The Myth Of Learning Styles

After several years of writing for Edudemic, I’d have to say that one of the most controversial topics we’ve ever written about is the concept of different learning styles. Whenever this particular topic has come up, there are folks who write to us saying they appreciate the reminder that every student learns differently, while many others write telling us how stupid we are for even thinking of supporting the idea that there are different types of learners. I’ve seen an enormous selection of infographics circulating that show different learning styles. We’ve even shared some of them. So today’s infographic is for the learning styles nay-sayers. The handy infographic below deconstructs the myth of learning styles.

What do you think? Are the different learning styles truth or fiction? Leave a message in the comments! (Please keep in mind that this infographic represents just one side of the argument – it plays devil’s advocate, if you will. Please be nice to one another in the comments!)

Deconstructing The Myth of Learning Styles

  • 82% thought that teaching children in their preferred learning style could improve learning outcomes. This approach is commonly justified in terms of brain function, despite educational and scientific evidence demonstrating that the learning style approach is not helpful.
  • There are three ‘learning styles’ that are most commonly referenced – auditory, kinesthetic, and visual.
  • The other main styles commonly referenced are verbal, mathematical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.
  • Advocates argue that better learning outcomes can be achieved when a teacher takes a student’s learning style into consideration.
  • Adversaries argue that this particular concept is scientifically not proven.
  • There is no convincing evidence to prove that when an instructor changes the presentation mode of his course to match the learning style of the students it actually helps them.
  • There is no ‘better’ or ‘faster’ learning outcome of implementing individual preferences in a course. It is just simply a style.
  • Instructors should not just take into consideration a learner’s style, but also their background and interests.
  • Content is the parameter that should directly affect the mode of presentation.
  • It is definitely more efficient to create a course based on the motivational characteristics of the students and not their learning styles, and always be ready to adjust the teaching method as necessary.
  • Perceptual learning has to do with senses and there is nothing restrictive about that. It doesn’t prove that someone is a specific type of learner, but merely suggests that someone prefers a particular style of learning.
  • Not all learning happens the same way, and neither should teaching. What’s crucial is to decide which techniques are best for which learning outcomes.

 

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7 Comments

  1. TomMcDonald

    January 31, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    The copious research evidence is clear that teaching to individual learning styles has yet to be proven to advance individual learning outcomes

    http://mcdonaldsalesandmarketing.biz/26922/learning-styles-12/

    The research also reflects that instructor facilitated, Blended learning, provides the best learning outcomes

    My vote now and always goes with the research proven validated learning methodologies

  2. Geoff Cain

    January 31, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    The “no convincing evidence” is usually code for any evidence that doe not support my position! http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume5/ej20/ej20r7/?wscr=

  3. Barry Dyck

    February 1, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Much of the discussion of learning styles is framed within the notion of delivering content into students’ heads. That’s the “input.” The fault here is this notion of “learning.” We learn to fulfill a need be it pragmatic, aesthetic or simply curiosity.

    If I want to learn how to install a new door and frame in my house, I might watch videos, but I’d most want to physically have someone show as assist me in doing it. To learn how to coach basketball, I’ll read books and diagrams, watch videos and attend a coaching seminar where I can physically see and work out drills and such. My point is that the learning purpose has a lot to do with the appropriate method of learning. Being a “kinesthetic learner” isn’t going to help me read a difficult written text.

    We all have different interests and different aptitudes. Perhaps we should be focusing more on universal design. We should also be celebrating and encouraging our differences as strengths, as positive interdependence within the broader community.

    Learning requires participants, not spectators. We should be working to develop multi-literacies and multi-skills through multi-modalities.

  4. Josh Cuevas

    February 3, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I recently reviewed the research literature since Pashler et al. in 2009 to see if studies were published recently that found a significant interaction effect when testing the matching hypothesis (matching the mode of instruction to students’ purported learning styles). What I found was a great deal of correlational research that did not actually test whether teaching to learning styles improved learning. Many of the studies that found support for the LS concept were published in predatory journals where the researchers paid a fee to have their work published (a highly suspect practice). The studies with the strongest designs published in legitimate journals refuted the LS hypothesis. I could not find any experimental studies in top level psychology journals, or even top level education journals for what it’s worth, that provided even marginal evidence that learning styles impact learning. Apparently hypotheses for attribute-treatment interaction effects were being disproven as far back as the 1960′s only to pop up again repeatedly under “new and improved” frameworks.

