Many of us have a choice of how to learn, maybe learn from seeing explanations by experts or learn from directly ‘plunging’ to try it.
Is the choice of learning style the easiest way for us to learn something?
When you learn something new, do you learn more easily from diagrams, from someone explaining how, or do you try it right away? You may be tempted to answer that it all depends on the task at hand.
For example, learning to drive completely from a book or from someone sitting in the kitchen telling you how to do it situs slot online, cannot be replaced by you who learn directly by trying to drive.
Seeing someone decorating a cake may just give you an idea of the technique because it takes so long to experiment.
But, in general you may also have the choice of studying a certain way, or as they say in education, a preferred learning style.
Over the years, many different ways of classifying learning styles have been developed – pragmatic versus theory, concrete thinker versus abstract thinker, organizer versus innovator – and many, many others.
One review found there are more than 30 branches of this classification.
And schools were offered to buy different testing kits. Some that are well known for classifying children’s learning styles based on the senses are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, each of which refers to the preferred way of learning through seeing, hearing, or doing it (trying) directly.
Many thousands of schools around the world have assessed children’s preferred learning styles and have subsequently, if possible, taught them accordingly.
This idea, known as the linkage hypothesis, says that if you are taught in a learning style that is related to your choice, you will find it easier to learn and as a result you will do better. This idea is very popular in schools.
I’ve been told that there are classrooms where the children sit wearing bibs (baby’s breastplate at mealtime) with capital letters V (visual), A (auditory), or K (kinesthetic), so teachers -the teacher knows exactly which student prefers which style.
The idea has an interesting intuition. Each teacher notices variations in learning styles among students when the teacher is about to choose new ideas for teaching, and he knows how difficult the teaching job is.
Anything that can make teaching work easier is greatly appreciated. Moreover, this linkage hypothesis carries a certain optimism.
Not only does it make us realize that we are all different individuals, but it implies that we can do well if we can figure out the best way of learning that suits us best.
We know we are all different, so why not make the learning process a little easier by using our strengths?
And the teachers seem to agree. In 2014, Professor Paul Howard-Jones of the University of Bristol sampled teachers in five countries, and found that the proportion of those who agreed that students learn better if they are taught according to their preferred learning style ranged from 93% in the UK to 97 % in China and Turkey
The question is not whether there are learning styles, but whether learning in a preferred style makes a difference.
So if you are more visual style inclined, could you learn better by looking at photos than by verbal instruction? There is a lot of reading material on this, with a lot of published study results.
However, some of the literature available is very small in number and few appear in journals that can be reviewed by the general public.
A large review of research into learning styles took 16 months to complete and was published in 2004.
The authors identified the surprising finding that there were 71 different models of learning styles, and then analyzed only 13 in detail.
To their dismay, however, they found the field to be much ‘broader, opaque, contradictory and controversial’ than they had hoped.
They concluded that after 30 years of research there was still no agreement on the best way to assess learning or teaching styles according to the study results.
They have occasionally encountered a study in which teaching according to learning styles made a difference to the outcome, but they criticized the validity of the research.
To ensure that teaching according to learning styles makes a difference, a study needs to assess students’ learning styles, then divide them into random groups to be taught in different learning styles, before giving them the same test.
Ultimately they need to ascertain whether people who are taught according to their preferred style do better, and more importantly, whether those who are taught in the ‘wrong’ style do worse. If the theory holds then it is possible to prove interactions like these.
When the next major review was published in 2008, the authors found very few studies designed as such.
Of the four best-designed studies, three found that learning style associations made no difference.
Sometimes children learn better when taught in a preferred learning style, but so do the other people in the group, so reflecting this is their learning style not because it is an individual learning style that is important.
The researchers found only one study with both a rigorous methodology and positive results as well.
But, although they emphasize that the costs associated with teaching individuals according to their preferred learning style are very high, schools will want to see more than statistically significant improvements, they need to see evidence of large differences for many. students.
A 2008 review pointed to a lack of evidence, calling openly for researchers to fill this gap.
They even define exactly how to design the right study. So, in 2015 when the most recent review of how learning styles were related was published by another team, they really wanted to know if their calls were being taken care of.
The good news is that the number of studies using robust methods is increasing, but six studies looking at the same interactions described above have yet to be found.
However, the uncritical response to the relevance of learning styles began to change.
The authors were encouraged to find that some (but not necessarily all) textbooks for aspiring teachers began citing a lack of evidence for appropriate teaching and learning styles, but were later disappointed to see that some suggested teachers were still doing it.
However, there is one interesting study in which children were given the opportunity to explore the outdoors, go on a ‘photo safari’ to take photos and join group discussions, all while their movement was monitored with a GPS tracking device.
Their learning styles are assessed starting from the beginning and many children have their learning processes according to certain styles.
The kinesthetic pupils moved the most during outdoor play time, the visual pupils took more photos in more scenic places, and the auditory pupils spoke more than any other during the discussion.
The researchers didn’t assess whether this helped them learn, but this is ultimately evidence that our preferred learning styles have at least some implications for how we act in the real world, although we don’t know if they change the outcome.
But why can’t the association hypothesis make more of a difference to test results, when it thinks it should? We have to remember that our senses don’t work alone.
Even reading is an act of more than just a visual process. Various parts of the brain are exerted as we imagine the scenes in the book and reflect on our own experiences.
The brain system doesn’t work alone, so even when we listen to something with focus, our visual processes don’t stop.
So is it correct to say that learning styles have been proven invalid?
The authors of the 2015 review said “not all of it.”
There are so few organized studies that it is difficult to provide teachers with good advice on teaching. However, looking at the best available evidence so far, it is clear that there is no evidence that teaching according to learning styles brings about improvements.
But maybe, if the teachers are happy to do it, even if there is a small chance that it might work, it doesn’t matter if the evidence is lacking.
The problem is, as was highlighted in a 2004 review, teaching students in this way can stifle student development.
Using our strengths in the learning process may seem like a good idea, but as adults we need to be able to learn in all kinds of different ways.
So, it may be more useful in the long run to practice using our less visible senses.
There is also the danger of classifying students according to their learning styles, as this can create stereotypes in them.
If students’ learning struggles are stopped because of their choice of kinesthetic learning styles, for example, their difficulties may be taken for granted instead of being scrutinized and acted upon.
And students can even stereotype themselves.
At a conference the authors of the 2004 review told someone’s story, because that person knew he was a ‘low-auditory and visual learner’ there was no point reading a book or listening to anyone for more than a few minutes.
We can’t say the connectedness hypothesis will never work, and there are teachers who do, but when judging by the evidence, it’s been less promising so far.