Learning Style Myths

Learning Style Myths

debunking a pervasive tale in education

Finding Patterns In Teaching

What is a Learning Style?

The latest teaching craze that has seen a sharp rise in converts in the past twenty years is learning styles: the idea that we each learn a different way. Some of us learn visually, while some of us respond better to an audio lesson; some perform well with reading and text, and others like hands on, or kinesthetic, activities over the traditional lecture-style classroom.

Except, even if you ask many teaching professionals about their opinions on learning styles (and it’s overwhelmingly positive), theses styles seem to have little to no impact on how students learn or on their performance in a given subject. Interviews conducted by The Atlantic probed recent studies for vital information on the subject of how people learn and found that the theory of learning styles, popularized in the early 90s, doesn’t reflect reality.


Why it Sounds Great

It is certainly a tantalizing prospect, however: categorizing learners in neat boxes to serve out tailored lessons, in order to make study time efficient for all. Those who scored high in the visual section on VARK tests (that’s Visual, Aural, Reading, Kinesthetic) study better (and learn more effectively) with the use of visual lessons. Yet this system overlooks the idea that humans function more complexly than that.

Much like our personalities, learning styles can’t be so easily standardized and divided into categories. In fact, humans are intelligent enough to respond to all four “styles” effectively, and not one method trumps the other in a given individual. However, there are certain activities that clearly favor a style. For instance, reading books and watching soccer games can only get you so far in learning to play soccer. But tuning a lesson to fit every learning style may be a waste of time, and it may serve better to encourage different types of learning from the students.


The True Science

A professor at Indiana University, Polly Husmann, conducted an experiment which observed students in an undergraduate anatomy class who found their learning styles by taking the VARK test. Those who changed their studying habits to match the learning style test performed no differently when quizzed on the material than those who did not change their habits based on the VARK test results.

While it’s certain that there’s no benefit to students discovering these styles and implementing them in the classroom, they may still serve as a window into some facet of your personality.


How to Change

It’s best to focus on ways to help students develop healthy study habits; their learning style won’t make them suffer during lessons! It is also more beneficial to encourage students to think about what strategies work for them, and how they can improve on them, or adapt entirely new strategies. Promote social classrooms and outside thinking; push students to apply knowledge from other areas they’ve encountered in their education.

Processing new information works best when students are grouped in a communal classroom, one that relies on communication and foundational skills to gain, interpret, and pass knowledge. Reinforce a positive ethic and real class discussion and practice; relying too heavily on rote memorization and drills can corrode their ability to become effective learners. Not every student adheres to a learning style, but they all learn in their own unique way.