#TrueOrFalse: Learning Styles

By Udeet Datta and Sam Marquez

The Theory

The term “learning styles” states that our individual learning capabilities can be more responsive to certain modes of instruction. Some people respond more positively to certain modes than to others. To tailor the ideal learning style, evaluations can be conducted so optimal instructional modes are adopted to match a particular person’s learning ability.

Advocates of this notion of learning styles believe that trainers should take steps to understand and then leverage individual learning styles by optimizing the relevant instructional modes accordingly.

There are many popular learning styles models, but perhaps one of the most well-known is Neil Fleming’s VARK model that poses four learning styles:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Reading/Writing
  • Kinesthetic
Photo via Research Digest

The Verdict: False

What does the research say?

  • Even though there is evidence that people have preferences when it comes to the way information is presented to them, there is no evidence that customizing instructional styles to these preferences positively affects learning outcomes. A study in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who claimed to learn better when information was presented visually, i.e. via pictures as opposed to words, displayed no correlation to which learning mode affected better learning i.e. via words or visual instruction. In other words, there was no visible impact on the learning outcome.
  • If learning styles theory were true, we would find that the instructional method that proves most effective for students with one learning style is not the most effective method for students with a different learning style. However, there has been no evidence to support this claim.
  • To be clear, people do have different abilities. This is a definite fact. For example if a person has poor eyesight or hearing, naturally the mode of instruction has to be adapted to this person’s learning abilities accordingly. However, this differs from a learning style where a person’s preference theoretically impacts their ability to learn.

So, what does work? There is evidence that multimodal learning can be more effective for learners. Meaning, incorporating video and audio can be more effective than audio, or video alone. Utilizing different channels for transmitting information can be more effective as we can take in more/different information between those different channels.

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