Monday, August 29, 2011

More skepticism about learning styles

A while back I expressed skepticism about the idea that we should tailor our teaching to students' learning styles. There I cited a study that concluded that to whatever extent we exhibit differences in learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.), teaching to a particular learning style doesn't seem to get better results than does teaching in the style that suits the material taught.

Now it looks like skepticism about learning styles is accelerating. NPR reports on a study that draws a more dramatic conclusion:

... an entire industry has sprouted based on learning styles. There are workshops for teachers, products targeted at different learning styles and some schools that even evaluate students based on this theory.
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."


  1. Thanks Michael. This is heartening. I've always been skeptical about this sort of thing.

    Even if such styles existed, it would be difficult to determine who has what style. People are notoriously bad at knowing this sort of thing about themselves. I'm thinking about Eric Schwitzgebel's excellent work in Describing Inner Experience. You might think that people would be good at knowing whether they are poor or strong imagers. As it turns out, people are highly unreliable detectors of their own ability to image.

  2. Looks like NPR is picking up on the same research as in your original post, namely this paper.

    Pashler's pubs page is here; Rohrer's is here.

    So, no new evidence.
    - Cathal


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