Learning Styles Myth

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A common misunderstanding is that students learn better when they receive instruction in their preferred learning style.  There is no sound scientific evidence to support this myth.  There are some poorly designed studies that continue to support the myth.  There is no dispute that individual learners have individual preferences (it makes them feel good) when it comes to learning but there is no evidence that this translates into more effective learning.  In the 1970’s I was a firm believer in this misunderstanding.  I advocated that instructional materials be designed and developed to accommodate the individual differences myth.  I followed my advice when developing my own instructional material.  Much to my dismay it soon became clear that all the development effort resulted in a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment but did not produce any improvement in learning.

In other words, “there’s evidence that people do try to treat tasks in accordance with what they believe to be their learning style, but it doesn’t help them,” says Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. In 2015, he reviewed the literature on learning styles and concluded that “learning styles theories have not panned out.”

This Q&A presentation by Daniel Willingham requires complete and careful study in order to understand the objection to the Learning Styles Myth.

“…the premise behind learning styles is that we learn better when the mode of presentation matches the particular style in which an individual is best able to learn. That is the critical claim. In 2008 the cognitive psychologists Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Bob Bjork were commissioned to conduct a review to determine whether this critical claim is supported by scientific evidence.  Brown, Peter C.. Make It Stick (p. 145). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

The answer was no. They found very few studies designed to be capable of testing the validity of learning styles theory in education, and of those, they found that virtually none validate it and several flatly contradict it. Brown, Peter C.. Make It Stick (p. 145). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

Moreover, their review showed that it is more important that the mode of instruction match the nature of the subject being taught: Brown, Peter C.. Make It Stick (pp. 145-146). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

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