Learning Styles

The concept of ‘learning styles’ or ‘preferred learning styles’ has been with us for quite a long time and has become thoroughly built in to so many concepts of what are consdiered to be the most effective Twenty First Century teaching methodologies. For example, it forms a fundamental part of the concept of differentiation – the idea being that a teacher should determine from clues and classroom evidence what is the preferred learning style of each student in the room, and then should tailor the learning experiences for the different learners to match with their preferred style.

As the article shared here (link below) clearly states – the vast majority of both educators and students believe in the idea and don’t question it. There is therefore some degree of disquiet when educators are confronted with the reality – science can’t prove a causal link between matching preferred learning styles and effective learning.

Here’s the article;

British Psychological Society – Research Digest – Preferred Learning Style

The article goes on to share the outcomes of an interesting, though modest sized, research activity that suggested that we believe we have learned better when exposed to learning material through our preferred learning style, even though it actually makes no difference. It’s hardly the first piece of research suggesting that our expectations can play tricks with our minds.

However, it’s most certainly not time to throw out all the ideas of differentiation or the hard work that teachers put in to figure out learning styles of the students in their classrooms and to design and create different types of learning experiences to meet the needs of the variety of learning styles.

Two strong possibilities immediately come to my mind that mean we should still not abandon our ideas;

1) learning material presented and developed with different learning styles in mind (rather than just all the material delivered according to one style – probably the preferred style of the teacher) may well carry benefits for all learners simply because of the benefits of variety, change and avoidance of boredom.

2) Secondly – this was a simple piece of research with a small cohort of students on a short term memorizing activity. This doesn’t automatically correlate to anything related to long term learning (and that’s what we’re far more interested in in an educational context). For one thing, the extra motivation that flows from receiving learning in the preferred style might carry real long term benefits. In addition, as this article highlights – the belief that we’re learning better in the preferred style might be a self-fulfilling experience over a longer period of time.

To conclude, I believe there are still many reasons why teachers should incorporate material in to students’ learning that carries variety, originality and fuses elements of different learning style preferences.

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