Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Myth of Learning Styles

The following is absolutely, unequivocably true (in my not so humble opinion!) regarding the myth of "learning styles" and Gardner's multiple "intelligences":
Is there any evidence to support the learning styles concept?

Yes there is a little, but experts on the topic like Harold Pashler and Doug Rohrer point out that most of this evidence is weak. Convincing evidence for learning styles would show that people of one preferred learning style learned better when taught material in their favored way, whereas a different group with a different preference learned the same material better when taught in their favored fashion. Yet surprisingly few studies of this format have produced supporting evidence for learning styles; far more evidence (such as this study) runs counter to the myth. What often happens is that both groups perform better when taught by one particular style. This makes sense because although each of us is unique, usually the most effective way for us to learn is based not on our individual preferences but on the nature of the material we’re being taught – just try learning French grammar pictorially, or learning geometry purely verbally. (boldface mine--Darren)
But wait, there's more:
So, should we completely give up on tailoring our teaching styles?

No. While people are often poor at judging which teaching methods are most effective for them, and while there is little strong evidence for the benefits of matching teaching style to preferred learning style, this does not mean there is no scope for tailoring teaching style to improve learning. For example, as Kirschner and Merrienboer point out, there is evidence that novices learn better from studying examples, whereas those with more expertise learn better by solving problems themselves. Other research shows how learning is improved (for most everyone) by combining different activities – such as drawing alongside more passive study.
This, again, rings entirely true to me.

Go read the entire article to learn even more.  It's very interesting, especially about how people are often wrong when assessing their strongest learning style or how the learning styles theory allows people to ignore their own weaknesses, which is the very antithesis of education!

So why do so many teachers believe this hokum?  I think the Instapundit is onto something here:  "Sometimes I think that the constant efforts to move away from old-fashioned teaching methods have more to do with boredom by teachers, and a desire for less rigor, than with any actual science."


Auntie Ann said...

There's also the studies that show when you try something new, it usually gets good reviews at the start, but a while later the cracks begin to show.

If educators keep jumping to the next thing, they get all that shiny newness while ignoring the cracks that are just under the surface.

Jerry Doctor said...

If we accept the importance of learning styles (I don't) doesn't that imply the existence of teaching styles? Doesn't it follow that some teachers will do a better job lecturing than by trying to use discovery methods, regardless of who the students are? Why would you believe that forcing teaching methods on people that aren't suited to them isn't just as damaging as requiring a student to learn in a certain way?

Darren said...

Auntie Ann, you're referring to the Hawthorne Effect. Very interesting story where that came from.

Jerry Doctor, I have never before considered your point. Well done!