kitchen table math, the sequel: The "Learning Styles" Myth

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The "Learning Styles" Myth

"...the more carefully designed and controlled the study, the less the data supported the hypothesis that matching learning styles to type of instruction mattered."
Source: What type of learner are you? (And why it doesn't matter)

Can we finally stick a fork in this myth? I think it's done.


Barry Garelick said...

Well, I think if you have an article crticizing learning styles in Psychology Today, then I think the myth IS done since it's now part of mainstream thought. Just like at one time only hip people liked Cirque du Soleil, and now they perform in Las Vegas.

SteveH said...

It was only rarely that my son had an assignment where he could choose his own approach, and the choices did not cover the full spectrum of so-called styles. Often, the teacher varied the style and had everyone use that technique. So physical learners were forced to use visual and solitary learners were forced to use social.

Here's the list:

Visual, Aural, Verbal, Physical, Logical, Social, Solitary

My son was forced to draw (with crayons) over 100 3X5 cards of science terms in 6th grade.

Forget that it doesn't work. They never did it correctly in the first place. You can have your own learning styles as long as they are visual and social.

Jim said...

I enjoyed this article very much because I was never "good" at math. I decided to major in math, though, and after working on what I would estimate to be 30,000 math problems in 4 years, I became "good." Better than many of my more naturally talented peers.

That's the message I hammer into my son every single day.

palisadesk said...

No, it's far from done. The critique in Psychology Today may mean that some people are wising up, but the meme is deeply entrenched (along with a lot of other mystical ideas about teaching and learning)in K-8 certainly, and perhaps far beyond.

We continue to have workshops and mandatory PD on how to teach to different "learning styles" (fits in well with "differentiation," you see)and since most of the curriculum people seem unaware of research in psychology or cognitive science, even though the whole idea of learning styles and "aptitude-treatment interaction" has been debunked for decades, articles in jounals are not going to affect prevailing opinion.

My district, and others that I know of, requires teachers to identify students' "learning styles" when developing lesson plans, unit plans, intervention plans, or referring student for assessment. Of course there is no real data to support this stereotyping of students -- typically, a student is labeled a "kinesthetic learner" because s/he is out of seat a lot, or likes to play with Lego. "Interpersonal learners" are so identified because they enjoy chatting with their friends, but not on the basis that this socializing actually improves their learning outcomes (in fact the opposite is more usually the case).

I notice that our psychologists, most of whom have Ph.D.'s and know their stuff, are very careful to avoid falling into the "learning styles trap, and will pointedly say that they do not measure this because it is not scientific and has no reliably quantifiable metric. However, their lack of enthusiasm fails to slow down the train. Our IEP forms have a section for "learning style." Needless to say there is no data-based information to enter there.

The absence of evidence is nothing new. Steven Stahl wrote a good article on the topic for American Educator almost 15 years ago, and it made no difference.

The meme has a life of its own, like a virus, and will be hard to dislodge.

Anonymous said...

thank you, parisadesk. Look forward to reading the article.

Catherine Johnson said...

No, it's far from done.

I vote with palisadesk.