Learning Styles Don’t Matter? Who Knew?



I blush as I confess that I’ve been guilty of it myself—I’ve promoted the notion of learning styles in my graduate teaching courses. In my defense, it has been with the purpose encouraging future faculty to consider employing teaching strategies beyond a (poor) lecture. Thinking back to my own days as a student, classes that included discussion, multi-media, collaboration, problem-solving, etc., were few and far between, and perhaps this is why as an educator of educators I clung to a theory that’s corollary was that teaching styles should be multi-modal.

Cedar Reiner and Daniel Willingham, in “The Myth of Learning Styles” (Change magazine) argue that educators are mistakenly focused on students’ learning styles, for which there is no research to prove that it has a bearing on student learning, when they should be focused on students’ ability, which is comprised of intelligence, interests, background knowledge, and the possibility of learning disabilities (all of which have an impact on student learning that is substantiated by research). Students are able to learn even if their particular learning style preference is not being met, but if aspects of their ability are ignored, this can significantly hamper their ability to thrive in their academic environment.

I am converted. Yet—as someone who has suffered through many poorly delivered lectures, I maintain that good teaching requires variation. Even a lecturer can include variation by posing a question, displaying a comic, or incorporating a think-pair-share, each strategy of which, arguably, comes out of learning style preference theory. But the larger message to take away is that above all else, our attention is valuably spent addressing the needs of our learners’ abilities.

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