• August 31, 2015

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students 1

Howard J. Radzyner, MedNet, Corbis

Our brains may not be wired to learn best in a particular style, as many educators now believe, a new paper argues.

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close Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students 1

Howard J. Radzyner, MedNet, Corbis

Our brains may not be wired to learn best in a particular style, as many educators now believe, a new paper argues.

If you've ever sat through a teaching seminar, you've probably heard a lecture about "learning styles." Perhaps you were told that some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others are kinesthetic learners. Or maybe you were given one of the dozens of other learning-style taxonomies that scholars and consultants have developed.

Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match your students' styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are said to do worse.

Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no strong scientific evidence to support the "matching" idea, they contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to adopt it in the classroom.

"We were startled to find that there is so much research published on learning styles, but that so little of the research used experimental designs that had the potential to provide decisive evidence," says Harold E. Pashler, a professor of psychology at the University of California at San Diego and the paper's lead author.

"Lots of people are selling tests and programs for customizing education that completely lack the kind of experimental evidence that you would expect for a drug," Mr. Pashler says. "Now maybe the FDA model isn't always appropriate for education—but that's a conversation we need to have."

Advocates of learning styles respond that Mr. Pashler is the one who lacks evidence. Robert J. Sternberg, dean of arts and sciences at Tufts University and a psychologist who has done a lot of work on learning styles, says in an e-mail message to The Chronicle that the researchers did not fully survey the scholarly literature, and thus "come across looking either biased about or largely ignorant of the field."

Mr. Pashler's study does not dispute the existence of learning styles. But it asserts that no one has ever proved that any particular style of instruction simultaneously helps students who have one learning style while also harming students who have a different learning style.

Of the hundreds of research papers that have been published on learning styles, Mr. Pashler says, almost none have randomly assigned students into one classroom type or another. Only that kind of experiment, he says, can suggest anything definitive about causation. And the few studies that have used an adequate research design, he adds, have mostly failed to support the hypothesis that teaching styles should match students' learning styles.

More Alike Than Different

Consider an experiment about teaching the structure of complex molecules. The matching hypothesis might predict that kinesthetic learners would absorb the concept best by building ball-and-stick models in the lab, while verbal learners would do better by reading a few pages about the logic of molecular design.

That sounds intuitive. But according to Mr. Pashler and his co-authors, almost every well-designed study of that type has discovered that one instructional style actually works best for both groups.

What happens, Mr. Pashler says, is something like this: Experimenters randomly assign students to a classroom that uses laboratory lessons or to a classroom that uses texts. At the end of the week, students are tested on their knowledge of molecular structures.

Among the students who are taught in a hands-on laboratory setting, it turns out that the kinesthetic learners enjoy their lessons much more than their verbal peers do. They also perform better on the test at the end of the week. Let's say that the kinesthetic students average a 95 on the test, while the verbal students' average is 80.

That might seem like strong evidence for the learning-styles hypothesis. Not so fast, Mr. Pashler says.

Look at the second classroom, where students learn about molecules by reading texts. Here, the verbal students enjoy the lessons much more than their kinesthetic peers do. But on the test, both the verbal and kinesthetic students average around 70. The verbal students are actually better off learning this concept in a laboratory, even though they enjoy it less.

In almost every actual well-designed study, Mr. Pashler and his colleagues write in their paper, "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence," the pattern is similar: For a given lesson, one instructional technique turns out to be optimal for all groups of students, even though students with certain learning styles may not love that technique.

Matching Style With Content

What this means for instructors, Mr. Pashler says, is that they should not waste any time or energy trying to determine the composition of learning styles in their classrooms. (Are 50 percent of my students visual learners? Are 20 percent of them kinesthetic learners?)

Instead, teachers should worry about matching their instruction to the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions.

If the matching hypothesis is not well supported, then why do so many learning-styles studies show positive effects? Hundreds of studies that do not meet Mr. Pashler's stringent criteria for experimental design suggest—at least loosely—that students do better when instructors are trained in learning-styles theory.

