Different Learning Styles: A Theory Debunked?
Updated: Jul 22
Are you a "visual learner"? Me too. Guess what- we all are. Learning styles are a popular concept in educational psychology. The idea of learning styles is that in order to best teach a student, the method of teaching needs to match the way that student learns best. Although a variety of learning style categories have been used, the most popular may be these four: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic.
How did learning styles affect the teaching profession?
When I began teaching, being a good teacher meant trying to differentiate so that each student was able to learn using their particular learning style, allowing them to absorb and remember concepts better. There were endless versions of self-quizzes encouraging students to be aware of their own preferences in order to choose study habits that were appropriate for the way their brains were wired. Unfortunately, like many simple solutions to difficult problems, the concept of learning styles just didn't have the science to back it up.
The concept of learning styles just didn't have the science to back it up.
Many psychological studies have shown that students do not have one particular style of learning that is most beneficial for them. In fact, a student may lean towards one learning style in one class and have a different preference in the next class. Although fads are common in the field of education (ahem- every professional development day I've ever been to), learning style categories became so engrained in the teaching world that they were elevated to the status of "psychological myth".
(Take note, my fellow Anatomy teachers, that another pervasive myth is that the eyes actually emanate light to provide vision. Yikes.)
Well-intentioned teachers (me included) have offered these learning styles as a quick fix for students that were struggling with studying techniques. Regrettably, this causes students to think that they are unable to learn using teaching styles that don't match their own. When students are pigeon-holed into thinking they can only learn one way, it actually prevents them from trying other methods of learning and studying which may be more beneficial for them.
What should we do instead?
Despite the persistence of this educational myth in educational literature and teacher prep exams, an overwhelming number of studies done on learning styles show that all students learn best when a variety of teaching methods are used.
Dual coding, a psychological theory originated by Allan Paivio in 1971, suggests that new information is best stored using both linguistic and visual inputs. In short, this means that a combination of pictures and words is the best way to remember new concepts.
The dual coding theory has been upheld by a huge number of studies over the past few decades. Doodle Notes (TM) make great use of the dual coding method. When I began using Doodle Notes (TM) and Cornell Notes with visual cues in my classroom, student engagement and retention increased dramatically. Other teachers have found similar success using these notes. Although any type of visual note-taking can help students utilize the dual coding method, these are the ones that I have found the most useful in my high school classes.
When I began using Doodle Notes (TM) and Cornell Notes with visual cues in my classroom, student engagement and retention increased dramatically.
Ready to try it out? You can find a few free Doodle Notes & Cornell Notes pages here:
-Muscle & Nerve Tissue Cornell Notes (with PowerPoint)
-Scientific Method Cornell Notes (with PowerPoint)