M. Jackson Group Update – February 2021 – The “Learning Styles” Myth

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (www.mjacksongroup.ca).  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field. 

Research Digest includes an article: “The “Learning Styles” Myth Is Still Prevalent Among Educators — And It Shows No Sign of Going Away” by Emily Reynold.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

The idea that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their specific “learning style” — auditory, kinesthetic, visual or some combination of the three — is widely considered a myth. 

Research has variously suggested that learners don’t actually benefit from their preferred style, that teachers and pupils have different ideas about what learning styles actually work for them, and that we have very little insight into how much we’re actually learning from various methods.

Despite this evidence, a large proportion of people — including the general public, educators and even those with a background in neuroscience — still believe in the myth. And a new review, published in Frontiers in Education, finds no signs of that changing.

The team looked at articles that focused on belief in learning styles published between 2009 and April 2020. Articles with participant groups that were not made up of educators or trainee educators were excluded from analysis, as were surveys that focused not on whether learning styles actually existed but on other opinions — whether they explain differences in achievement, for example. Data from over 15,000 educators were included in the analysis.Overall, 89.1% of participants believed that people learn better when instruction is matched to their learning styles. A total of 95.4% of trainee educators believed in learning styles — slightly higher than the 87.8% of qualified educators who showed similar beliefs. 

And despite more widespread debunking of the myth, both in academic publishing and the mainstream media, there was no significant decrease in belief in studies conducted more recently.

This had a real impact on how teachers worked: in the seven studies that measured use or planned use of learning style-matched teaching, 79.7% of educators said they used or intended to use matched teaching methods. 
Interventions designed to disavow educators of their belief in learning styles did seem to make some difference, however — in the four studies that utilised training for these purposes, belief decreased significantly, from 78.4% to 37.1%.

The myth of learning styles, it seems, is as pervasive as ever. 

Future research could also look at the consequences of learning style-matched teaching — does it actually matter if the myth is perpetuated, and does it have a serious impact on how people learn? 

Studying how training can educate teachers on the learning style myth could also help us understand how it spreads and why it sticks — and might help students get the most out of education at the same time.

[end excerpts]

Ken Pope

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“Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”—”The Boxer” (1968), words and music by Paul Simon