The term ‘perceptual style’ refers to the manner in which individuals generally and constantly organise the different elements or components of the stimulus situation while perceiving them, resulting in differences in the manner in which different people perceive the same stimulus situation.
The term ‘learning-style’ is only an extension of this. Here one may see the difference between learning-sets and learning-styles. The former is primarily a readiness or preparedness for learning activity in a particular situation. It is a condition or state obtaining in a particular learning situation.
Learning-style on the other hand is a stable and consistent mode of behaviour acquired by an individual, whenever he is engaged in learning activity. The more recent trend among psychologists is to look at learning as an active process with the learner as the centre of activity. This has led to a number of studies on such stable and general modes of behaviour in learning situation or learning-styles.
It has been found that the learning-style of an individual is influenced by a number of factors like ability of an individual, his personality, socio-cultural factors and situational factors. The last mentioned factor is of significance in that it suggested that people can switch from one style of learning, which is their usual style, to another style, if the situation requires. Thus learning-styles, which are enduring and acquired over a period, are still flexible.
From the point of view of education, one may see that different disciplines of knowledge, differ with regard to the appropriate learning-style which would result in maximum learning. Thus in learning a science subject, one has to be more analytical and have an eye for details. But when it comes to a discipline like philosophy, the accent should be on abstraction and broad conceptualization.
Again when a learner reaches a very advanced level, this difference between learning a science subject and philosophy fades. It may thus be seen that not only there are differences among disciplines with regard to the most effective learning-style, but within the same disciplines they change from one level of learning to another.
Learning-style has been defined in many ways. Perhaps, for the first time used by Thelin, this concept has been defined in many ways ranging from a concern with preferred sense modality (visual, auditory) to an enumeration of complex personality characteristics, that go with different kinds of learning behaviour.
One definition given by Dunn & Dunn reads, “learning-style is the way individuals concentrate on, absorb and retain new or difficult materials or skills”. Another definition states that learning style describes a learner in terms of the conditions under which he is most likely to learn generally and given the freedom it describes how a learner prefers to learn.
In general parlance, one may look at learning style as including the characteristics, cognitive, affective and physiological behaviour that serve as indicators of style. Learning-style may influence the learning-set as a learner characteristic along with his past experience, motivation, etc. In a way a person’s learning-style can be regarded as a link between his personality and cognitive behaviour.
According to Dunn learning-styles are acquired and are stable and change only slowly over years, and that too only through strong personal motivation. The learning-style of a person, according to Dunn includes environmental, emotional, sociological, physical and psychological components.
A total of about 23 elements or components are involved. According to Dunn and others who have studied about 9,00,000 persons, most people have about 6 to 14 of these elements. The environmental factors include temperature, light, noise, etc.
Emotional factors include, need for independence, dependence, need for reward and encouragement, range of academic interests, self-confidence, etc. Sociological and social elements include a preference to learn with peers, direct interaction with an adult authority figure or preference to learn alone etc.
Physically, some people prefer the visual medium, some the audio medium, rest, and intake or ability to continue learning in long spells, the time of the day-early morning or late night. Similarly some learners prefer to sit at a place and few others to recline, etc. Psychological factors include a global approach, trying to learn the task as a whole, or learn it in small bits, usage of imagery, etc.