Perhaps the most pervasive myth about education is the ubiquitous “learning styles” myth. A quick Google search will bring up millions of hits. Many of those hits are, tellingly, for websites trying to sell you their “learning styles” program. One of the main reasons the myth is so widespread is because, on the surface, it seems very intuitive. As teachers change up the ways they teach subjects, learners who were previously confused seem to now understand the material. Some people are naturally good at sports; therefore it stands to reason that if we can explain other subjects to them kinesthetically they will grasp the concepts quicker. Unfortunately, as simple and as eloquent a solution this seems to be, the science just isn’t there to back it up.
Rigorous scientific studies have been conducted to determine the efficacy of learning styles, and they all come to the same conclusion: using a student’s preferred “learning style” does not improve learning in any reliable way. The evidence against the myth is so substantial, there is even a cash reward ($5000 at the time of the writing) offered for anyone who can provide proof that preparing lessons while taking learning styles into account can produce meaningful learning benefits. The bounty is still unclaimed after nearly ten years in existence. Anecdotal evidence most certainly exists, but under scientific scrutiny none of it holds up.
Now, this is not to say that differences don’t exist between learners that should be taken into account. Things like baseline knowledge and skill at learning, as well as disabilities such as deafness or blindness, should all affect the type of lesson plans that are written. But these are not “learning styles” as such and should be treated with more respect.
For more detailed debunking of learning styles take a look at these resources:
- The Debunker Club- Learning Styles are NOT an Effective Guide for Learning Design
- Daniel Willingham Learning Styles FAQ
- TED Talk Learning Styles & the Importance of Critical Self-Reflection
- Will Thalheimer Learning Styles Challenge
For more great information, check out our resources page.
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