Wait. What? Learning Styles are a Myth?

We’ve come so far in education, but most of the time little Johnny has to put a correct answer on a piece of paper. — Educational Theorist NC Teacher Dave

It turns out that students might not have learning styles at all, and if they did, teachers wouldn’t be able to tell what they are.

Frontiers in Education:

Learning styles (LS) have dominated educational practice since their popularization in the 1970s. Studies have shown that they are accepted by more than 90% of teachers worldwide. However, LS have also received extensive criticism from researchers and academics, due to the poor theoretical justification of the theory, their problematic measurement, and the lack of systematic studies supporting them.

It turns out there was no correlation between what teachers thought a child’s learning style was, and what the student thought.

No relationship was found between pupils’ self-assessment and teachers’ assessment, suggesting that teachers cannot assess the LS of their students accurately.

Yes. I just said that.

By the way, I believe in individualizing class experiences to match the interests of the child. I also individualize lessons based upon what they do not know.  

I’ve had a problem with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences since grad school, where it was pushed in every class. A quick definition from ASCD:

Gardner describes seven intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.2  The distinctions among these intelligences are supported by studies in child development, cognitive skills under conditions of brain damage, psychometrics, changes in cognition across history and within different cultures, and psychological transfer and generalization.

In practice, while Johnny might be quite intelligent in a bodily-kinesthetic or spacial way…I’m not sure knowing that will help him master Trigonometry, a form of math so foreign to me that it makes me glad for spell-check. In this way, the learning styles theory is similar.

Learning styles theory categorizes learners under the banners of visual, auditory or kinesthetic.  Simpler than Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.  The ASCD link above will take you to a longer discussion of the two theories.

Or to a cat video. I honestly don’t know what I linked. 

It turns out the teachers pretty much said they used the learning theories style, but most pretty much forgot what it was all about:

All teachers reported that they believed that teaching tailored to the students’ LS enhances the intake of new information. However, only four teachers referred to the VAK explicitly, that is by using the words visual, auditory, and/or kinaesthetic. For example, one female teacher reported, “Yes, of course I try to support the students whom I have found out to be visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic types with material that I design myself or that I find online.”

In other words, “When I print stuff off the internet, I try to find things which are auditory or kinesthetic, or something.”

The study authors pull no punches:

We suggest that if the identification of LS, as they are currently understood and used within primary education, is unreliable, as evident by the findings of the present study, this should constitute an additional reason why teachers should abandon the use of LS in instruction. Our study thus adds to the growing body of literature against the use of LS in education. Moreover, debunking the myth of LS as well as educating teachers in the use of evidence-based practices is recommended.

 Please, if I’ve angered those of you who absolutely love and live the learning styles or multiple intelligences theories…please feel free to comment.

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