The 100 Ways Children Learn and Why You Should Ignore Them

Learning styles – they used to be everywhere.

You know – learning styles –  that notion that the way children learn is this way or that – visual, auditory or kinesthetic – or some other more complicated variation on a theme.

One man band at Times Square

Teacher practicing to meet learning style needs.

There are three, there are four and sometimes many more styles or types of learners.

There used to be (still are) inventories that could be filled to determine them and thereby provide actionable information for the teacher who then – somehow – had  the obligation to teach to these styles and types.

All very scientific.

However, it’s hard to imagine the pretzelesque gyrations of the skilled learning styles practitioner.

Perhaps such a teacher would look a little like this one-man-band seen performing in the Times Square subway.

It’s all so much hooey, bunkum, codswallop and tommyrot

Fortunately the whole learning styles approach is thoroughly debunked and discredited. See here and here.

Nonetheless those inventories are still around. They pop up now and then Dracula-like in spite of the weight of the evidence.

Of course all children are different. They have incredibly diverse strengths, interests, skills, aptitudes, preferences and predilections and all that good stuff.

And – to the best of their ability – good teachers know that and pay attention.

But when it comes to learning styles and putting kids into those neatly labelled boxes –  it’s all bunkum, codswallop and tommyrot.

No-one has been able to produce any credible evidence to the contrary. If you disagree take up this learning styles challenge and and win $5000.

In summary, there presently is no empirical justification for tailoring instruction to students’ supposedly different learning styles. Educators should instead focus on developing the most effective and coherent ways to present particular bodies of content which often involve combining different forms of instruction, such as diagrams and words, in mutually reinforcing ways.

Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning styles: Where’s the evidence? Medical Education, 46(7), 634-635.

So what accounts for the enduring appeal of the learning style myth? It seems to arise from the confusion between how we learn (one way) and how we express and communicate that learning (infinite),

We all have different personalities but we all learn the same way. When it comes to actual learning it all comes down to one “style” and here it is:

We learn by: Giving something a go, by trying it out, by trial and error, by mental and physical modeling, by an ebb and flow of experimentation, by experience. Then figuring out what works and what fits and what doesn’t. Then by adjusting accordingly – possibly with the help, feedback and support of others.  And then trying again.

Anyone got a different way?

So – if that is true – think about what happens in school. Are we helping learners do that?  And then expressing and communicating their learning in their own ways, of course.

1 Comment

  1. All so clearly and concisely put – which is not easy to do. With a few jewels on the commonsense outfit: ‘pretzelesque gyrations’ is good. Not just Poughkeepsie but the world needs you.

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