Learning Styles Do Not Exist

People everywhere talk about learning styles so often and with such certainty that most find it surprising that psychologists and other researchers argue that learning styles do not exist.

Over the years, I have taken different learning styles assessments for fun. While these usually classify me as visual learner, I have never been satisfied by the results.

And, everything else aside, being a “visual learner” simply does not make much sense, really. For those who are able to see without or with glasses, which is the vast majority of the population, every thing is visual.

  • Reading a book is visual – we see the words. 
  • Listening to a lecture is visual – we see the speaker talk and see his/her mouth. 
  • Playing with a set of toys is visual – we see the parts and how they fit together. 

The overall idea–from my perspective–is that any kind of legitimate learning that leads to long-term memories involves all of the senses by necessity and involves all of the so-called “learning styles” by necessity. Those who have life-altering vision or hearing differences, for example, compensate with other senses.

We do a disservice to our students when we suggest they are a “visual learner” or a “kinesthetic learner” because life and learning does not work in such rigid categories. When the topic comes up with my students, I always work on emphasizing the doing: speaking, listening, reading, writing–in other words seeing, touching, and hearing–the material as being essential for all learners.

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Discussions of “learning styles” also omit the power of strong emotions in the learning process. What we remember or not is much more complicated than whether we see, hear, or touch, for instance.

Additionally, as this excellent, excellent Ted Talk by Professor Tesia Marshik discusses, different “learning styles” come into play depending on context, experience, and relevance. If we are learning about subtle differences between an original and forged document, the visual is vital. If we are investigating the subtle differences between types of classical music, the auditory is vital. This 20-minute lecture might be summed up as suggesting: instead of focusing on “learning styles,” we should focus on effecting learning and effective teaching.

“Learning styles” do have increased relevance for learners and teachers when we consider how some people need to know the “correct answer,” while others enjoy ambiguity and “there are no ‘correct answers.'”

Thoughts??



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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7 replies

  1. I have always disagreed with the concept of learning styles. Of course, we all have learning preferences, but except for students with profound learning disabilities, people are able to learn in many different ways. Plus, many students who claim to be “visual learners” cannot retain material from watching a documentary (for example). They like to be entertained visually, but that has nothing to do with learning and retention!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Johanna!
      On the note of preferences, they also differ by circumstance. If I am learning about a person, I would much prefer to talk with him/her rather than read about him/her. If I am really digging in deep on a new theory, I want to read about it and then just think! 🙂

      And right on about “visual learners” not being able to retain “visual” information in so many cases. Learning takes effort and reflection.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you In the aspect of good teaching is good teaching. We shouldn’t limit or label any student to one learning style (unless a disability is involved), instead focusing on various styles that are effective in making the students ponder and more importantly think creatively.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I too think that learning styles are over exaggerated. If learning styles don’t exist does that mean that teaching styles don’t exist?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting thought. Teaching and learning styles, as defined in practice, are two pretty different things. A teaching style is say lecture or discussion, which are separate from how most define “learning styles.” See you in the am!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with the concept of learning. See me I am an visual and active learner I have to be able to see things. And i also have to be able to to be interactive with things also for me to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

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