Overview: Learning and Learning Styles

Learning is multifaceted consisting of various paradigms, styles, types and techniques to facilitate a learner to develop a meaningful understanding of a concept. Many of these try to explain how we learn, how we learn better and the environment in which we do so. There has been much discussion of which model of learning, albeit paradigms or styles are more effective in practice to facilitate and provide an enriching learning environment. Paradigms offer models of learning that focus on a particular aspect of the learning (i.e. cognitive processes, behaviour) but these can be restrictive and not really account for other processes of learning. Learning styles and taxonomies offer a more dynamic and multi facet approach to how individuals learn, encompassing a range of different learning preferences.


A number of paradigms exist within learning such as constructivism, cognitivsm and behaviourism. Each paradigm aims to explain how we learn and behave in a number of ways whether it is cognitively, construction or passively through environmental stimuli.


Constructivism is built upon the ideology of construction – the ability to build understandings of various concepts through engagement and interaction. It is a theory that aims to explain how knowledge is constructed in the human being when information comes into contact with existing knowledge that had been developed by experiences. The basic idea is that learning is an active and constructive process. John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky are some of the most prominent theorist of the paradigm.

Vygotsky is best known for his influence and research about the relationship between play as a psychological phenomena. He believed that children develop abstract meaning through play, which is important for the development of higher mental functions.

“Henceforth play is such that the explanation for it must always be that it is the imaginary, illusory realisation of unrealisable desires. Imagination is a new formation that is not present in the consciousness of the very young child, is totally absent in animals, and represents a specifically human form of conscious activity. Like all functions of consciousness, it originally arises from action.” (Vygotsky, 1967).


Behaviourism is based on the ideology proposed by John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner that the subject of psychology should be focused with observable behaviour rather than cognitive – that goes on within our minds (Skinner, 1945). Two of the most popular theories to come out of behaviourism are classical and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning: “A procedure by which a previously neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response after is paired with a stimulus that automatically elicits that response.” (Burton et al., 2008, p. G–3).
Operant conditioning: “…when an organism associates a response that occurs spontaneously with a particular environment effect.”(Burton et al., 2008, p. G–14).


Cognitivism is a theory that attempts to answer how and why people learn by attributing the process to cognitive activity. It was in response to the behaviourism paradigm, which neglected to explain cognition. It was not long after the development of cognitivism that it preceded behaviourism. It originally grew from Gestalt psychology, developed in Germany. Gestalt psychology believed that “perception is an active experience of imposing order on an overwhelming panorama of details by seeing them as parts of larger whole (or Gestalts)”(Burton et al., 2008, p. 31).

Between the three paradigms, the learning of constructivism can be considered as a constructor, where as a learner within the cognitivism paradigm is considered to more of an information processor. Learners in the behaviourist paradigm are considered more passive and respond accordingly to environmental/external stimuli. Ultimately, as a deeper understanding of how organisms learn resulted in behaviourism was challenged. However, the issue with

Styles and Types


Perhaps the most recognised style of learning is the concept of a visual, aural or tactile learner. The VARK (sometimes abbreviated to VAK) model provides an outline of what learners who are more adept to one style over another may be more responsive to in terms of understanding newly presented concepts.


Visual learners learn best by seeing – through visual stimuli. A visual learning is more responsive to visual representations such as charts, diagrams, illustrations, handouts, and videos. Therefore, they present a preference for visual orientated material when learning new concepts.


Aural learners learn best by hearing information. An aural learner is more likely to find ease in understanding information through lectures, narration and other forms of spoken content.

Reading/Writing (sometimes left out)

Reading and writing learners prefer information displayed to them in the form of words. A reading/writing orientated learner prefers texted based material.

Kinaesthetic (tactile)

Kinaesthetic learners are more responsive to physical interaction such as touching and doing and find it easier to grasp new concepts through interaction.

Dunn and Dunn

The Dunn and Dunn model incorporates many external environmental factors which is an important consideration for the design of learning situations within a classroom. However, I also believe that they can be transferred into the design of virtual environments.

It has been thoroughly researched and developed over a period of 33 years with over 850 studies conducted in more than 135 institutions of higher education (“Why Choose the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model?,” n.d.) .

There are 21 elements or components of the model. The model is divided into five strands:

Howard Gardner

In his book Frames of Mind: Theories of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 2011), Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences as a model of intelligence that differentiates into specific modalities, rather than the intelligence of an individual being dominated by a single ability.

The model comprises of (now) nine intelligences:

  1. Logical-mathematical: area of abstractions and critical thinking.
  2. Spatial: area of visualisation with the minds’ eye.
  3. Linguistic: area of verbal and narrative (i.e. storhy telling, reading, words, language)
  4. Bodily-kinaesthetic: area of control of physicality and agility in movement.
  5. Musical: area of sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones and music.
  6. Interpersonal: area of sensitivity to others feelings, moods and temperaments – empathetic.
  7. Intrapersonal: area of sensitivity to oneself including their strengths and weaknesses.
  8. Naturalistic: area of nurturing and relationship to natural surroundings.
  9. Existential: area of spirituality and religion.


This model has been integrated into various learning environments. During my primary school years I was exposed to this model as well as Bloom’s Taxonomy (which will be discussed next) as a basis for identifying the ways of which we learn best and we were provided an assortment of activities that required thinking and interactions outlined by the above nine.

