“The Myth of Learning Styles,” Revisited

I’ve written before about how there’s no scientific basis for the belief that teaching to students’ preferences for “learning styles” actually enhances student learning. I just came across this nice little piece by educational psychologists Cedar Reiner & Daniel Willingham on “The Myth of Learning Styles” that gives a clear, readable overview of the issue. An excerpt:

There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist. While we will elaborate on this assertion, it is important to counteract the real harm that may be done by equivocating on the matter. In what follows, we will begin by defining “learning styles”; then we will address the claims made by those who believe that they exist, in the process acknowledging what we consider the valid claims of learning-styles theorists. But in separating the wheat from the pseudoscientific chaff in learning-styles theory, we will make clear that the wheat is contained in other educational approaches as well. A belief in learning styles is not necessary to incorporating useful knowledge about learning into one’s teaching. We will then discuss the reasons why learning styles beliefs are so prevalent. Finally, we will offer suggestions about collegiate pedagogy, given that we have no evidence learning styles do not exist.

Now, as the authors note, “[a] belief in learning styles is not necessary to incorporating useful knowledge about learning into one’s teaching”; this is one of the reasons Dani and I have presented on (and should shortly be publishing on) how to incorporate some evidence based insights from the science of learning into information literacy instruction.

Why is this important? Here’s a few reasons: (1) It’s hard to be good, student-centered educators unless we have an understanding of how students learn; (2) teaching to learning styles does not help students learn; (3) teaching to learning styles is still a method advocated in the library profession (Example 1: it was recommended in my library instruction class during library school) (Example 2: one of the currently most read and cited articles from the Journal of Academic Librarianship rests most of its case on a belief in differentiating teaching to different learners based on learning styles.) Thus, if we want to be engaged in evidence based practice geared toward student learning, we should stop teaching to learning styles!


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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

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