For some time cognitive research has consistently found that the teaching fad of prescribing a variety of “learning styles” to students based on various senses — visual, auditory, and kinesthetic are the most prominent — is hogwash.

But many teachers are still using these methods, largely because they are instructed to by institutions that should know better: 59 percent of teacher training textbooks “advocate planning instruction around learning styles” and 67 percent of teacher training programs required student teachers to address learning styles in lessons they prepare, a 2016 survey found.

That’s U.S. data; a United Kingdom survey found that 76 percent of teachers used learning styles while teaching, and it’s likely U.S. numbers are similarly high. Accordingly, nearly 90 percent of the American public thinks learning styles are real and should be incorporated into instruction, found a study just out from the Center for American Progress.

This disconnect between research and practice recently led 30 prominent researchers in neuroscience, psychology, and education to issue a public letter asking teachers and the public to stop wasting kids’ time on this education fad. The various teaching methods based on this idea do not benefit children and therefore waste valuable class time, the researchers said.

…there have been systematic studies of the effectiveness of learning styles that have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or “meshing” material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment. Students will improve if they think about how they learn but not because material is matched to their supposed learning style. The Educational Endowment Foundation in the UK has concluded that learning styles is “Low impact for very low cost, based on limited evidence”.

These neuromyths may be ineffectual, but they are not low cost. We would submit that any activity that draws upon resources of time and money that could be better directed to evidence-based practices is costly and should be exposed and rejected. Such neuromyths create a false impression of individuals’ abilities, leading to expectations and excuses that are detrimental to learning in general, which is a cost in the long term.

In the United States, perhaps the most prominent cognitive scientist who has long been speaking up about the learning styles myth is Daniel T. Willingham, a researcher at the University of Virginia. Willingham is also a father and author of the books “Why Don’t Students Like School?,” “When Can You Trust the Experts?,” and “Raising Kids Who Read.”

He has a FAQ that discusses this “neuromyth” in more detail, and here’s a video from him about it. Social scientist Charles Murray also discussed related ideas about intelligence and learning in his book “Real Education.”

One thought on “Cognitive Researchers: ‘Learning Styles’ Like Auditory, Visual, And Kinesthetic Are Bunk

  1. Fantastic article. This is very timely as I am currently reading about the same findings in the work of E. D. Hirsch. Thanks to researchers such as these, I am confident that the public school domain will eventually awaken to this data and shift their focus to more classical approaches to teaching. However, the homeschooling world is fairly deeply entrenched in the “learning style”, process over content approach and I fear they will be slower to grasp this knowledge. The freedom homeschooling gives to choose what is best for your child is invaluable, but more homeschooling parents would do well to put more time into researching what that “best” actually is.

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