One possibility is that the mere act of learning about learning styles prompts teachers to pay more attention to the kinds of instruction they are delivering. An instructor who attends a learning-styles seminar might start to offer a broader mixture of lectures, discussions, and laboratory work—and that variety of instruction might turn out to be better for all students, irrespective of any "matching."

"Even though the learning-style idea might not work," says Richard E. Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, "it might encourage teachers to think about how their students learn and what would be the best instructional methods for a particular lesson."

In other words, learning-styles seminars might be effective, but not for the reasons that their designers believe.

Mr. Mayer helped lead a study six years ago that failed to find any relationship between instructional styles and the performance of "verbalizer" and "visualizer" students. He believes that Mr. Pashler and his colleagues have done strong work in debunking the matching hypothesis.

Bibliography Is Faulted

But not everyone is impressed by the new paper. Mr. Sternberg of Tufts (and a former longtime professor of psychology at Yale University), says in his e-mail message that while he holds Mr. Pashler and his colleagues in high esteem, he believes they did a poor job here.

Several of the most-cited researchers on learning styles, Mr. Sternberg points out, do not appear in the paper's bibliography. "The authors draw negative conclusions about a field they fail adequately to review," Mr. Sternberg says.

Mr. Sternberg and several colleagues have worked intensively on models of learning styles for more than a decade. In 1999, he and three co-authors published a paper in the European Journal of Psychological Assessment that found that students who were strongly oriented toward "analytical," "creative," or "practical" intelligence did better if they were taught by instructors who matched their strength. (In their paper, Mr. Pashler and his colleagues cite Mr. Sternberg's 1999 study as the only well-designed experiment to have found such a pattern—though they add that the study "has peculiar features that make us view it as providing only tenuous evidence.")

Susan M. Rundle, a learning-styles consultant who is working with instructors at Alabama A&M University, also says that the research base is much stronger than Mr. Pashler and his colleagues believe. And she adds that the paper's focus on the "matching hypothesis" is somewhat beside the point.

"In my work in higher education, I've found that it's difficult to get professors to match their instruction to their students," says Ms. Rundle, who is president of Performance Concepts International, which promotes a learning-styles model developed by Kenneth J. Dunn, a professor of education at City University of New York's Queens College, and the late Rita Dunn, who taught for many years at St. John's University, in Queens.

"What we do try to get professors to do," Ms. Rundle says, "and where we've been successful, is to become aware of their own learning style and how that affects the way they teach. What are some things that they can do in the classroom other than just lecturing?"

The Trouble With Tracking

The grandfather of this territory is David A. Kolb, a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University, who began to study learning styles in the late 1960s. In an interview, Mr. Kolb agrees with Mr. Sternberg that Mr. Pashler's review of the literature seems too thin.

But Mr. Kolb also says that the paper's bottom line is probably correct: There is no strong evidence that teachers should tailor their instruction to their students' particular learning styles. (Mr. Kolb has argued for many years that college students are better off if they choose a major that fits their learning style. But his advice to teachers is that they should lead their classes through a full "learning cycle," without regard to their students' particular styles.)

"Matching is not a particularly good idea," Mr. Kolb says. "The paper correctly mentions the practical and ethical problems of sorting people into groups and labeling them. Tracking in education has a bad history."

Mr. Pashler, for his part, says that he and his colleagues are still open to the idea that some kinds of matching are actually effective. "Most of what we're pointing to in this paper is an absence of evidence," he says. "Here's what you have to show—and they aren't showing it. But there may yet be better studies in the future."

Mr. Pashler's co-authors are Mark McDaniel, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis; Doug Rohrer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida; and Robert A. Bjork, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles.


