Learning Styles: Dunn and Dunn Model

Learning Styles: Dunn and Dunn Model

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Term2.png Learning Styles: Dunn and Dunn Model
The Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Model anticipates an observable improvement in student learning and behaviour when a match has been achieved between instructional environments and Learning Styles. It has been developed for use across all learning levels aimed at improving the effectiveness of instruction, in particular for learners not demonstrating appropriate progress.

The model emerged out of 30 years of work that included a review of over 80 years of research on how children learn differently, by Professors Rita and Kenneth Dunn in the 1970s - an outcome initiated by the New York State Department of Education. In the classroom both observed distinct differences in the way learners responded to their instructional materials; some liked to learn alone and others with a teacher, resulting in the hypothesis that learning achievements were heavily influenced by relatively fixed characteristics, and that elements environmental, emotional, sociological, and physical contributed to the learning environment, and approaches individuals took when learning.

Motivated to raising awareness that students learn in different ways, both Rita and Kenneth Dunn believed instructors needed to provide multiple strategies to address all the learning styles of their students and maximise teaching materials for more efficient learning.

Refinement with the Dunn Learning Style model has been an on-going process based on extensive field work and studious research; further elements have been added of a cognitive nature and hemispheric preference. Subsequently, researchers at more than 130 institutions of Higher Education have participated in international research on the Dunn and Dunn Model and published more than 830 studies.

The Model

The five strands and elements:

1. Environmental

  • Where do learners prefer to learn – in a cool and quiet place, or warm and noisy?

2. Emotional

  • Does the learner need motivational support to learn effectively?
  • Will the learner continue to follow-through a learning task?
  • Can the learner assume individual responsibility for their learning?
  • Does the learner need structure?

3. Sociological

  • Does the learner work better alone, or with a colleague, or team, or in a variety of ways, or in a routine pattern?
  • How much guidance does the learner need from the instructor?

4. Physiological

  • When and how does the learner physically engage most in learning?
  • Is the learner Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic (VAK)?

5. Psychological

  • How does the learner process and respond to information and ideas?

Guide for Instructors

  • The learning environment (real or virtual) should be divided into partitioned areas with different climates and infrastructure that embraces attention to lighting (low or bright), temperature (cool or warm), seating arrangements (informal or formal), sound (quiet or with background sound).
  • Allow students choice in how to learn - alone, with peers or with an instructor.
  • Vary teaching techniques based on different learning configurations: Multiple Intelligences, VAK Learning (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic).
  • Challenge individuals at their functional ability or slightly above that level.
  • Facilitate learning activities for:
    • Self-starter learners who can monitor and pace themselves to the finish: provide long-term projects, self-designed objectives, procedures, and evaluations.
    • Learners in need of frequent support, devise short uncomplicated assignment tasks that need monitoring frequently, and provide regular positive feedback. Short assignments could gradually be increased in length/scope as tasks are successfully completed.
  • Use clearly stated objectives in simple form, and be precise about every aspect of each task.
  • Stagger the introduction of new material - if in the classroom, then across the day; Online learning, then across each unit.
  • Encourage peer relationships with persistent learners.
  • Review work at regular intervals and feedback

In addition to identifying these elements in the model, the Dunns developed an assessment, to identify the learning style needs of learners across all age groups. There are four assessment types that are computer processed, generating a clear and ‘easy to read’ indication of an individual’s learning style and how the learning environment might be modified to cater to their needs. The questionnaire encourages the learner to select answers they believe describes them best, and takes around 25 minutes to compete.. Reports are formulated from the question evaluations offering “comprehensive insights and strategies that promise academic achievement and improved performance”.

When instructors are familiar with their own learning style(s), and those of their students, they are more adept at customising lessons and the learning environment to facilitate learning that is conducive to their learners. Ideally this will motivate them to learn in a more focused and interested way. The sharing of knowledge, of learning styles types, various approaches and outcomes of why and how people learn the way they do, with the learner would give relevant context to their learning.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Job Aid

Pdf.png Learning Styles: Dunn and Dunn Model | Guide for Instructors

Link icon.png Web Resources
Find below additional information and resources.
Link Content
Dunn and Dunn Dunn and Dunn: School-Based Learning Styles. Retrieved 16 July 2012.


  1. Dunn, R., Dunn K., & Price, G.E. (1985). Learning Styles Inventory (LSI): An Inventory for the Identification of How Individuals in Grades 3 through 12 Prefer to Learn. Lawrence, KS: Price Systems.
  2. Dunn, Rita, & Honigsfeld. (2009). Differentiating Instruction for At-Risk Students: What to Do and How to Do It. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
  3. Dunn, Rita, & Griggs, Shirley A. (Eds.). (2000). Practical Approaches to Using Learning Styles in Higher Education. Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.
  4. Dunn, R. (2000). Learning styles: Theory, research, and practice. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 13, (1), 3-22.
  5. 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.