New Research on Learning Styles

by Christine on February 1, 2010

The CTL has long supported the use of learning styles to enhance student achievement in the classroom.  Simply put, learning styles are different ways of learning.  Each person typically learns best using one of four learning styles: Visual (learning through seeing), Aural (learning through listenting), Read/Write (learning through reading and writing), and Tactile/Kinesthetic (learning by doing).  By engaging students’ different learning styles, instructors can adopt lesson plans or assessment methods that meets that individual needs of different learners.   Some examples include having students engage in a debate in addition to reading a literary critique or seeing an animated engineering principle online to supplement reading about it in a textbook.

Learning Styles

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The concept of learning styles is sometimes confused with Howard Gardner‘s theory of multiple intelligences, wherein different types of intelligence describe relatively independent forms of information processing: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.  A plethora of other learning styles theories involve cognitive ability and personality types.

Despite widespread adoption of learning styles and multiples intelligences theory in classrooms, new research has questioned whether matching teaching methods to learning styles actually improves learning.  In the December 15, 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education article, Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students, Harold E. Pashler, a professor of psychology at the University of California at San Diego said, “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.”

The obvious question now is should we continue to advocate the use of learning styles as a pedagogical tool?  On that issue, researchers are in agreement.  Instructors should explore the full cycle of learning styles in their course as a means for determining how to teach a particular subject matter.  According to Pashler, “some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions.” Therefore, it’s not so much about matching teaching to individual students, but rather matching instruction to subject matter.  By experimenting with various learning styles, an instructor may then be able to discern how to teach content more effectively.

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