We've all heard the theory that some students are visual learners, while others are auditory learners. And others learn best when lessons involve movement. In fact, an entire industry has sprouted up on learning styles.
This prompted Doug Rohrer, a psychologist at the University of South Florida, to look more closely at the learning style theory.
When he reviewed studies of learning styles, he found no scientific evidence backing up the idea. “We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these,” he says, “and until such evidence exists, we don't recommend that they be used.”
Willingham suggests it might be more useful to figure out similarities in how our brains learn, rather than differences. And, in that case, he says, there's a lot of common ground. For example, variety. “Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention,” he says, adding that studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better.
And recent studies find that our brains retain information better when we spread learning over a longer period of time, say months or even a year, versus cramming it into a few days or weeks. Rohrer and colleagues nationwide are currently researching what teaching methods work best for all students, but only using the evidence.
If you're interested in learning about bad science, you should read Ben Goldacre's Bad Science book.