Weekly Digest #9: How to Talk About Learning Styles

Weekly Digest #9: How to Talk About Learning Styles

You may have already heard that “learning styles aren’t a thing” or even that “learning styles are the biggest educational myth”. Simply put, the “learning styles myth” is the idea that teaching in someone’s preferred modality (e.g., auditory) will help them learn. There is currently no solid evidence from controlled experiments to suggest that this is the case. Furthermore, the ironic thing is that even if learning styles did matter for learning, a better idea would be to teach to students’ dispreferred styles, in order to strengthen their weaknesses!

And yet, a lot of people hold on to the idea that learning styles are important and meaningful. Schools push learning styles training on teachers, and teachers then unknowingly push learning styles onto children, who then grow up believing that they learn best in a particular way.

A quick search of our blog makes it quite clear that we are not convinced by those arguments. But one thing we have noticed is that simply shouting “LEARNING STYLES ARE A MYTH” doesn’t get us very far. Any attempt to debunk the myth needs to be carefully positioned to address the assumptions and concerns of those who believe it.

So, we’ve come up with a set of criteria by which to judge articles that attempt to debunk learning styles (these are in addition to our standing criteria. In order to be maximally useful, a resource on learning styles must:

A.     Attempt to explain why the myth persists

B.     Specify what type of data would be needed to confirm the usefulness of learning styles

C.     Give examples of how teaching to learning styles can be harmful

D.   Suggest teaching methods that might be better than catering to learning styles

 

1) The Myth of Learning Styles by Dr. Cedar Riener @creiner and Dr. Daniel Willingham @DTWillingham 

Images from Twitter

Images from Twitter

This article just nails the 4 criteria laid out above for a maximally useful resources – it’s almost as though we based the criteria on it!

See also Willingham’s Learning Styles FAQ

 
Image from linked article

Image from linked article

This blog post is particularly strong on the many ways in which teaching to preferred learning styles could harm students, but also hits the other 3 criteria for usefulness.

 

3) Sending “Learning Styles” Out of Style Produce by the Smithsonian Science Education Center  @SmithsonianScie

Still from video

Still from video

This 7-minute video, complete with cringe-worthy puns, is really well done. The video discusses learning styles in the context of teaching science, but the principles would apply to any subject. Unfortunately, the video does not cover what new data could confirm the importance of learning styles, but it is still worth sharing with those who prefer to watch videos (insert bad joke about learning styles here).

 

We can’t deny that people have preferences for certain types of content over others; but why does it matter so much whether we call them “preferences” or “styles”? And if we endorse using different “modalities” in our teaching, then why don’t we just call those “styles”? These important semantic issues are explored in this post – though as with the video above, there’s no mention of what data we would be looking for as evidence of learning styles.

 

5) One Reason the ‘Learning Styles’ Myth Persistsby Jesse Singal @jessesingal

This article focuses on just one of the criteria outlined above, but an important one: why does the myth persist? According to the study by Phil Newton @NewtonsNeurosci described in the article, any well-meaning educator searching for learning styles will be misled. At the end of the article, there is an interesting suggestion: search for “learning styles” on any university’s domain. You may be frightened by what you find…


Every Sunday, we pick a theme and provide a curated list of links. If you have a theme suggestion, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Our 5 most recent digests can be found here:

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Weekly Digest #5: Assigning Quality Homework

Weekly Digest #6: An Introduction To Retrieval Practice

Weekly Digest #7: Grading And Giving Feedback On Homework Assignments

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