By diagnosing learners based on their learning styles, and then using that diagnosis to guide instruction, learning will be improved.
Probably today’s most ubiquitous learning myth is that people have different learning styles and that these learning styles can be diagnosed and used in learning design to create more effective learning interventions. This myth has resonated and spread throughout the world’s learning-professional community probably because it hints at an idea that seems sensible — that people learn differently. Unfortunately, there are dozens and dozens of ways to separate people by type, so it’s hard to know which distinctions to use for which learner, for which topics, for which situations. More importantly, the research evidence shows clearly that using learning styles in designing/deploying learning does not reliably improve learning results.
Strength of Evidence Against
The strength of evidence against the use of learning styles is very strong. To put it simply, using learning styles to design or deploy learning is not likely to lead to improved learning effectiveness. While it may be true that learners have different learning preferences, those preference are not likely to be a good guide for learning. The bottom line is that when we design learning, there are far better heuristics to use than learning styles.
Even in terms of taking learners’ individual differences into account, there are better guideposts. For example, probably the most important individual difference is learner knowledge of the specific concepts being taught. Good instructors know that one of the most critical things they can do is to diagnose their learners’ conceptual understanding, and deliver instruction appropriate to their level of understanding.
Despite scientific research reviews that debunk learning styles, research is still being done to support the learning styles idea. As Furnham (2012) wrote: “The application of, and research into, learning styles and approaches is clearly alive and well.” (p. 77).
Furnham, A. (2012). Learning styles and approaches to learning. In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, T. Urdan, S. Graham, J. M. Royer, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology. APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 2. Individual differences and cultural and contextual factors (pp. 59-81). doi:10.1037/13274-003
Truong, H. M. (2015). Integrating learning styles and adaptive e-learning system: Current developments, problems and opportunities. Computers in Human Behavior. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.02.014
Debunking Resources — Text-Based Web Pages
- Frequently Asked Questions about Learning Styles by Daniel Willingham, PhD
- Press Release from the Association for Psychological Science
- Myth of Learning Styles by Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham
- $5,000 Learning Styles Challenge by Will Thalheimer, PhD and others
- eLearn Magazine by Guy Wallace
- Blog Post by Cathy Moore
- Article at Psychology Today
- Blog Post by Daniel Willingham
- Blog Post by Cathy Moore — How to Gently Persuade Believers of Learning Styles.
Debunking Resources — Videos
- TED Talk on Learning Styles by Tesia Marshik, PhD
- Learning Styles Don’t Exist by Daniel Willingham, PhD
- YouTube Video on Learning Styles by Kjetil Ask
Debunking Resources — Newspapers & Magazines
- The Atlantic by Olga Khazan
- New York Times by Anna North
- Scientific American by Sophie Guterl
- Wired Magazine by Christian Jarrett
Debunking Resources — Peer-Reviewed Scientific Articles
- Willingham, D. T., Hughes, E. M., & Dobolyi, D. G. (2015). The scientific status of learning styles theories. Teaching of Psychology, 42(3), 266-271. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0098628315589505\
- Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.
- Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning styles: Where’s the evidence? Medical Education, 46(7), 634-635.
- Klitmøller, J. (2015). Review of the methods and findings in the Dunn and Dunn learning styles model research on perceptual preferences. Nordic Psychology, 67(1), 2-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19012276.2014.997783
Debunking Resources — Research Reviews
- Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Available at: http://sxills.nl/lerenlerennu/bronnen/Learning%20styles%20by%20Coffield%20e.a..pdf.
Myth-Supporting or More-Neutral Research Reviews
- Furnham, A. (2012). Learning styles and approaches to learning. In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, T. Urdan, S. Graham, J. M. Royer, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology. APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 2. Individual differences and cultural and contextual factors (pp. 59-81). doi:10.1037/13274-003.