There are no learning styles

May 17, 2020 00:00 · 293 words · 2 minute read learning styles research

Learning style is an idea that one is learning better if the form of the material (auditory, visual, etc.) matches one’s developed “style.”

Visual learning preference

There are dozens of models out there that classify people into, typically, one of less than ten groups. Sometimes these models reflect sensory spectrum (seeing, hearing, moving, etc.), sometimes they describe type and level of engagement.

Roughly in the 70s, an idea of an individualized learning style gained momentum. Grasha-Reichmann Learning Style Scale (1974) was aiming to arm teachers with an insight on how to approach instructional plans for college students. Kolb’s model (1984) gave birth to the Learning Style Inventory, an assessment method used to determine one’s learning style. Flemming claimed (1995) that there are only four learning modalities: visual, auditory, physical, and social. All these ideas penetrated school systems and resulted in lots of questionable practices in education.

While critique appeared here and there, the most elegant way to approach the learning style theories was devised by Harold Pashler and colleagues from UCSD. They designed a protocol for learning style assessment that, for me, closely resembles the design of a typical randomized control trial. Students’ learning styles should be blindly assessed, and later, placed randomly to classes with different teaching styles. Students attending classes matching their learning styles should have better performance if the learning style theory is right.

Of course, very few studies were designed in a way resembling Pashler’s protocol. Almost all of these reported contrary evidence. Subsequent research showed that certain learning approaches give better results consistently, irrespectively of the students’ preferences.

That is excellent news. Even in case unfavorable biology and childhood trajectory, there are standard, non-individualized approaches to learning. The hyperhuman approach to intelligence amplification has a chance to level the playing field.