The Learning Styles Myth
Do students learn better when the instruction they receive is tailored to their specific learning style – such as visual, auditory, verbal or kinesthetic? According to Adam Grant (NY Times best selling author, Wharton Professor & psychologist) the overwhelming evidence is that they do not. WOW! Really? Well over 90% of school educators, myself included, have believed that they do. It’s a popular myth. Experts like Harold Pashler and Doug Rohrer have indicated that the evidence in support of learning styles is weak, not supported by research and could even be harmful (Is it good to teach to a student’s strength?). They find no data in support of learning style based instruction. Hmmm..
Yet support for learning styles has been propagated to educators in countless ways – hundreds of books, conferences, organizations and all kinds of professional development. Think of the money spent! Not to mention the energy, time and expense of assessing a student’s supposed learning style.
So then how do students learn? Grant believes that we all learn by listening, reading and doing. Perhaps the most effective learning modality should be based on the material to be learned. Certainly teachers can tailor their teaching style and combine different forms of instruction to improve learning.
I wonder how many myths about the brain (neuromyths) have persisted in schools and have been used to justify ineffective approaches to learning.
This is a complex topic which raises many questions – What about students with special needs? What about differentiated instruction? So all learning style advocates, it may be worth our time to check out the research.
While you are at it, check us out at: root-ed.org
Fran McGreevy at Root-Ed Leadership and Learning