Are Learning Styles Real?

| By TMA World

“Learning Styles Have No Validity”

Thirty leading academics from the neuroscience, education, and psychology fields have signed a letter to The Guardian newspaper letting educators know they have concerns about the validity of ‘learning styles’.  

They oppose the theory that learning is more effective if a student is taught using an individual ‘learning style’ approach (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic).  The letter aims to challenge common ‘neuromyths’ that do nothing to make education more effective.  In 2012, researchers in the UK and Netherlands found that 80 percent of teachers believed individuals learned better when information was delivered in their preferred learning style.  In 2013, research by the Welcome Trust found that 76 percent of teachers used learning styles in their teaching.  

As well as being unsubstantiated by the scientific evidence, there is a time and financial cost to education that is unwarranted. Some schools use external consultants or send their teachers on expensive training courses.  There is also a cost to students in that they assigned to groups or categories based on a supposed learning style.  This can lead to a fixed learning approach that “could impair pupils’ potential to apply or adapt themselves to different ways of learning.” (The Guardian, 12 March, 2017).

Instead of learning styles, the researchers want teachers to focus on evidence-based practices.

Along with many other trainers, I’ve used learning and cognitive style material in corporate training rooms.  Many of these participants recognize they might have a dominant style (e.g. pragmatic, theoretical) but resist being pigeon-holed.  I have found a more indirect approach to be useful – “Here’s a problem, now let’s look at the value different approaches can make.”  The world is complex and requires flexible learners; learners of any age shouldn’t be pigeon-holed – labels have a nasty habit of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

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