Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Educational myth: learning styles

You're probably familiar with the concept of learning styles, the idea that different people learn differently. Some learn best by seeing, others by listening, still others by doing or touching. Teachers across the nation are implored to identify their students' learning styles and modify instruction to accommodate them. Unfortunately, according to the research, this is a huge waste of time.

Cognitive scientist, Daniel Willingham puts it this way:
It doesn’t work.

It doesn't work--not only for the visual-auditory-kinesthetic theory, but for many other learning styles theories that have been proposed and tested since the 1940s.

Researchers have been conducting experiments on learning styles for 50 years. They’ve been tested with the sorts of materials that kids encounter in schools. They’ve been tested with kids diagnosed with a learning disability.

There just doesn’t seem to be much evidence that kids learn in fundamentally different ways.
Like many educational ideas, learning styles seem to make sense. But this shows that our impressions aren't always the best indicator of what will work. This is why it's vital that instructional techniques be rigorously tested before we invest time, money, and kids' lives in them.

Too often, we buy into some theory some PhD is pushing as the latest, greatest "solution" to our education woes (e.g. bilingual education). And too often, the research on that theory is shoddy or nonexistent. You'd think that educators would have the inside track on conducting and interpreting scholarly research and academic studies, but the more I read the more disappointed I am by the lack of rigor in the field.

[via Joanne Jacobs]

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