Learning Styles Revisited, Fact or Fiction?


Debunked. It’s true. Learning styles theory has been thoroughly debunked.

Kaput. Put out to pasture. At least for now. Things come and go in education, that pendulum swings mightily, but right now, gone or going fast. And for those teachers and administrators who still believe in styles based pedagogy, common to the core no more.

I just don’t get it. Tonight after another crazy busy day, I am writing to you, instead of watching Netflix, almost anything would be ok tonight. This is my second night working on this blog. I thought I would knock it out in a couple hours yesterday. I thought about it for a week. I planned to give you a bunch of thoughts based on my fervent beliefs in the concepts of learning styles and a bit of multiple intelligences theory. That was then.

It’s not like you don’t know all this, or much of this, or have distinct opinions. It’s also not my goal to convince you of anything, simply to add a bit to the discussion. I read, as I did a little ‘debunking’, 2018 research, that about 90 percent of teachers believe in the idea of learning styles or preferences. That’s a lot of believers.

If that is accurate, then, along with the ’80’s and ’90’s self-esteem movement, the notion that everybody has a distinct learning style naturally leading to academic success, made sense. Not so easy to correlate preferences and success. Not anymore. Not with brain research more updated due to, among other things, MRI imaging.

Education Week recently published an article about learning styles and grouping kids based on preferences. Feh! No way. Never. Earlier this month, Edutopia offered their research highlights for 2018. Three major areas came into question: learning styles, growth mindset and the marshmallow test for self-control. I am certainly not tackling growth mindset, self-control and any other topics I might like to revisit. Only learning styles. That is enough for now, truly.

“In what may be the last nail in the coffin for learning styles, researchers found no benefit to matching a student’s perceived learning style – such as visual or linguistic- to the ways a concept can be learned.” Edutopia. Hmm.

On Twitter I also notice a number of teachers and parents are now questioning whether learning styles are valid. In particular, in regard to grouping kids based on preferences. And that grouping based on perceived learning preferences really concerns me. I really don’t agree with that at all. I never realized teachers were actually doing that. Wacky.

However, in my heart of hearts and based on a lot of years of classsroom experience, I absolutely do believe in the basic tenets of learning styles, and additionally, multiple intelligences. But let me explain my thinking.

I have written extensively in earlier books and publications about basic learning therory, brain- based education, learning styles and yes, multiple ways of knowing and showing. I was a Seminar leader on these subjects for school districts, as a Keynoter, and presenting for several national Seminar Companies. I attended multiple trainings led by Rita and Kenneth Dunn and their student, Marie Carbo who went on to be highly regarded advocating for reading instruction based on reading learning styles. I read everything known at the time about multiple intelligences theories, as well. We were the believers.

In my University Administrative leadership and Credential reading courses every student participated in some sort of style assessment, several using pictures to let me know learning preferences. But never did I group anybody based on perceived preferences, nor did I teach in only one way or another. Way back then we instinctively knew to teach in a variety of ways, as best strategy, as everybody learns best, differently. But perhaps not as one label or two labels. For example, I learn some things really quickly if I am interested, think Dewey. I continue to struggle, a word I detest now, in technology, especially posting blogs.

Because I would probably be labeled ADD, or ADHD, I am acutely aware that I learn best by action. Reading or seeing something, my preference, then I have to experience it by doing or getting my hands on it. I text with my thumb. I write without dictating, at least for now. My hand is getting messed up from all the constant keyboarding. However, I write, think and learn kinesthetically.

I talk a lot, but that’s not how I learn best. Following directions is the pits. My technology skills are improving but that is with a lot of help still, from tutors, as needed, and tech direction with my new book. I amazed myself I learned Twitter at all and I am still not up to the level of my peers and know I probably won’t ever catch up. But I manage to hold my own when I need to, with emojis.

I like to play Baroque or classical music or Soundscapes when I work or study. Sometimes Jazz and Blues, except then I need to get up and stretch, do Pilates awhile or take a Reggae break. Kids don’t always have such a luxury. Sometimes I like quiet like right now. I can hear the river and wind chimes as soft background as I write this missive, on my bed, covered with blankets.

To learn something new, or write, I need to move often, as well as write or learn in comfort, with a just right temperature and dim to moderate light, and never fluorescent anything. I need to eat. I need to have a lot of water nearby and chocolate. I like to write on my bed or the couch. I don’t have an office anymore and never used mine anyway, at home or school. Not even when I was Principal.

Whether I was teaching preschool or adults, parents, teachers, school boards, I urged and still do, to teach everything at least three times, three ways. My belief is that at a minimum, by offering a myriad of inviting strategies, with some needed repetition, practice makes permanent. I am so happy to see so many instructors creating projects, personalizing learning and encouraging students to be designers of their own classroom destiny. Beautiful. Think Dewey, (interests) Maslow, (basic needs) and Bloom (Yes, questioning).

In my University Credential courses in reading and leadership I always offered opportunities for adult students to learn and exhibit their knowledge in a variety of ways. Since I learn best, in often unusual ways, it only made sense. So, yes I believe assessment should be varied, as well.

When we talk about reaching all students as scholars in waiting, it seems inconceivable to me that we wouldn’t regard learning preferences in the classroom equation.

How do you learn best?

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

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