“Learning styles” seem to be very popular these days in education. However, the notion that each person learns differently is likely a myth (Olson, 2006; Feldon, 2005; Willingham, 2005). It is not a different learning style students enter instruction with, but different prior knowledge and experiences. In fact, when students receive instruction within their “style” of choice, they often perform more poorly on assessments (Salomon, 1984). The explanation for this discrepancy is that students exert less mental effort on tasks they prefer due to perception of ease. Therefore, the students are not as actively mentally engaged in the learning activities. Additionally, we must consider the biological nature of learning. Human beings, in a physiological sense, are not very different and learning is a chemical/physiological process occurring in the brain. Why should we think one person’s brain works fundamentally differently than another? We do not think this about other organs.
Perhaps, instead of focusing on students’ “learning styles” we should focus on what representation best suits the content being learned. Instead of thinking some students are “hands-on” learners while others are not, we must realize that all students will benefit from concrete representations of concepts. If I want to teach students about changing the oil in a car, having some read about it and others do it and still others act it out is, I’m sorry to say, ridiculous. All of the students will benefit from holding a wrench and checking the final levels. This does not mean we should only teach in the concrete realm, we must consistently go back and forth between concrete and abstract. By starting with concrete examples, teachers can have students continually link abstract ideas to their concrete experiences. Below, I expand on what is known about learning and how learning theories can inform our practice.
In my next post, I will begin discussing how learning theory (as opposed to learning “style”) more thoroughly explains learning and can better inform our practice.
(This excerpt originally appeared in Teaching as a Dynamic Activity – http://educatech.wordpress.com . Follow Jerrid on Twitter (@jerridkruse)).
Feldon, D.F. (2005). Dispelling a few myths about learning. UrbanEd 1(4), 37-39.
Olson, J.K. (2006). The Myth of Catering to Learning Styles. Science & Children 44(2), 56-57.
Salomon, G. (1984). Television is “easy” and print is “tough”: the differential investment of mental effort in learning as a function of perceptions and attributions. Journal of Educational Psychology 76(4), 647-658.
Willingham, D.T. (2005). Do visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners need visual, auditory, and kinesthetic instruction? American Educator 29(2), 31-35, 44.