Leaving Learning Styles Behind

brainAre you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner?

Whatever your answer, apparently, it’s wrong.

The body of evidence against learning styles is mounting, indicating that while people may have preferences for how they receive new information, it doesn’t actually make them learn the information any better. In some ways, this takes a lot of pressure off of teachers, because according to this blog post from the NY Times, teachers haven’t really been tailoring their instruction to accommodate the famed learning styles, anyway.

The framework has stuck around, and stuck hard, probably because it’s one of those intuitive concepts about human differences from pop psychology, much like the Four Temperaments. Learning styles are discussed in teacher training programs and professional development as though it’s Teaching 101 stuff. And yet, students are not administered surveys upon enrollment to determine learning styles, and curriculum doesn’t come with three plans for differentiated instruction, according to each style. Learning styles, truthfully, are not a functional aspect of education, but the blog post above indicates that teachers dutifully express wistfulness about not being able to do more for their students in terms of this concept.

Given how transient and passé learning styles now appear to be, let me say this: What you do for your students is wonderful, and sufficient, and meaningful.

That being said, I’m on board with the deeper message of the blog post: Teachers aren’t usually involved when ideas like learning styles take hold of the field, nor are they usually involved in early policy development or hands-on classroom research. But they should be. Within the educational system, teachers have the most direct impact on students, so shouldn’t they represent the strongest voice in that system? Makes sense to me.

What do you make of the NY Times blog post? Do you have any comments about learning styles, positive or negative? How do you feel about the volume of the teacher voice in educational decision making?

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