Learning Styles do Exist…

Despite all the Twitter and blog activity I can confirm that learning styles, VAK etc, do exist. BUT, we do need to be clear about what exist means and what the implications are for teachers and, more importantly, for learners.

If you Google Daniel T Willingham, and many others, you will find that he provides the evidence you are seeking. Of course, you are free to ignore the evidence. You can argue the particular issue is that learning styles in your situation are valid. As you do that just check that you know what confirmation bias is and how it might be persuading you to ignore the cognitive science research evidence.

So how can I assert that learning styles exist? I think the answer to this is one of the reasons why some teachers hold on so tightly to the belief in learning styles. The answer is:

Preferred learning styles do exist. We all will identify that we “like seeing picture as they help us remember”, or, “I lke lectures as it is good to be told what to do”, or “I get bored if I have to sit still for too long. We may even add that we are kinesthetic learners. That is all fine. We can all describe how we prefer to learn. Children do that as well. So learning styles exist?

the issue is not that learning styles exist it is that we then extrapolate that to the statement, “It is better to teach someone by taking into account their preferred learning style”. That is the issue. There is no peer reviewed evidence that supports that claim. If you have read the Daniel T Willingham link, or watched the John Hattie: Visible Learning Pt1. Disasters and below … then you will see that the respected scientific community can find no evidence for matching teaching styles to students’ preferred learning styles. No evidence it is worth doing the matching.

What is worth doing is providing a variety of ways for students to access the learning. Provide different ways for them to practise and check out and challenge their learning. But, let’s use the evidence about what works and what does not work and let’s stop using a wrong construct to plan great lessons. Ofsted do not want learning styles matched work. What they want is good learning. If you have children in your class who are not learning it will not be because you have not matched your teaching with their preferred learning styles.

Finally, let’s just take a quick look at the learning style kinesthetic. First, focus on the learning, the stuff you want the children to learn. Card sorts, making hand movements, and anything else you might call kinesthetic is not. It is probably visual. It is not the moving of a card that allows a child to remember the contents of the card. Moving blocks to represent a mathematical equation is a kinesthetic activity, but the learning is because it allows the learner to visualise. Just think about it. How can it be that we remember all the movements we made? Moving the blocks allows us to make the visual more concrete – most of us are not able to play blind chess, where we don’t look at he chess board. We need the physical board and pieces to be able to play! Chess is not a kinesthetic activity. You know it makes sense.

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