Learning Styles Bunk
Posted by Ellen on January 1, 2009
I’m sure to be in the minority here, but the whole cacophony of “learning styles” is myth and bunk. Fortunately, though I’m in the minority, I’m not alone, but rather in a group of scientists and learning theorists.
Here’s my argument: It’s about the content, not the sensory perceptions of the learner.
Here’s an example. Le’ts say you see yourself as a tactile (need to touch and handle things) learner. Now here’s a Spanish word: asunto.
What is its English translation? According to dictionary.com, it means “matter” in the broadest, most general sense.
Now tell me how being a tactile learner helped you to understand what that word means. How does being tactile help you use it in a Spanish-language sentence?
Would it help if you heard the word?
What about this word: etkinleştirme
What does it mean?
Learning to speak a language requires hearing it and uttering it. Learning to read a language requires seeing it and understanding what the words mean, what the written punctuation around the words indicate. These skills require more than touching, more than seeing, more than hearing, more than speaking.
Learning to speak or read a language requires you to participate in the language.
So it’s about the language — the content of the learning — and how you need to process it in order to learn it. It’s not just about you, the learner. (Sorry to damage the learner ego there, which also trounces on the learner-centric theory a bit, I’m sure.)
Learning to drive a car requires getting behind the wheel and operating it, whether you are a “tactile learner” or a “visual learner” or an “auditory learner” or an “olfactory learner” (why don’t we ever hear about those, by the way?). Learning what the traffic signs mean requires looking at the signs and identifying what they signify, whether you consider yourself a “visual” learner or not.
As I said, if I’m the emperor without clothes, then I’m not the only one streaking in this parade. Here are some resources to check out:
- http://www.pesa.org.au/html/documents/2007-papers/Snook,%20I.pdf (see especially page 4+)
And for an interesting read that touches on learning styles as well as other learning myths, see Donald Clark’s distillation of his 10 Facts: http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2008/05/10-facts-about-learning-that-are.html
When I was back in high school, a teacher said, during a discussion about Hitler and other dictators, “Never forget that you could be one voice in the crowd and still be right.” Crowdsourcing has its place, but sometimes, commonly held beliefs are just wrong. Hanging on to the disproved theory of “learning styles” may place you squarely among the majority, but that doesn’t mean you’re right.
And admitting that “learning styles” is a myth doesn’t mean you’re not a learner-centric educator. It means you’re even more passionate about effective learning because you’re willing to turn your focus to implementing practices that actually work.