Do Learning Styles Really Matter?

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A recent review of the scientific literature on learning styles found scant evidence to clearly support the idea that outcomes are best when instructional techniques align with individuals’ learning styles. In fact, there are several studies that contradict this belief. It is clear that people have a strong sense of their own learning preferences (e.g., visual, kinesthetic, intuitive), but it is less clear that these preferences matter. Research by Polly Hussman and Valerie Dean O’Loughlin at Indiana University takes a new look at this important question. Most previous investigations on learning styles focused on classroom learning, and assessed whether instructional style impacted outcomes for different types of learners. Some might argue that, in this era of flipped classrooms and online course materials, students master more of the information on their own. That might explain why instructional style in the classroom matters little. It also raises the possibility that learning styles do matter—perhaps a match between students’ individual learning styles and their study strategies is the key to optimal outcomes.

Read The Problem with “Learning Styles”

CoP Note: It’s possible this community of practice is predicated on the assumption that adult learning styles matter and differ significantly from learning styles of traditional-age students. I don’t think so — I think the CoP is predicated on the recognition that teaching styles and methods matter for students, and that methods of teaching adults differ from methods for teaching traditional-age students. But if teaching styles matter, we should probably be asking ourselves why. I believe part of the reason is mentioned in this article: “Students are more successful when they space out their study sessions over time, experience the material in multiple modalitiestest themselves on the material as part of their study practices, and elaborate on material to make meaningful connections rather than engaging in activities that involve simple repetition of information (e.g., making flashcards or recopying notes).”

Teaching in multiple modalities and making meaningful connections to professional and personal experiences are among pedagogical approaches that have strong support in teaching adults. The more we can do to support and reinforce such effective methods of learning, the more likely our pedagogy will result in actual learning.

Daniel Hocutt

Web Manager and Adjunct Professor of English for the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies.