Preferred learning styles do not exist
What does it mean, ‘learning styles’? It is the idea that we all have a preferred modality of being taught so we learn better. This means visually (pictures, video, written words), orally (sound), by doing or any combination of these three.
New research (again) shows that there is no evidence to support the concept of learning styles. Nonetheless the concept remains hugely popular because apparently we feel like we’ve learned more, even though we haven’t.
Is the research into learning styles wrong?
A lot of learning is happening outside of traditional classrooms today. So perhaps researchers should include learning outside the classroom to find evidence for beneficial effects of the learning style approach.
For a new paper in Anatomical Sciences Education, a pair of researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have done exactly that, with hundreds of undergrads.
At the start of term, hundreds of undergrads on an anatomy course (which involved lectures and practical lab classes) took one of the most popular online learning styles surveys, the VARK. Taken by millions of people worldwide, it categorises students according to their preferred learning style.
The researchers encouraged their students to take the survey. They also stimulated them to adopt the study practices consistent with their dominant learning style. Later in the term, the researchers surveyed them about the methods they’d used when studying outside of class. The researchers wanted to see if students used methods in line with their supposed dominant learning style. Finally, the researchers accessed the students’ end-of-year grades to see if there was any association between grade performance, dominant learning style, and/or studying outside of class in a way consistent with one’s dominant learning style.
Are learning styles a true myth?
The results are bad news for advocates of the learning styles concept. Student grade performance was not correlated in any meaningful way with their dominant learning style. Nor with any learning style(s) they scored highly on. Also, while most students (67%) actually failed to study in a way consistent with their supposedly preferred learning style, those who did study in line with their dominant style did not achieve a better grade in their anatomy class than those who didn’t.
What does and what doesn’t work?
Instead, there were specific study strategies, such as practising microscope work and using lecture notes, that led to better grade performance. Needless to say, regardless of students’ learning style. Other activities, such as using flash cards, resulted in poorer performance.
The researchers are clear in their conclusion: “Our findings provide strong evidence that instructors and students should not be promoting the concept of learning styles for studying and/or for teaching interventions. Thus, the adage of ‘I can’t learn subject X because I am a visual learner’ should be put to rest once and for all.”
At DuoTrainin we are of the opinion that learning is not so much about visual, oral or doing but about how it blends with your daily activities. Learning should be embedded in a person’s routine. Digital learning enables people to learn anywhere, anytime for any period on the screen of their choice.
Also, you should be able to take your learning with you throughout your lifetime. The times when going from a life of studying to a life of working was a such a big shock should be over. Also, learning does not stop when you have passed the 50-year mark. Digital learning, in combination with traditional face-to-face learning will result in continuous, better learning and improved knowledge retention.