“Learning Styles” Takes a Hit

For years one of the big themes in education involved learning styles. Some students learned best with hands-on projects. Some learned by reading. Others learned by hearing information aloud. This chart shows the different learning styles. Apparently it doesn’t matter much, however. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match your students’ styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are said to do worse.

Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no strong scientific evidence to support the “matching” idea, they contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to adopt it in the classroom.

Well, not that they ever really tried. At the university level no colleges, even those with education schools, ever made any major changes in instruction that anyone could see along these lines. No college really tried to accommodate different learning styles.The idea of matching university teaching to learning styles was wildly impractical. What to do if one has 350 students?

The paper doesn’t actually demonstrate that teaching based on different learning styles isn’t effective, it merely points out that the majority of studies about learning styles “have not used the type of randomized research designs that would make their findings credible.”

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer