Debunking the learning styles myth

It’s not a scoop but learning styles don’t exist!

“Decades of research suggest that learning styles, or the belief that people learn better when they receive instruction in their dominant way of learning, may be one of the most pervasive myths about cognition” (Nancekivell et al., 2019). According to their study, 90% people believe learning styles exist….! So I thought, it’s not such a bad idea to debunk this myth on my blog to contribute to sharing the truth.

Learning styles DON’T exist.

On top of this, did you know that the origins of learning styles is racist? Fallace (2019) explains that the idea “originated in the 1960s as part of a broader effort to reach inner-city African American youth that certain educators deemed culturally deficient”. 

One of the false assumptions that such beliefs promote is the fixed mindset as attaching a learning style to a learner acts as a label that puts people’s abilities in boxes as if a learner was limited and could only learn something in one way. It is counter to the science of learning!

Yes, we have preferences and there is no evidence that those help us learn better. What matters is the CONNECTIONS we make and teachers should know that a multi-modal approach may may increase the chances for learners to make connections, understand/conceptualise and transfer learning to new situations.

YES, we should integrate different modalities and use universal design for learning because multi-sensory  experiences (when it makes sense) allow us to make connections but if we need to recall a geometrical shape of the location of a country, we need to have SEEN it before (image, map), if we need to compare textures, we need to have TOUCHED them before, if we need to share about our likes/dislikes about a smell, we need to experience SMELLING those before. By the way, have you ever heard someone say “I am an olfactory learner”? 

Check out this fantastic Ted Talk about debunking the Learning styles myth to find out more:

Bottom line:

There is no learning styles (even though the majority of teachers still believe this), there are definitely preferences but there is no evidence that matching instructions to preferences has a positive impact on learning and yes, we should be using a multi-modal approach when applicable and designing learning with Universal Design for Learning.

4 thoughts on “Debunking the learning styles myth

  1. I knew when I first heard of it (I started teaching in 1967, came out of retirement, and am back at it teaching dual-enrollment college English classes as a culturally very diverse high school in Jacksonville, Florida) that it did not make sense. I have used other articles in my comp classes regarding this misconception. Almost all of my students were “tested” in elementary school, and many of them have also taken other assessments to see what those assessments conclude. Of course almost all of them are judged to be visual learners. Even before I read you comments, I had already concluded that categorizing a student as a visual learner likely cripples them as learners. I love your question Have you ever heard of an olfactory learner? I am going to use your commentary and TEDxUWLaCrosse video next semester in my ENC 1102 class. Speaking of Wisconsin, a very dear aunt who has since passed away grew up on a farm in Polar, Wisconsin. It was a hard-scrabble life. She told me they had a stone boat they had to drag across the field digging stones out of the ground so it could be plowed and planted. They could not afford farm machinery. Yeah, she was one tough cookie.

    1. Thank you for sharing David. The video of the Tedx Talk above mentioned the “Have you ever heard of an olfactory learner?” so it’s credits to Tesia Marshik originally 🙂
      Sorry to hear about you aunt…

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