1. fast_and_bulbous - December 15, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Something else to consider is some of us are simply not comfortable with some of the teaching methods that are supposedly better received from certain learning styles. I doubt it would benefit students overall if their professor is awkwardly applying the flavor-of-the-week interactive technique if s/he isn't on board with it in the first place.

I've often felt some of the stuff coming down from the folks in hybrid Education/Blah degrees was largely style vs. substance and much of it smelled a lot like edutainment, or giving too much classrom time to the students themselves who ostensibly know very little about the material as compared to their professor!

All that being said, I've always found it rather odd that people like me who had absolutely not a whit of training in how to teach are pretty much expected to figure it out and beecome stellar teachers. Somewhere between no training and too much focus on teaching methods at the expense of their own field of study is probably the proper balance.

2. yhaik - December 16, 2009 at 06:44 am

Brain models and learning styles have, at least in my practice, demonstrated effectiveness for both the faculty and students issues that were otherwise ignored. In addition to having to prepare perfect lecturing content, it is imperative that you, as lecturer, be able to interpret the signs shown at the receiving party. Faculty who understand that all students may not receive the information the same way are able to adjust and lecture in different modes.

It is important that faculty know of the different learning styles and brain models of students to be able to adjust the lecturing style once students show signs of lack of understanding. It is as important for students to realize their learning styles to train themselves for better receiving of the information.

Lack of recognition from both the faculty and or students for their own learning/teaching styles of their own preferred mode will not facilitate the educational process. The identification process does not consume much time and aught to be performed early by both faculty and students.

3. jacksonk0608 - December 16, 2009 at 06:51 am

I would also be concerned that we are getting away from the purpose of education. Tailoring the peddagogy to achieve rote tasks of learning does have an appeal. But challenging students to face a variety of learning experiences goes further to teaching students to become efficient learners.

4. rchill - December 16, 2009 at 08:13 am

fast_and bulbous. We were not born experts in our respective fields...it took lots of time, energy and training. It is the same for the art of teaching. If you practice, read, attend courses/seminars, you will improve your teaching skills. While at grad school (biology) I took advantage of our Center for Teaching Excellence. They offered classes, seminars and a wealth of information on teaching in addition to a specific program for graduate students. What I learned that applies to all of my courses is students do learn (more easily)based on their "style". So, I try to use a variety of modes; images/diagrams on power points; homework and writing assignments; model making and acting out (I call them my Cell Biology players)of various biological processes.
jacksonko608 - awareness and teaching towards a variety of styles does not achieve "rote" learning, rather it encourages deep learning as students can (more easily) really understand and manipulate the material, rather than relying on memorization. I think a major problem in higher education is the lack of teaching ability and/or lack of knowledge of pedagogy. An advanced degree does not mean teaching capacity. Anyone planning on teaching should be required to take courses in pedagogy and have some kind of mentored teaching (beyond TAships).

5. susankies - December 16, 2009 at 08:33 am

Agreed there is no large body of evidence that directs learning nor the teaching process based on learning styles. But this article misses the point of learning styles! Talk about throwing out the baby with the bath water! 'rchill' has it right...use a variety of teaching methods to appeal to the largest audience. Here's the breakdown: We all have a primary learning style and most have a secondary learning style. These come with certain strategies that work for the individual learner. Yes, I'm talking about the VARK system...and if you are teaching and don't know what that is SHAME ON YOU...as students mature as learners they pick up strategies from different styles and not only become more flexible, but also expand their learning horizons. As students become adult learners they will incorporate strategies useful in from all learning styles. As teachers, know that you come with a primary learning style and perhaps are most comfortable presenting materials in that way. To reach as many students as possible, try several different means of presenting materials, not only in lecture, but in print or web-based etc. Also make suggestions to your students like, "In order to learn this material, some students found success doing ________ while others did this ________. The point is MIX IT UP, try something different, VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE and, actually teaching.

6. millerdb - December 16, 2009 at 08:58 am

Constructs like "learning styles" and "teaching styles" have become reified and taken on lives of their own. Students sometimes use perceived mismatches between the two as excuses for not having earned a good grade in a course. Admittedly, I do not know this literature because I my research area is in another scientific discipline, so I cannot comment further. But, as a university instructor for 30 years, I have always been uncomfortable with the use of these phrases as they've increasingly crept into student-professor interactions.

7. blendedlibrarian - December 16, 2009 at 09:05 am

I agree with susankies. Since you probably will never know the dominant learning style of all your students, it is best to prepare a variety of techniques to communicate content and to give students multiple ways to interact with it - through reading, lectures, journaling, by listening to recorded podcasts or watching short screencasts or offering opportunities for authentic practice (best of all - we learn by doing). But I would suggest that to teach well it is not enough to be familar with learning styles. Good instructors have a sound knowledge of basic pedagogy and that mean understanding learning domains and learning theories in addition to learning styles. And you need to mix them all up. Some content/course material will be best learned using a visual style (learning style), using mneumonic devices (cognitive learning domain)from the perspective of behaviorist approach (drill and practice). When you can adapt from these basic foundations of pedagogy, you are more likely to come up with the right approach for any type of content in any discipline.

8. ctdhe2005 - December 16, 2009 at 09:43 am

I'd love to see any support for the learning value of lectures....

9. dwilliams5 - December 16, 2009 at 09:49 am

I also think an important element in the article is the observation that students "enjoy" classes/lessons that are designed in a way that happens to appeal to their particular learning style. Perhaps they do better because their enjoyment increases their engagement and engagement heightens learning. In the past, I liked to think about the classroom like an ecosystem. If the course is resource poor (only one kind of activity ad nauseam, say lecture since that's what I like to do best), species that need other types of resources to thrive won't. By providing a variety, all may get enough to be healthy. What struck me (as in "duh, how'd I lose site of that?") in this article was the observation that some things are just more successfully taught from a particular perspective, and finding that angle will lead to enhanced success across the board. So, it may not just by variety for variety's sake or targeting the stylistic predilections of the learner, but creating pedagogical variety that considers the best practice (determined by teaching/learning research) for teaching the particular content.

10. novain - December 16, 2009 at 10:27 am

The irony is that university professors, especially among R1 universities, contribute to bad teaching compared to instructors at other universities and K-12 educators.

11. ccherry - December 16, 2009 at 10:34 am

Without knowing better, teachers will gravitate to their own preferred style of learning. This works great for students who learn as they do. The rest will be at various stages of boredom, frustration, or confusion. The point is, everyone learns differently, so we should employ different ways to reach students.

Students would likewise benefit from knowing their own style of learning. Some will find they are quite flexible in how they acquire knowledge -- and that's great. Others will be aghast at how rigid they are. The key, really, is to be flexible, and there are techniques that can help. Flexible learners don't suffer tedious or stultifying lectures quite so badly, and they're less confused when the material isn't presented 'just so.'

12. 11134078 - December 16, 2009 at 10:52 am

There seems to be no mention here of instructors' passionate engagement with their subjects. Have such an engagement, let it show, and many students will come along for the ride regardless of their "learning styles."

13. myemotan - December 16, 2009 at 10:56 am

The BET/MTV/VH1... EFFECT!!!!?????
Apparently, every teacher has a primary way of teaching students (and a primary way of learning from students' behavior toward his or her main teaching style). Similarly, students have primary (behavioral) ways of revealing their attitudes toward the teacher's main teaching method, but none of these ways seem to have genetic causes since these ways have no 1:1 correlations with genes; however, genes make them possible because genes generally allow for multimodality of teaching and learning. Many of the most effective teacher-scholars and many of the most successful students learn to adapt to different modalities. In other words, they respectively learn or cultivate more modes of teaching and learning and thus accumulate evolving systems of teaching and learning styles, which they use differently depending on the contexts of the teaching and learnng. Matching learning styles with teaching styles in a manner that suggests necessity leads to stereotypes which often shortchange many of our students. For instance, some black comedians and many other people often bandy the stereotype that if we don't want blacks to know of something, just put it in a book. So if you have blacks in your class, resort to the audiovisual if you want them to learn. This anecdotally compelling stereotype cracks me up too (as a joke) but it misleads. In general, we learn learning styles, and we teach teaching styles. (Dr. Okhamafe)

