In our work, we often encounter educational beliefs that have no research basis or scientific support. One is the notion that instructional strategies must be matched to individual learning styles. As Hattie and Yates (2014) write, “…there is not any recognised evidence suggesting that knowing or diagnosing learning styles will help you to teach your students any better than not knowing their learning style” (p. 176, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn).
While all students benefit when what they are learning is presented in multiple ways – visually, aurally, kinesthetically – scientists have not been able to pigeonhole learning into discrete categories or “styles.”
Learning depends on what is being taught, how much students know about what is being taught, and how motivated they are to learn it. Effective teachers use this information to differentiate instruction. In other words, they focus on differences that actually matter for learning – the content, students’ experiences with the content, and their motivation related to learning the content.
Here are four comprehensive research reviews on learning styles:
- Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119. Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf
- Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Learning Research Centre. Report retrieved from http://www.leerbeleving.nl/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/learning-styles.pdf
- Stahl, S. A. (1999). Different strokes for different folks? A critique of learning styles. American Educator, 23(3), 1-5. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/DiffStrokes.pdf
- Kavale, K. A., Hirshoren, A., & Forness, S. R. (1998). Meta-analytic validation of the Dunn and Dunn model of learning-style preferences: A critique of what was Dunn. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 13(2), 75-80.
For specific studies of various learning-styles approaches, check the reference lists of these reviews. Additionally, here is an example of a study examining a specific learning-styles approach (i.e., visual vs. auditory) published more recently:
- Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2015). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 64-78. doi: 10.1037/a0037478
These articles are easier to read:
- Goldhill, O. (2016, January 3). The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest neuroscience myths. Quartz. Retrieved from http://qz.com
- Singal, J. (2015, December 28). One reason the ‘learning styles’ myth persists. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com
- Howard-Jones, P. A. (2014, October). Neuroscience and education: Myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15, 817-824. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/nrn/index.html
- Dekke, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429
For more information, Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, has a website with FAQs and videos related to learning styles.