How Did You Know That?!Learning Styles and the Brain
Although most commonly framed in academic contexts, learning style lies at the foundation of individual identity and development. Learning, "the process of acquiring knowledge about the world" (1) and learning style, "...the sum of the patterns of how individuals develop habitual ways of responding to experience" (2) reflect an array of attitudes, emotional responses, preferences and habits. It is the basis of how we interact with, process and are subsequently affected by inputs from our environment. In addition to providing a general overview of learning styles, this paper makes the claim that distinctions resulting from these models support the existence of the I-function.
A preliminary understanding of learning styles requires some knowledge of brain functioning. Currently, specific cerebral locations are associated with particular functions. The left and right hemispheres of the brain employ different strategies that classify individuals as either analytic (left) or global (right) learners. "A successive processor (left) prefers to learn in a step-by-step sequential format, beginning with details leading to a conceptual understanding of a skill. A simultaneous processor (right) prefers to learn beginning with the general concept and then going on to specifics." (2) Constructing learning style along these lines has dictated classroom methods for decades. Traditional pedagogy has long favored the left-sided student, emphasizing accurate, rational and sequential thought. Right-sided learners, with a proclivity towards a spontaneous, random, and visual style, possess a mode that is undervalued and often stifled.
Current theories of human learning contend that learning occurs via two independent systems in the brain, the implicit (non-declarative) and explicit (declarative). One primary distinction that results from this model is between a learning style that involves the encoding of information as instances, or specific fragments, as compared to abstract rules. (4) Implicit learning occurs through the memorization of instances that one encounters during the learning process, whereas explicit learning results from the generation and testing of hypotheses. Of particular interest is research that examines how a particular goal type affects whether implicit/instance based or explicit/rule based learning predominates. It was determined that goal specificity does in fact determine which type of learning occurs. Namely, a specific goal corresponds to instance learning while a non-specific goal results in rule learning. Superior learning of non-specific goal learners was demonstrated by enhanced ability to reach a specific goal in a post-learning test phase, to predict the computer's next response in a novel situation, to predict performance in familiar situations, and to describe the rule underlying the performed task. Conversely, specific goal learners transferred their learning less...