“Are Learning Styles a myth?” It seems that new studies debunk the long-held theory that teachers should develop teaching strategies to reach every student in the classroom effectively.
A popular teaching method is to use learning styles to identify the particular way a student prefers to learn, and then to customize lesson plans to suit that preference. The commonly accepted theory is that students perform better when taught using their preferred learning style. Unfortunately, there is no research to back up the popular idea that using learning styles can lead to more effective education.
Even though learning styles have been debunked, up to 90% of teachers still believe learning styles is real. That means that they think that students will be more successful in their studies if the teacher matches their teaching method with the preferred style of the students.
There is no evidence that proves that learning styles improve learning outcomes. There is in fact more research that suggests that groups fare better when taught using multiple methods, regardless of preferred learning style.
Table of Contents
What are learning styles? Learning styles can be defined as the way that different students learn. A style of learning refers to an individual’s preferred way to learn, retain, and apply the information they are learning.
Everyone has a preferred way to take in information. If you are taught or study using your own learning style, you will learn more effectively.
A learning style refers to an individual’s method of making sense of new material, commonly through sight, touch and sound.
The first person to recognize learning styles was Aristotle in 334 BC when he noted that each child possesses specific talents and skills. Since then the concept of learning styles has evolved with many new researchers developed their own ideas regarding learning styles.
Lev Vygotsky believed that a child’s development stems from social interactions. Jean Piaget’s theory is that a child’s development is influenced by her or his own independent experiences. There are still many other researchers with their own theories on learning styles.
Learning styles were started in the 1970s and have been advanced by well-meaning teachers and diligent students striving for more effective methods of learning. The theory was accepted because it maintained the belief that children are unique and therefore require unique instruction.
One such educational theory has the acronym ‘VARK’ which describes the four learning styles that every individual student prefers. This idea was first described in a 1992 study by Neil D. Flemming and Coleen E. Mills.
These different learning styles are Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Each student is given a questionnaire to help identify and understand their own learning preferences at the start of learning which the teacher would use to craft a detailed syllabus to suit their learning needs.
There are four learning styles. We often refer to them as VARK – Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing, and Kinesthetic.
Visual learners tend to process information best when it is presented in a graphic format with visuals like diagrams, charts and animation, but not necessarily only photographs or videos.
Auditory learners are most successful when they are given the opportunity to listen to information vocally. They find more success when discussing ideas in group activities.
Students who prefer reading or writing have a strong learning preference for written material. With this style, you can add lots of information-rich sources.
They should be encouraged to take many notes during lectures.
Kinesthetic learners are hands-on, learners need to take a physically active role in their learning process in order to achieve their best educational outcomes.
Tactile students often enjoy skill-based, instructional activities in an interactive experience.
Visual learners prefer information in maps, charts, spider diagrams, flow charts and other visual devices that represent graphics instead of only words. Teachers can use the whiteboard to draw symbols to convey information.
Auditory or aural learners learn better from lectures, group discussions and talking out loud. These learners should use more activities where they can discuss ideas and explain themselves verbally.
Students that prefer reading and writing as a learning style often use internet articles, lists, dictionaries, quotations and any other written words.
Kinesthetic learners enjoy experiences in practice. This can be done throw simulated activities, demonstration and development through real skills application.
Unfortunately, there is no credible evidence that learning styles exist. In fact, the best evidence indicates the opposite to be true. Every learner has a certain amount of ability, interest, and background knowledge but not a specific learning style.
Research shows that when someone has a favorite style of presentation, it is usually for a type of task that they have a high ability for, and already feel successful at. If you are good at music, you might think you are an auditory learner, or if you’re artistic you might think you are visual.
You might prefer to learn in a particular way, but there’s no evidence that it will help you learn more effectively. Preference does not equal effectiveness.
Teachers often let students do a test to determine their learning style preferences at the start of the year. Teachers believe it’s important to have this knowledge about their students have before they start their syllabus in order to better prepare for their students’ needs.
Here is a link to an online learning style quiz that students can take to determine their preferred way of learning in 20 questions: What’s your learning style?
Here is a PDF with examples of learning styles.
Even though learning styles have been debunked, it is still used by many educators and educational institutions. It’s counterproductive in several ways, for example, it leads students to avoid certain areas in learning – if someone struggles with math they might just give it up.
Another problem with the learning styles theory is that the teacher or teaching methodology might be blamed when students do poorly due to lack of effort.
While all of us are unique, the most effective way for us to learn is usually based not on our individual learning preferences, but on the nature of the material being taught. If you disagree, imagine learning a martial art by reading a book, or painting by listening to an audiobook.