PSA: Learning Styles Are NOT Real… why the truth matters.

The 21st century is an amazing time to be alive. There is so much information sharing that takes place every day and access to information is relatively easy for most people around the world. With all this access to the latest research at the tips of our fingers, I am surprised some old beliefs still hang around in the education world. One of these is learning styles, and it is time for it to go away forever.

Over the last few years I have been exposed to more and more research on the fallacy of learning styles. You may have heard of them: you are either an auditory, a kinesthetic, or a visual learner. This means that in order to learn best you either need to hear information (lectures, and storytelling), you need to see information (pictures and PowerPoints), or you need to do things (move around, do it yourself). Over the past several years further research has concluded that there is no evidence to support the idea that learning styles actually exist.

So why is this so dangerous? Well, the simplest answer is because it is just not true, and we need to stop supporting the sharing of false information. Some people make the argument, “but if it means teachers use a variety of styles in class, it will be good for everyone, right? Using these styles will engage students at the very least.” My response to that is, yes, that is partially true, but it is not possible to utilize all three styles for every lesson every day, and if students believe that they only learn one of these ways, they may internalize that belief and think that they cannot learn with a different style. This can turn them off from learning for absolutely no viable reason except that they believe they cannot learn in a particular way. So not only is it not helpful, it can actually become harmful to spread this false information in our classes.

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The concept of learning styles is not just incorrect, but it can also be dangerous for students, turning them off from educational experiences that they don’t believe they can learn from.

Another blog post that discusses the problem with the learning styles myth comes from The Effortful Educator, and I encourage you to check it out. It is a quick read that reinforces much of what I have said, and also offers additional suggestions for strategies to help students engage with the material and learn based on evidence-based research practices.

I should add that one of the common problems is the confusion over Harvard University’s Howard Gardner’s research on Multiple Intelligences. They are not the same thing as learning styles. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory posits that there are different ways to demonstrate intelligence aside from the traditional IQ. This takes into account that we all have different strengths that could benefit our society. For example my husband is very musically intelligent. He has perfect pitch and easily learns and creates music of his own. Does this mean his teachers should have sung their lessons for him to learn better? Of course not, because learning styles and intelligences are not the same. Much like my issue with Growth Mindset Posters, I see a lot of educational buzzwords used in professional development today that are used incorrectly or are presented incompletely. So I encourage you to continue looking for research-based practices to improve educational outcomes, and avoid falling for the next hot thing in the education world.

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