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.
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.'”