How Students Learn

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The University of Vermont is looking to create a new system to help appeal to students’ different learning styles. According to an article by Tim Johnson in the Burlington Free Press:

Two years into a three-year, $1 million federal grant to implement “universal design for learning” across campus, faculty at the University of Vermont are being encouraged to draw from an array of new pedagogical techniques — not just for students with “special needs,” but for others as well.

The idea is that students have different learning patterns — some learn better auditorially, some better visually, some by using their hands and so on — so they can be most effectively engaged in different ways. A video of a professor talking about what a course will cover, for example, might be reach some students better than a conventional syllabus in text.

UVM is now hosting a three-day conference called “Better Learning By Design” in which national experts discuss flexibility in presenting information and engaging and evaluating students.

The idea of universal design appears to be for teachers to present courses in multiple ways. Different components appeal to different learners. This is not just for students with disabilities; everyone apparently has different learning styles and might benefit from creative, innovative presentation.

Well, maybe. $1 million federal grants aside, there’s not actually much evidence that learning styles really matters. The whole thing might actually be sort of made up. As psychologists Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork demonstrated in a paper they wrote for Psychological Science in the Public Interest back in 2008, “learning-styles hypothesis has little, if any, empirical grounding”; there’s no strong evidence to support the idea that different people learn best with strategies that attempt to address their individual learning methods. [Image via]

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