Benjamin Bloom

Bloom’s Taxonomy was devised among a committee of educators in 1956, of which the first volume of the standard text first appeared – Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals (Bloom, 1956). The taxonomy itself refers to classifications of different learning objectives that educators set for learners. The taxonomy itself consists of three domains:

Cognitive: knowledge, comprehension and critical thinking.
Knowledge: memory previously learned materials.
Comprehension: understanding of facts and ideas.
Application: using the knowledge to solve problems and application in other ways.
Analysis: breaking the information apart to identify various motives and causes.
Synthesis: compiling information in a new pattern or proposing alterative solutions.
Evaluation: Present and defend opinions by making judgements (i.e. validity, quality, ideas) about the information presented.

Affective: emotional reaction and growth in attitudes, emotion and feelings.
Receiving: passively paying attention
Responding: active participations to the stimulus
Valuing: attachment of value towards knowledge
Organising: developing schemas, comparing, relating and elaborating what has been learned.
Characterising: influence of the learner’s values and beliefs that exerts on their behaviour.

Psychomotor: physical manipulation and interaction with a stimulus.
Perception: use of sensory cues to guide motor activity (i.e. object in the way).
Set: readiness (emotional, physical and mental) to act.
Guided Response: early stages of learning a new skill through trial and error or imitation.
Mechanism: habitual responses and performance of skills with some confidence and proficiency.
Complex Overt Response: Efficiency and agility of complex motor acts.
Adaptation: Being able to adapt/modify movement patterns.
Origination: creating new movement patterns to fit a particular situation or problem.

David Kolb and Honey and Mumford

David Kolb

In the 1970’s David Kolb developed the Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) after observing management students. Through observation he noticed that they often had preferences of one activity (i.e. tasks/exercises) over another (i.e. lectures/presentations). Kolb believed that learning styles were not a fixed trait and that it was dynamic in nature. However, in the absence of any proper longitudinal research, Kolb believed that learning styles might not change within an individual. For example the learning style preferences that a 60 year old may have may not be any different to those that they held when they were 20 years old.

Four dominant learning styles make up Kolb’s theory and each are located within a different quadrant of the learning cycle.

  1. Converging (abstract/active)
  2. Diverging (concrete/reflective)
  3. Assimilating (abstract/reflective)
  4. Accommodating (concrete/active)

Experiential learning is simply put – learning by experience. The concept was popularized by David A. Kolb who greatly expanded previous works on the model (Kolb, 1984) by drawing heavily on the earlier work and contributions of John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Kurt Lewin.

The concept of experiential learning has become widely discussed in the game sphere as games facilitate learning through experience as its core component (see: (Kiili, 2005)). A player cannot progress through a virtual environment without first having experienced it.

Concrete Experience (CE): Learning from specific experiences and relating to people. Sensitive to other’s feelings.

Reflective Observation (RO): Observing before making a judgment by viewing the environment from different perspectives. Looks for the meaning of things.

Abstract Conceptualisation (AC): Logical analysis of ideas and acting on intellectual understanding of a situation.

Active Experimentation (AE): Ability to get things done by influencing people and events through action. Includes risk-taking.

Honey and Mumford

Peter Honey and Alan Mumford extended David Kolb’s experiential learning model.


Two adaptations were made to Kolb’s experiential model. Firstly, the stages in the cycle were renamed to accordance with managerial experiences of decision making/problem solving. The Honey & Mumford stages are:

  • Having an experience
  • Reviewing the experience
  • Concluding from the experience
  • Planning the next steps

These stages consist of the following learning style categorisations:

  1. Activists: enthusiastic individuals who like to get involved and learn best by doing.
  2. Reflectors: Individuals who prefer to observe and think about things before they do anything. They like assessing tasks and concepts from all perspectives to make an informed decision. They prefer to sit and observe in order to learn the information before implementing the concepts and techniques that they have learned.
  3. Theorists: Analytical individuals who like processes and doing tasks methodically. They have a preference to methods of instruction that present information in a structured and organised fashion.
  4. Pragmatists: Practical individuals who prefer the quickest solution to solving a problem. They seek realistic examples to directly apply to the task at hand, rather than indulging themselves in meaningless hypotheticals.


Gardner’s, Blooms, Honey and Mumford and Dunn and Dunn’s models offer insight into the variations of how individuals learn. They encompass what the paradigms try to differentiate which is a far more dynamic and adaptive approach.

While constructivism is prevalent in most modern day classrooms (along side its other sub domains such as social and communal constructivism), it only falls into a subsection of what both the models incorporate. The same can be said for cognitivism and behaviourism paradigms.

Learning styles (i.e. VARK) have received much criticism for their stringent nature, similar to that of learning paradigms, often requiring that the learner associate as one or the other.

The dynamic variability of these models facilitates the various forms of game systems and their accessories (i.e. Move, Kinect) in ways that the paradigms could not equality cater for on their own. Approaching learning from a more dynamic model in order to understand and facilitate the learning in a range of learning modalities, rather than a specific and defined paradigm, has more potential to create more flexible and accommodating learning and gameful experiences.



Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals Handbook I, Handbook I,. New York; New York; London: McKay ; Longman.

Burton, L. J., Westen, D., & Kowalski, R. M. (2008). Psychology: Australian and New Zealand Edition. John Wiley & Sons Australia, Limited.

Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Kiili, K. (2005). Digital game-based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model. The Internet and Higher Education, 8(1), 13–24. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2004.12.001

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall.

Skinner, B. F. (1945). The operational analysis of psychological terms. Psychological Review, 52(5), 270.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1967). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 5(3), 6–18.

Why Choose the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model? (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2013, from http://www.ilsa-learning-styles.com/Learning+Styles/Why+Choose+the+Dunn+and+Dunn+Learning+Styles+Model.html

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