The ‘Learning Styles’ Myth: Don’t Spread Fake News

Don’t put anyone in a box if you don’t want to stunt their growth.

Are you interested in progress in education? Are you interested in helping teachers and students develop as quickly and deeply as possible? Me too. Then the latest scientific and psychological studies need to filter down to our teachers in courses like CELTA and down to students in our classes.

I’ll be brief with this one. You’re not just a visual learner. You’re not just an auditory learner. You’re not just a kinesthetic learner. You’re not just a reading/writing learner. You’re an all-round learner. The studies are in and the ‘Learning Styles’ theory has been debunked. Pass it on.

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Growing in traction since the 1970s, ‘Learning Styles’ is not a good idea anymore, not when reliable academic work has been debunking this myth repeatedly for the last 10-15 years. Yet, amazingly, the ‘Learning Styles’ zombie won’t die, and is still being spread in education in 2020.

Don’t take my word for it; I’m just the messenger: below are key quotes from three articles based on respectable academic sources, followed by the links to the full articles. The case to the contrary is flimsy at best.

Repetition for clarity: ‘Learning Styles’ is a myth.

Article 1. Association for Psychological Science, 2009.

‘But does scientific research really support the existence of different learning styles, or the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style? Unfortunately, the answer is no, according to a major report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.’

Full article: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/learning-styles-debunked-there-is-no-evidence-supporting-auditory-and-visual-learning-psychologists-say.html

Article 2. Inside Higher Ed, 2019. 

‘What good teachers understand, experts say, is that the different senses each have their own strengths and weaknesses. “We’re all visual learners,” Boser said. “Our vision is the best system to take in data.” Likewise, we’re all auditory learners — when the material calls for it.’

‘The group, led by University of California, San Diego, psychology professor Hal Pashler, noted that all humans, “short of being afflicted with certain types of organic damage,” are born with “an astounding capacity to learn, both in the amount that can be learned in one domain and in the variety and range of what can be learned.”’

Full article: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/01/09/learning-styles-debate-its-instructors-vs-psychologists

Article 3. The Atlantic, 2018.

‘The “learning styles” idea has snowballed—as late as 2014, more than 90 percent of teachers in various countries believed it. The concept is intuitively appealing, promising to reveal secret brain processes with just a few questions. Strangely, most research on learning styles starts out with a positive portrayal of the theory—before showing it doesn’t work.’

‘Another study published last year in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning visually thought they would remember pictures better, and those who preferred learning verbally thought they’d remember words better. But those preferences had no correlation to which they actually remembered better later on—words or pictures. Essentially, all the “learning style” meant, in this case, was that the subjects liked words or pictures better, not that words or pictures worked better for their memories.’ The perniciousness of self-labelling, which extends out into socio-cultural intersectional groupings *cough*. 

Full article: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/the-myth-of-learning-styles/557687/

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The studies are in: ‘Learning Styles’ theory is a myth. We’re all trying to do our best for teaching and learning, but this is the opposite of helpful.

So please…Don’t put anyone in a box; they won’t grow.

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Thanks for reading. Spread the word and help a colleague or a student out with this.

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5 thoughts on “The ‘Learning Styles’ Myth: Don’t Spread Fake News

  1. As teacher trainers I think we feel obliged to teach trainees about the whole thing almost because it’s such an elephant in the room. When training YL teachers and it inevitably comes up, I bring the thought to the table that as a teacher I want all my kids to encounter and work with all the styles of teaching. Whether they think they are a certain type of learner (in my experience kids don’t think like that!) or not, they are going to have to deal with different ways of learning and acquiring information throughout their lives. Focusing on one as a teacher is impractical, time consuming, and, as you say, frequently debunked. Focusing on one as a learner is cutting yourself off from lots of other ways of developing. Why on earth would we want that, for our students or for ourselves?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That this still persists in ESL land amazes me. I did my CELTA 1 year before doing a PGCE and both courses included Learning Styles (2007/2008), but in UK state education this idea disappeared quite a long time ago now. I’ve noticed that despite being ahead of the curve on some things, TEFL can have a tendency to cling onto some outdated ideas for a long time. Another TEFL classic that needs to be updated is the myth that Teacher Talk is basically the devil – it clearly isn’t when used properly!

    Liked by 1 person

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