Often, the concept of learning styles is hammered into our brains. And well, the reasoning certainly does make a lot of sense. Every person is different, some might be better at spatial reasoning while others may be better at comprehension, and some people may understand better through visual images while others have to live out the experience to properly understand it. This concept has been so hammered in that it’s almost thought of as a fact at this moment, but is that true? The surprising answer may just be no!
What are learning styles?
There are four major categories of learning styles: Auditory learners, Visual Learners, Reading/Writing learners and Kinesthetic Learners.
Auditory learners memorise the best by listening to an explanation, while visual learners prefer images and demonstrations. Reading/writing learners on the other hand can learn best by writing down the information and kinesthetic learners learn by doing and interacting with the world around them.
A survey of teachers in the UK found that almost 93 per cent of the teachers believed in the importance of these learning techniques. These preferences play a huge role in how our curriculum is formed and how we choose to view education yet how significant of a role does it play in actually helping us to learn?
A study of college students might help us answer that question. Students were asked about their preferences in learning techniques and their responses were recorded. The students were then randomly assigned into two different groups irrespective of their preferences.
One group was taught based on a Reading/Writing approach and the other on a visual learning approach. Both the groups were then given a test to write. The results of this test showed that people who were taught according to their learning preference scored no better than those taught in a different style. Furthermore, the same result was achieved when the experiment was conducted on people who hadn’t gone to college. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, a lot of research has been conducted which indicates that there is no such thing as a learning style.
While it is true that some subjects might be better taught using a certain method, for example, geography might be better learnt using maps, hence, visual learning for a majority of students but the same approach might not work for a subject like photography where a kinesthetic approach may be better.
Why do we think this matters?
The point is that no one should feel boxed in because of what kind of learner they feel they are but does that mean that there is no particular approach to learning better? Well, not exactly because research has also indicated that a multimodal approach may be the way to go. In this approach, students are taught using not just pictures or words but a combination of both. So, the next time you are preparing for exams, remember to not fall for this misconception again!
Husmann, P. R., & O'Loughlin, V. D. (2019). Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles. Anatomical sciences education, 12(1), 6-19. — https://ve42.co/Husmann2019
Snider, V. E., & Roehl, R. (2007). Teachers’ beliefs about pedagogy and related issues. Psychology in the Schools, 44, 873–886. doi:10.1002/pits.20272 — https://ve42.co/Snider2007
Fleming, N., & Baume, D. (2006). Learning Styles Again: VARKing up the right tree!. Educational developments, 7(4), 4. — https://ve42.co/Fleming2006