The Final Nail in the Coffin for Learning Styles?

In my workshop on the “Science and Practice of Modern Learning” I like to occasionally throw in a learning myth – things we think we know about learning, but that turn out not to have any research basis. One of the most pernicious myths is that of Learning Styles — the idea that all individuals have a preferred way of learning and we need to adapt training to meet their preferred style. The most comprehensive paper debunking the learning style myth is this one, which I cite in my workshop:

Learning Styles

This very extensive meta-analysis concluded that there is scant evidence for learning styles and recommended more studies in which researchers evaluate whether or not students learned better when they learned from materials presented in their preferred learning style.

So, I was intrigued to see a summary of a recent study reported in the British Psychological Society Research Digest:

Final nail

Two researchers at the Indiana University School of Medical did exactly what Pashler, et al recommended. They used a validated instrument to determine students’ preferred learning styles and then presented study materials in their preferred style and other styles. Their conclusions are fascinating, especially the last one:

  • “Student grade performance was not correlated in any meaningful way with their dominant learning style or with any learning style(s) they scored highly on.”
  • “Those who did study in line with their dominant style did not achieve a better grade in their anatomy class than those who didn’t”

And the most fascinating finding of all:

  • “… most students (67 per cent) actually failed to study in a way consistent with their supposedly preferred learning style” (italics mine)

So, not only do students not do better when they study in their preferred style, they don’t even study in their preferred style!

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