The Myth of Individual Learning Styles

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I recently discovered that individual learning styles are a myth.  (So are my Microsoft Paint skills apparently ^^.)  I was pretty shell shocked by this discovery because having a learning style was such a strong belief so heavily ingrained in my thinking that I even considered it part of my own identity.  When I first heard that individual learning styles are a myth, I tried to justify my beliefs by telling myself, “learning styles DO exist but tailoring lessons to an individual’s learning style doesn’t necessarily help students succeed.”  I started getting comfortable with that idea, but upon further investigation, the research just doesn’t support even the existence of individual learning styles.  It doesn’t help that the myth about learning styles is still so alive and well:

In my search for more answers, I watched the following TedTalk video, where Dr. Tesia Marshik presents a meta-­analysis of current research on individual learning styles and concludes that:

“at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice”

-Dr. Tesia Marshik

 

Daniel Willingham described research proving that learning styles are a myth as far back as 2008:

“It’s true that some people have a better visual memory than other people and other people are better at learning auditory material than other people are, but that fact has little relevance for teachers”

-Daniel Willingham

Put simply, if you wanted to teach students to identify the appearance of different songbirds, you would show them a picture.  The picture gives meaning to the students.  It has nothing to do with whether or not the students are visual learners.

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If, on the other hand, you wanted students to identify the different songs of various songbirds, you would have them listen to the sounds.  Again, it has nothing to do with whether or not the students are auditory learners, it only has to do with attaching meaning to the content.

Ultimately, the most effective instructional strategy to take away from the myth of individual learning styles and cognitive science in learning, is that incorporating multiple sensory experiences into a single lesson helps makes the content most meaningful.

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