Sunday, January 19, 2014

10 Statements Disproving the Use of Learning Styles in Education

I've previously written about What Works In Education, what doesn't work is using Learning Styles, whether its Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic Learning, Multiple Intelligences, VARK, or some other form. Yet well-meaning educators continue to use such approaches despite the overwhelming evidence against their effectiveness (and even possible harm).

Below are 10 statements disproving the value of incorporating learning styles in instruction.

  1. Learning style inventories make use of forced-response choices causing people to make the same choices. “Nearly everybody would prefer a demonstration in science class to an uninterrupted lecture. This doesn’t mean that such individuals have a visual style, but that good science teaching involves demonstrations.” (Stahl)
  2. Some of the best known and widely used instruments have such serious weaknesses (e.g. low reliability, poor validity, and negligible impact on pedagogy) that we recommend that their use in research and practice be discontinued. (Coffield)
  3. Recognition of individuals’ strengths and weaknesses is good practice; using this information, however, to categorize children and prescribe methods can be detrimental to low-performing students. Although the idea of reading style is superficially appealing, critical examination should cause educators to be skeptical of this current educational fad. (Snider)
  4. It is nonsense to hold the idea that some of your students can be classified as visual learners, whereas others, within the same class are auditory learners. There is simply no known validity to making any such classifications on the basis of either neurology or genuine behavioural performance. (Hattie)
  5. There is not adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general education practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork)
  6. "VAK  (Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic) is “’nonsense’ from a neuroscientific point of view. ‘Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain….The rationale from employing VAK learning styles appears to be weak. After more than 30 years of educational research into learning styles there is no independent evidence that VAK, or indeed any other learning style inventory, has any direct educational benefits.” ~Susan Greenfield,  director of the Royal Institute and a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University (Henry)
  7. The scientific research on learning styles is “so weak and unconvincing,” concluded a group of distinguished psychologists in a 2008 review, that it is not possible “to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.” A 2010 article was even more blunt: “There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist,” wrote University of Virginia cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham and co-author Cedar Riener. While students do have preferences about how they learn, the evidence shows they absorb information just as well whether or not they encounter it in their preferred mode. (Murphy Paul)
  8. Because the vast majority of educational content is stored in terms of meaning and does not rely on visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory, it is not surprising that researchers have found very little support for the idea that offering instruction in a child's best modality will have a positive effect on his learning. (Willingham)
  9. There are undoubtedly individual differences inperceptual acuities which are modality based, and include visual, auditory and kinaesthetic sensations (although smell and taste are more notable), but this does not mean that learning is restricted to, or even necessarily associated with, one’s superior sense.(Geake)
  10. The vast majority of educators will tell you that learning styles are a proven fact. But they’re not. They are an unproven theory that may be useful. Stop assuming that just because other teachers say something is so, that they’re right. Stop assuming that because most everyone treats learning styles as an accepted “fact” that they are right. (Jensen)

 Works Cited
Coffield, F., Mosely, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say about practice. London. Learning and Skills Research Centre. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Geake, John. "Neuromythologies in Education." Educational Research 50.2 (2008): 123-33. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Hattie, John, and Gregory C. R. Yates. Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. London: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Henry, Julie. "Professor Pans 'learning Style' Teaching Method." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 29 July 2007. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Jensen, Eric. "Are Learning Styles a Big Hoax? What Does the Latest Science Say About Different Learners?" Brain Based Learning Brain Based Teaching Articles From Jensen Learning Are Learning Styles a Big Hoax What Does the Latest Science Say About Different Learners Comments. N.p., 4 May 2010. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Murphy Paul, Annie. "The Brilliant Blog." Annie Murphy Paul. N.p., 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Pashler, Harold, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork. "Learning Styles Concepts and Evidence." Psychological Science in the Public Interest 09.03 (2008): n. pag. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Snider, Vicki. “What We Know About Learning Styles For Research in Special Education.” Educational Leadership. 48(2), 53.

Stahl, Steven A. "Different Strokes for Different Folks." American Educator Fall (2009). Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Willingham, Daniel. "Ask the Cognitive Scientist." AFT. American Federation of Teachers, Summer 2005. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.


Jan-Hein Streppel said...

It is a great post. I agree with you anymore. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have. Keep up the good work you are doing here. Thank you for sharing such a useful post.

Dennis Dill said...

I agree. These instruments may offer some insight to the individual, but to based curriculum around them would be a bit unsound. Ten years ago we were mandated to give these surveys and use/document how we implemented. As a middle school teacher I found it humorous how kids responded to the surveys ... not with who they are, but rather who they wanted to be.

Reed Gillespie said...

That last point is so important and speaks to one of the biggest issues associated with learning styles in the classroom: inaccurate self-assessments tell us nothing more than how a student perceives him/herself. I too gave the surveys (before I saw the light) and noticed the same thing, students answered with who they wanted to be.

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