Are learning styles a real thing or are they a myth?
That is a good question, and you can get different answers depending on who you ask and how the question is interpreted.
You have probably heard of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. Some lists include verbal, social, and solitary styles. Others include dozens of learning styles.
You might even believe that you are a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner or an auditory learner and so on. These labels and ideas have been around for quite some time.
As with almost all labels, I have some issue with them.
I do believe that a learner, myself included, tends to feel more comfortable with one style over another; however, I don’t want to leave anything on the table – or rather, out of the toolbox when I am learning.
The more tools I have, the better.
To answer the question: Yes, learning styles are real. Having said this, the fact that you have the tendency to learn more easily in one style or another does not mean that you shouldn’t use as many of the learning styles and techniques as possible to add to your repertoire!
The contrary is true for at least two reasons.
The first is that most assessments are incredibly poor at accurately determining one’s learning style. Most people “think” they are in a particular camp; however, this is based on little or no information. Many people believe that their learning style is inherited, or they have completed an online quiz or very basic “assessment” that simply could never determine something so complex.
Some people have been assessed (or guessed) at a particular type of learner only to find years later that they are stronger at a style they had rejected for the most part!
Secondly, if you truly do have a specific learning style, there is absolutely no evidence that spending quality time using the other methods and styles of learning is a waste of your time and effort.
The truth is that the more modalities you can incorporate into your learning, the better. You want to be inclusive not exclusive in this regard. If you are a little weaker in one area, you should not avoid it. You should make an effort to strengthen it.
Often people become entrenched in the belief that they must know their learning style and then must follow through with specific teaching methods that match only that style – cater to each specific learner.
In my tutoring business over twenty-five years, I have seen students from 4 years of age to over 70, and they have all been different. I have never seen anyone who didn’t benefit from using their current abilities to strengthen their weaknesses.
For me, while learning styles might not be totally a myth, we should not base our own learning or the teaching of our children or students on something with such a weak foundation.
The American Psychological Association has stated that “many parents and educators may be wasting time and money on products, services and teaching methods that are geared toward learning styles.”
I have seen this happen not only with learning styles but with parents or teachers scrambling for programs that will pinpoint a problem and address it as if each child is preprogrammed in only one way. While spending time and often lots of money on these distractions, the child’s learning falls further behind.
In the abstract from a review of learning style studies we see major issues with learning styles: Finally, nearly all studies that report evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy just about all of the key criteria for scientific validity. This article delivers an evidence-informed plea to teachers, administrators and researchers to stop propagating the learning styles myth.
Don’t give up on your own learning or your child’s learning by reducing the number of tools in your toolbox.
Include them all! The more learning styles or modalities you use, the better. Incorporate what works best without ignoring other methods that can enhance your learning and build your knowledge base.
This week's video: