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Education Bookcast

Feb 10, 2020

Learning styles are one of the most widely believed psychological ideas known by scientists to be invalid. Over 90% of university students in the USA believe in them, and most adults will gladly share whether they consider themselves to be visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic learners (VAK theory is the leading learning styles theory).

In this episode, we look at six publications showing the problems with learning styles theories. The problems fall into three layers:

  1. The questionnaires for many learning styles theories (i.e. the way in which the learning style of a given person is determined) have problems of validity, meaning that they don't measure anything, or they don't measure what they claim to measure. For example, if everyone answers that they would rather learn a dance by dancing it rather than by watching it or listening to an explanation, then that probably says more about what a good way to teach dancing is, rather than what learning style the individuals have.
  2. The questionnaires also suffer from problems of reliability. This means that when the same person is re-measured, they get a different result, which means that the measurement isn't trustworthy, and therefore means that nothing is being measured.
  3. Those few theories that are shown to be both valid and reliable then have to be tested for whether they actually make a difference to student learning. Is it better to teach visual learners visually, auditory learners auditively, etc.? It turns out that there is no evidence for this in the research in high-quality studies, and in fact there is much evidence to the contrary (that your supposed learning style makes no difference to the way you learn).

Thankfully, the lack of validity of the idea of learning styles simplifies the task of teachers and other educational professionals greatly. You don't have to think about learning styles!

Enjoy the episode.



The articles covered in this episode are the following:

Dembo & Howard (2007). Advice about the use of learning styles: a major myth in education.

Pashler et al. (2017). Learning styles - concepts and evidence.

Willingham et al. (2015). The scientific status of learning styles theories.

Cuevas (2015). Is learning-styles based instruction effective? A comprehensive analysis of recent research in learning styles.

Kirschner (2016). Stop propagating the learning styles myth.

Reiner & Willingham (2010). The Myth of Learning Styles.