That’s right; read the title twice.

The idea of learning styles has been indoctrinated into teachers, students, and learners everywhere, but reviewing the scientific literature on educational research exposes a giant error. Simply put, there are no definitive studies correlating the use of specific learning styles with improved test performance.

For reference, “learning styles” generally refer to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic: those who innately “learn best” by seeing, hearing, or physically interacting with material. There are other sources that go into greater detail, naming dozens of “styles,” but for simplicity the above 3 groupings will be used.

In 2008, psychologists and professors Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel Doug Rohrer, and Robert A. Bjork published a literature review in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In it, they wanted to determine whether learning styles were supported by any real evidence. Their conclusion?

Nope.

In their own words, “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice." (1)

In fact, some of the literature they reviewed proved that individuals with self-selected learning styles performed better on tests using a different style than the one they assigned themselves. Why then do many teachers and students still believe in learning styles if there is no sound evidence proving they work?

Researchers Beth A. Rogowsky, Barbara M. Calhoun, and Paula Tallal published a study in the Journal of Educational Psychology last February in response to the lack of evidence. Their experimental design directly tested the effects of preferred learning style on test performance. Unfortunately, their results “demonstrated no statistically significant relationship between learning style preference (auditory, visual word) and instructional method." (2)

It is important to note that Pashler, Rohrer, and Bjork agree “the optimal instructional method is likely to vary across disciplines,” noting that “the optimal curriculum for a writing course probably includes a heavy verbal emphasis, whereas the most efficient and effective method of teaching
geometry obviously requires visual–spatial materials" (1). Understandably, showing someone what a triangle looks like is more practical than describing it to them, and specific classes inherently require different educational platforms.

What then can a studious student do? If you have a preference for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning, don’t assume you’re “wrong.” Continue using the methods of learning that have worked for you, but realize that restricting yourself to specific learning approaches might actually hinder your intellectual development. @@Learning is important, learning styles are not.@@ Experiment and refine your academic tool set, and keep an open mind for practices that could benefit you.

As long as you utilize good study skills, you’ll set yourself up for success.


1. Pashler, Harold et al. ‘Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence.’ Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9.3 (2009): 105–119. Web.

2. Rogowsky, Beth A., Barbara M. Calhoun, and Paula Tallal. ‘Matching Learning Style to Instructional Method: Effects on Comprehension.’ Journal of Educational Psychology 107.1 (2015): 64–78. Web.

Cover Photo via Pexels, Creative Commons Zero License

 

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