Learning Styles Debunked?

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Illustration by mohamed hassan

Most individuals have a preferred way of learning (learning preference or style). For many years, many educators — including myself — thought that matching how students were taught to their learning preferences enhanced their learning.

However, in the paper Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence by Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, the authors’ research concludes that there is little empirical evidence to support the notion that teaching according to learning styles improves learning outcomes.

There is also a YouTube video, The Biggest Myth In Education, by Veritasium, that explores the concept of learning styles and the idea that individuals have unique learning preferences. The video also discusses the need for more scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of learning styles and suggests that the concept may be counterproductive in some cases.

Learning Preference Models

There are many different models of learning preference, one of the most popular being the VARK model:

These learners prefer to see information, such as through diagrams, charts, and pictures.

These learners prefer to hear information through lectures and discussions.

These learners prefer to learn through reading and writing, such as through text-based materials.

These learners prefer to learn through hands-on experiences and activities.

Should Learning Preferences be Ignored?

This research doesn’t say that students don’t have a learning preference — it’s just that matching preference and learning doesn’t improve learning.

Matching the teaching method to the subject makes far more sense. For example, if you were teaching a child to ride a bike, wouldn’t it be better to use ‘Kinesthetic/Tactile’ rather than ‘Visual/Auditory/Reading/Writing’?

My opinion is that ‘Learning Preferences’ shouldn’t be ignored for two reasons:

  1. Teaching styles should be matched to the subject matter.
  2. Students should be encouraged to use their preferred ‘Learning Style’ even though there is no proof that their results will be improved. If they feel relaxed about learning, this will have long-term benefits.

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