulse and Reflection

When assigned a task, a child that favors an impulsive learning style will dive right into the task, and learn while doing. A child that favors a reflective learning style will take time and create a mental model before diving in.


There are many ideas about what a learning style is, and how your learning style affects you. With 71 ideas in existence, and no clearly agreed upon model, there isn’t a clear answer of what constitutes a “learning style.” We hope that by analyzing the learning preferences of your child, you can optimize your child’s learning environment!