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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

‘Learning styles’ debunked — again

Olga Khazan take a whack at the learning styles myth in The Atlantic.

In the early ‘90s, a New Zealander named Neil Fleming developed the VARK questionnaire to sort students into “Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic” learning styles, she writes. By 2014, “more than 90 percent of teachers in various countries believed it.”

Research have not found students learn more if taught in their preferred learning styles, writes Khazan. “Strangely, most research on learning styles starts out with a positive portrayal of the theory — before showing it doesn’t work.”

Learning-style theories have not panned out,” concluded cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham in 2015.

That same year, a Journal of Educational Psychology paper found no relationship between the study subjects’ learning-style preference (visual or auditory) and their performance on reading- or listening-comprehension tests. Instead, the visual learners performed best on all kinds of tests. . . . Educators may actually be doing a disservice to auditory learners by continually accommodating their auditory learning style,” they wrote, “rather than focusing on strengthening their visual word skills.” Willingham goes so far as to say people should stop thinking of themselves as visual, verbal, or some other kind of learner. . . . “Everyone is able to think in words, everyone is able to think in mental images. It’s much better to think of everyone having a toolbox of ways to think, and think to yourself, which tool is best?”

Teachers have been knocking themselves out trying to teach to various learning styles. Apparently, what counts is matching the teaching to the topic: Is it geography? Poetry? Music?

Here are my blog posts on learning styles over the years. You’ll see a pattern.

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