Sunday, December 03, 2017

Learning Styles as Myth

by Rosana Garcia (Writing for Teachers)

People learn in different ways and educators have to be aware of it when planning classes. Therefore, teachers must match their teaching styles with their students’ learning styles to achieve a significant learning (Doyle and Rutherford, 1984).

These are some of the ideas that have become very popular among learning style researchers. There are over 71 different theory models. The most common theory is related to sensory preferences, by Walter Burke Barbe (1926). The modalities can be divided into three main areas: visual, auditory and kinesthetic (movement-oriented). Visual learners absorb information by taking notes and observing the body language and facial expression from the teachers. Auditory learners are more sensitive to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances; they learn best through talking, discussing, listening to lectures and reading aloud. Kinesthetic learners learn best by executing physical activities and can be easily distracted if they sit still for long periods.

Another well-known theory related to experiential learning, developed by David A. Kolb (1984, as cited by Putintseva, 2006), is rearranged into Accommodator, Converger, Diverger and Assimilator. These four approaches form a learning cycle from experience, to observation, to conceptualization, to experimentation, and back to experience.  

A personality-based model was built by B. McCarthy and H. Gardner (1990, as cited by Putintseva, 2006), who identified four learning styles: innovative, analytic, common sense and dynamic. Innovative learners aim for personal meaning while learning, whereas Analytic learners are reflective on facts and aim for intellectual development. Common sense learners aim for practical and straightforward solutions, while Dynamic learners make use of deductive thinking for hidden possibilities.

Although these theories of learning style seem valid at first, some well-respected researchers have debated their limitations and utility. Robert A. Bjork and colleagues (1999, p. 105) claim that “any credible validation of learning-styles-based instruction requires robust documentation of a very particular type of experimental finding with several necessary criteria.” They add that “an important feature of processing in a specific cognitive style is that when one encounters a stimulus that is presented in a non-preferred modality, one mentally converts that information into his or her preferred modality.” Stephen Downes (2009, as cited by Finley, 2015), considers the learning style approach “very narrow and based on a narrow "instructivist" definition of teaching as a form of instruction to produce content recall.”

There are few studies that have provided enough evidence for learning styles as valid, but many studies that prove these theories as myth. According to Christian Jarrett (2015), the learning style is still widely believed because teachers like to think they are sensitive to their students’ needs. Besides, it is more comforting to rely on the success or failure of a class based on a wrong teaching style.

I believe that, by observation, interaction and engagement in different activities, teachers can get the most of their students regardless of their learning preferences. Teachers should challenge their students to go beyond their comfort zone of learning. This could be achieved by offering a range of activities within a learner-centered, communicative approach. 


Tatyana Putintseva - The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XII, No. 3, March 2006.
Rebecca L. Oxford - Learning Styles & Strategies/Oxford, GALA 2003.

Joy M. Reid - TESOL QUARTERLY, Vol. 21, No. 1, March 1987.

Christian Jarrett (2015) -

Todd Finley, 2015 -

Walter Doyle and Barry Rutherford - Theory Into Practice Vol. 23, No. 1, Winter 1984 

Walter B. Barbe - Psychology and education of the gifted, 1926.

H. Pashler, M. McDaniel, D. Rohrer, and R. Bjork - Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence, Vol. 9, No. 23, 1999.