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Different Learning Styles Bogus?

If you’ve ever sat through a teaching seminar, you’ve probably heard a lecture about “learning styles.” Perhaps you were told that some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others are kinesthetic learners. Or maybe you were given one of the dozens of other learning-style taxonomies that scholars and consultants have developed.

Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match your students’ styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are said to do worse.

Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no strong scientific evidence to support the “matching” idea, they contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to adopt it in the classroom.

“We were startled to find that there is so much research published on learning styles, but that so little of the research used experimental designs that had the potential to provide decisive evidence,” says Harold E. Pashler, a professor of psychology at the University of California at San Diego and the paper’s lead author.

“Lots of people are selling tests and programs for customizing education that completely lack the kind of experimental evidence that you would expect for a drug,” Mr. Pashler says. “Now maybe the FDA model isn’t always appropriate for education—but that’s a conversation we need to have.”

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