Learning styles do not exist. You may, or may not, find this particularly controversial as a statement. I was reminded of this as a debate recently by this article from the guardian.
I find myself on a semi-regular conversation with someone who says something along the lines of “technique “x” is good because it appeals to students with different learning styles” or “we need to pay more attention to students with different learning styles in this program” and so on. Now a lot of this is very well-meaning and does contain some half truths but fundamentally appeals to a scientific claim that lacks evidence. The idea is that innate to individuals makeup is a style of learning that will mean they take information better through some means than through others. This is seen as different than ability. The claim is that, for example, if you had two children at the same reading level one may learn better through reading while another may respond better to learning activities which are more hands-on and kinesthetic. The claim is therefore that a good education system would support both these different learning styles.
In practice, I personally dislike this as it puts unrealistic pressure on the educator. It seems unrealistic to think that anyone can design learning experiences that equally support however many styles of learning you think exist (even amongst people who believe in learning styles there is a complete lack of consistency about what these styles actually are). Equally, in a career guidance context, the claim is sometimes made that you need to understand a client’s learning style before you can make progress supporting them, I fear this can be paralyzing for the professional.
At this point I’d like to set out a few related, but different things I do believe around differentiation that I believe are very important but are not explicit components of learning styles as theory.
- We should differentiate – people are individuals, not robots, education fo any sort works best when it reaches the individual.
- Giving information, in a range of ways (audio, visual, kinesthetic etc.) is commendable.
- Some concepts are communicated better in some ways than others.
- Individuals have a range of abilities and so we should pay attention to abilities when setting tasks (but, in most circumstances, abilities can change a develop over time which is a normal part of education).
I am not trying to get at anyone by writing this but just draw to people’s attention that this claim is often made on a scientific basis when there is actually a complete absence of scientific evidence. Maybe I’m wrong if you know of strong evidence in this are do let me know. If you dissagree comment bellow, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’ve also found the following helpful over the years on this topic