Why Learning Styles are a Myth

Over the years it’s become generally accepted that we all have a different learning style. Maybe we learn best by seeing things. Perhaps by hearing. Or perhaps it’s by doing. And according to a survey, 96% of educators in countries from the UK to China believe this is true. But is it really?

Learning Styles Don’t Exist

Nope. Not only have there been a surprisingly small number of studies supporting the “learning styles” theory, there have been several others showing it just doesn’t work. One study for example found that identifying and adapting teaching to visual and verbal learning styles had no significant impact on how much, or how well, people actually learned.

But why?

It seems like the interpretation of how we use our senses to learn is wrong. Although it may be true that some people have better visual, audio or kinaesthetic memories, it is wrong to say that they therefore learn best only in that way.

For example, it’s highly likely that someone with good auditory skills would be able to identify and perhaps reproduce a French accent. But exclusively using audio learning techniques to remember the shape of France on a map probably won’t work as well as actually seeing it.

This in mind, the method we should use to learn something is better suited to what we should learn, rather than how we think we learn best.

Other problems

And teaching according to learning styles only loses more credibility when we consider the research behind it. According to a paper from 2004 for example, there are 71 learning styles. Assuming that each learning style is dichotomous (eg. visual vs. auditory), there should be 2 to the power of 71 learning style combinations altogether- more than there are people on earth. 

And more than this, other studies have shown that catering teaching methods to specific kinds of learners have no effect on their subject knowledge or competence. Even if people think they learn in a certain way, evidence shows that they may not after all. It turns out that the best way to see how some one will do in learning something is not to see if their learning style matched up to how they were taught, but how they’ve done in similar tasks in the past.

To conclude, people differ in too many different ways to assign them specific learning styles that guarantee success. When choosing a teaching method, it’s better to look at what is trying to be taught to best identify how to teach, rather than trying to adapt to how people think they learn.

Annie Lennon

Writer with an insatiable curiosity for people, facts and places. Currently interested in learning more about making our way towards a blue economy.