It’s a common idea that our brains are better suited to one learning style when compared to other learning styles. But do learning styles even exist?
Many of us believe that we have an unique learning style. “I am a visual type,” we might say. We might believe that we understand a lesson better by hearing it, others believe that they will learn better by reading it or by applying the knowledge we are trying to understand. The idea of learning styles is pretty simple and it should be easy to prove the existence of learning styles by a scientific study. However, scientists are struggling to prove the existence of learning styles while teachers and students heavily rely on the idea of unique learning styles.
According to VAK theory, there are three learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic (tactile) style. Right from the start, it’s important to understand that there are many other learning styles and preference of any of those styles is still to be scientifically proved. A review from 2004 found that there are 71 different learning styles. According to the modern understanding of learning, learning styles should be in line with a teacher’s method of teaching in order for a student to successfully comprehend the lesson. Still, there is no adequate evidence to prove the use of learning styles in education is beneficial. Never the less, a recent study surveyed nearly 700 educators, and found that 90% of participants believe that people have unique learning styles.
Researchers have suggested that the idea of learning styles comes down to culture. Western cultures tend to have an idea of traits that are fixed at birth, while from the other side, Eastern cultures are more prone to believe that the traits can be shaped by experience. Learning styles theory assumes that we are prone to one way of learning and it can’t be changed through experience.
Catherine Scott wrote in a paper in 2010, published in the Australian Journal of Education:
“When forming first impressions, the entity model perspective predisposes teachers to the decision that the child is ‘one of those’ on the basis of just one interaction or upon reading reports of the child’s previous attainment or behavior.”
You might think that you still have a learning style because you vividly remember that you learned about a famous naval battle through watching an reenactment or that you remember the names of the U.S. states through music. Those are your learning styles, right? Wrong, those are teaching styles suitable for the subject, not for an individual student. Studies have proved that all students benefit when certain subjects are taught with their own appropriate and unique style. For example, the math should be taught visually, and language verbally. Even if you believe that you are an auditory learner, you will not be able to learn math, especially geometry without a visual representation.
This doesn’t mean that we all learn in the same way. Our way of learning depends on our previous knowledge, interests, and strengths. Researchers found that qualities like these have a big effect on how we learn something. Beginners learn better by studying examples while more advanced students learn better by doing a problem by themselves.
Spending time on figuring a student’s individual style of learning is a waste of time and it’s limiting since it assumes that only certain students will learn when a subject is presented visually.
The authors of a recent study concluded:
“Given the capacity of humans to learn, it seems especially important to keep all avenues, options, and aspirations open for our students, our children, and ourselves. Toward that end, we think the primary focus should be on identifying and introducing the experiences, activities, and challenges that enhance everybody’s learning.”