  5. Josh Cuevas

    February 4, 2014 at 10:41 am

    I recently reviewed the research literature since Pashler et al. in 2009 to see if studies were published recently that found a significant interaction effect when testing the matching hypothesis (matching the mode of instruction to students’ purported learning styles). What I found was a great deal of correlational research that did not actually test whether teaching to learning styles improved learning. Many of the studies that found support for the LS concept were published in predatory journals where the researchers paid a fee to have their work published (a highly suspect practice). The studies with the strongest designs published in legitimate journals refuted the LS hypothesis. I could not find any experimental studies in top level psychology journals, or even top level education journals for what it’s worth, that provided even marginal evidence that learning styles impact learning. Apparently hypotheses for attribute-treatment interaction effects were being disproven as far back as the 1960′s only to pop up again repeatedly under “new and improved” frameworks.

    Sorry, but if a person only holds a bachelor’s degree, is not a psychologist, and/or has a financial interest in promoting learning styles, then it’s likely that they are not qualified to assess the hypothesis.

  6. Ron Petherbridge

    February 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

    I too have often questioned a lot of the rhetoric around how to teach to different learning styles. While the basis of this subject is sound; different people use different parts of their brain more than others when it comes to learning, how do we actually achieve learning in everyone? I agree with many of the other comments that it’s all about peaking their interest. If they are turned off to the subject, how can you make it relevant to them? If you have no interest in how to cook an egg, then why should you bother learning about it. So find out how to peak their interest by investigating different ways to learn the material you want them to learn. Can they study the scientific properties of eggs, just practice different ways to cook the egg and through investigation take notes on their observations, or maybe read about different cooking methods, or even test out of the subject and move onto something of more interest. If the student cannot find relevance in the subject they won’t learn because they have chosen not too. Regarding Kinestetic learning, it’s more about getting students off their butts and moving around just to wake them up and do something fun and different. You will never find one method for all, so using different learning approaches for the same subject will increase the number of students who learn. It’s about repetition and making the material relevant to the students so they take interest and can relate to the subject. Regarding relevance, I am amazed how many students know so little about the world around them because they just don’t explore any more. They spend to much time on-line and not enough time out there discovering why do I only see 1-2 stars out when the sun is starting to set and are these really stars. Why is the pond green and mucky. How do I effectively steer my car when I hit an icy patch. Learning through play and inquiry. My parents always made me go outside and play during the day. No TV until you have had dinner with the family and done your homework. That’s why I like science. As a kid I burned bugs with magnifying glasses, took apart cars, gazed at the stars, played in the local ponds and collected bugs, snails, salamanders, and butterflys. The other day I had one student say, I love physics, it tells you all about how things around you work. That is the trigger, but getting kids away from what they know (facebook and TV) and to find fun in learning all different subjects is not about their learning style, it’s about getting them to take interest. And if you can’t relate the material to something they already understand, they have no basis to learn the material. It has to make sense to them, so relate it to something that does make sense to them. So we need to think like the students we teach and relate the material to them. If it means showing a video or showing them pretty pictures and pick which pictures show a pattern or match to the answer (visual learning right) then make it work. It’s not visual, its using images they can relate to to get the point across. Thanks for your time.

  7. Amy Peach

    March 12, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Be careful about using social science research focused on education as the only guide for these decisions. As an educational researcher myself I can tell you that quite a bit of useful information can be gleaned from educational research to help guide your efforts, but the key word there is GUIDE. Look at the impact on your students when applying methods “proven by research”. Did it work? If not, then the research isn’t 100% correct is it?

    For this topic in particular, I find simply knowing about learning styles and attempting to use methods endorsed by each to be extremely helpful. It helps us change up methods and keeps the kids and myself on our toes. Whether it produces measurable improvement, I don’t know. And the thing is, neither does the research. Generalization of results is risky in cases that involve kids, social situations, and (most importantly) the IRB.