Learning styles? They don't exist!

Tailoring instruction to the “learning styles” of students is a waste of time and resources, according to the latest research.
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Daniel T. Willingham

Tailoring instruction to the “learning styles” of students is a waste of time and resources, according to the latest research.

Twenty-seven years ago Howard Gardner published his theory of multiple intelligences in a book about education that became wildly popular, Frames of Mind. Not long afterward the corollary that students have individual learning styles went viral. An instructional-materials industry developed and prospered as teachers sought to meet the rather daunting challenge of assessing all their students' different learning styles and crafting a variety of activities within each day's lessons to match the differences.

According to the theory, to reach the diverse minds of individuals in the same classroom, a single history lesson, for example, should be presented in diverse teaching modes: visual, kinesthetic, logical/verbal, auditory, etc.

Last month, however, a group of cognitive scientists released a study concluding that the practice of shaping instruction around learning styles has no demonstrable effect on the individual student’s grasp of classroom material. The authors of “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence,” which appeared in the December issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, concluded that “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number.”

In an engaging short video, “Learning Styles Don’t Exist”, cognitive scientist and neurologist Daniel T. Willingham debunks the popular yet baseless theory with concise, brightly illustrated reasoning. Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of Why Don’t Students Like School?, goes beyond merely explaining why learning-styles theory is unsound. He explains why we’re prone to believe in it, which may make the research somewhat easier on the egos of classroom teachers who have built years of exhausting lesson plans on a false psychological premise.

(If you believe you’re a strictly verbal/logical learner, consider letting your visual/auditory friends and family watch the video while you read Willingham’s Washington Post column, “No Evidence Exists for Learning Style Theories.”)


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