Learning Styles Done Right?

Learning Styles Done Right?

“What?!” Is there a “right way” do use the learning styles concept in teaching, after all?”

Is this what you are thinking, as you read the title to this post? I hope so, because if this is your reaction, then that means that you are already familiar with the critiques on learning styles. I’ve written about them before, as have many other bloggers and education writers. Here’s a sample of my earlier posts on the matter:

October, 2013: “daily prompt” response to the keywords “learning style”

March, 2012: Labeling in the name of progress

February, 2012: Labels on the brain

In the Cognitive Science and Learning Science communities, the critiques are old news, but unfortunately it takes quite a bit of time for the evaluation outcomes to trickle down from the journals to the classrooms of teachers who learned about the neuromyths in their teacher training programs, and who may be required to differentiate according to learning styles, even now.

With all this in mind, I reacted to yesterday’s article in the teaching section of the Guardian with ambivalence.

Teachers much ditch neuromyth of learning styles, says scientists

On the one hand, I find myself feeling exasperated: “Why does it take so long for misinformation to dispel?” But on the other, more positive hand, I find myself cheering: “Hooray! The popular press is getting it, which means word is spreading. There is hope for real improvements!”

So in the spirit of positivity, I thought I’d share some perspectives, on how to use the learning styles idea for good, in your classrooms. We are much better off, as teachers, if we keep in mind that ….

… all learners benefit from variety throughout the day. Mix it up from lesson to lesson, and you are sure to find your students’ attention and interest cycling in a positive way — as their attention wanes at the end of one lesson, with a change in engagement style their focus will refresh and recharge.

…all normally developing learners use all their senses all the time. What matters in a learning situation is not the students per se, but the content that should be guiding your choice of engagement style. “Which sensory system is best matched with the topic or lesson?” is what we should be thinking about. Some lessons are best learned with additional attention paid to the visual system (graphics), others are suited to kinesthetics (en vivo role plays), and so on. Tailor learning [engagement] style to the topic, and learning is enhanced for all learners.

… sensory use preferences are real but preferences affect motivation, not the actual learning & memory pathway. For example, I really prefer to read and will choose reading over video if I can…but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from listening. If the situation calls for it, I can listen and learn too. If you enhance your students motivation, the learning and memory will follow from their enhanced engagement.

Here’s an older post of mine about motivation: Seriously, what’s it gonna take? . I think I should probably write a new one, but this one isn’t too bad. Definitely worth a skim.

… we do our students a huge favor if we help them learn to be successful in situations where they are somewhat less than comfortable. Later in life, when they are on the job, their job performance depends on their flexibility as much as their skills. So helping students learn to transition from style to style as needed, then to appreciate what to choose when the time is appropriate for choice, is time well spent, on your part.

I would be delighted to know what you do in your classrooms, regarding diversifying engagement techniques. Please share in the comments below.

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About EricaK

As a professor and a parent, I think a lot about education. Turns out that the topics I teach (e.g., cognitive and developmental psychology) inform my thoughts about teaching, and that is what I want to write about here.