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Do Students Really Have Different Learning Styles?





Learning styles—the notion that each student has a particular mode by which he or she learns best, whether it’s visual, auditory or some other sense—is enormously popular. It’s also been thoroughly debunked.

The scientific research on learning styles is “so weak and unconvincing,” concluded a group of distinguished psychologists in a 2008 review, that it is not possible “to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.” A 2010 article was even more blunt: “There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist,” wrote University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham and co-author Cedar Riener. While students do have preferences about how they learn, the evidence shows they absorb information just as well whether or not they encounter it in their preferred mode.

» via MindShift

So I can lecture now because my students prefer it?

I’m always amused when a group of “distinguished psychologists” makes a statement like this and claims it is based on “scientific evidence”. Do they really believe this negates all the “empirical evidence” lowly classroom teachers observe every day? I wonder how much grant money was used to fund this study?

Wait.  So so you agree or disagree with learning styles?

It worries me when we attack a science that is more often than not on “our side.”  The end of the article says:

This doesn’t mean, however, that teachers and parents should present material to be learned in just one fashion. All learners benefit when information is put forth in diverse ways that engage a multitude of the senses.

…[S]tudents benefit from encountering information in multiple forms.

So approaching material from the learning styles angle works — just not for the reasons many people think it does.  The article still encourages using multiple means of teaching the same information.

Putting their profession and the outcome — “scientific evidence” — in quotes like that is demeaning.  Educational psychologists are an important part of education; they assist teachers on the front lines in turning the empirical evidence they observe every day into data that can help push policy in the right direction (though whether the policymakers pay attention is suspect, or an outright no).

I speak as someone in both fields.

Filed under education learning styles teaching