14. myemotan - December 16, 2009 at 11:03 am

****The BET/MTV/VH1... EFFECT!!!!?????
Apparently, every teacher has a primary way of teaching students (and a primary way of learning from students' behavior toward his or her main teaching style). Similarly, students have their own primary learning styles (and primary behavioral ways of revealing how they think they should be taught), but none of these ways seem to have genetic causes since these ways have no 1:1 correlations with genes; however, genes make them possible because genes generally allow for multimodality of teaching and learning. Many of the most effective teacher-scholars and many of the most successful students learn to adapt to different modalities. In other words, they respectively learn or cultivate more modes of teaching and learning and thus accumulate evolving systems of teaching and learning styles, which they use differently depending on the contexts of the teaching and learnng. Matching learning styles with teaching styles in a manner that suggests necessity leads to stereotypes which often shortchange many of our students. For instance, some black comedians and many other people often bandy the stereotype that if we don't want blacks to know of something, just put it in a book. So if you have blacks in your class, resort to the audiovisual if you want them to learn. This anecdotally compelling stereotype cracks me up too (as a joke) but it misleads. In general, we learn learning styles, and we teach teaching styles. (Dr. Okhamafe)

15. spc09lib - December 16, 2009 at 11:27 am

If you have a classroom full of students, what are the chances that they all have the same learning style? Near zero. What are the chances that anyone has the time or resources to determine each student's learning style? Again, near zero. Most importantly, are we helping the student prepare for life fi we tailor or teaching to his/her learning style? Few if any employers or life situations are going to ask or care what their learning style. The student is going to have to learn from the "teacher" in whatever style or format they use.
Having said all that, I support a variety in presentation if it is appropriate to the material and the presenter can do a good job. I would rather be lectured well than have an inept activity.

16. jneuburg - December 16, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Most teacheers and students have more than one learning modality. That variable contributes to/confounds experimental findings. If I am in a "verbal" situation - perhaps, in a literature class - but am (also) strongly kinesthetic or verbal, it is likely that I will create my mental processing based on kinesthetic and/or visual (and other) schema. How do we control for the processing on one's brain?

So, is learning affected by (a) our own SETS of learning styles; (b) our teacher's set of teaching styles; (c ) the style/styles most "appropriate" to the discipline; and (d) the learner's decision about how in-depth to make this learning? Would our students benefit if we presented the CONCEPT of learning styles in this way???

Finally, and speaking strictly from long practice in helping studnets learn, I'd add that the students I've seen who struggle most are those who are in an area not their strenght, with a strong learning preferences that does not match the discipline nor the professor's style(s). For instance, if I am a math major, very right-brained, and quite strong in my preferences for logical, sequential, and visual formats, it's likely that I may struggle in my intro to poetry class, where the professor's strongest odalitis for presening are verbal (and I'm not so good with auditory), intuitive (and I cant' see the step-by-step logic to finding metaphors in poetry). As this student, unless I can mark out the step by step of how to get from words on a page, to image in my brain, to metaphor, I'm in trouble.

This is why we have trained tutors in our tutoring centers. Thank goodness.

17. mbelvadi - December 16, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Many years ago, Donald Norman wrote in the Psychology of Everyday Things about the concept of object designs having "affordances". The OP and other lit I've read recently suggests that intellectual topics being taught have their own kind of "affordance" to particular kinds of "learning" styles, which maybe should be called "presentation styles". An earlier commenter suggested encouraging students to study fields that match their learning style. Maybe the professors already did that, hopefully, and thus, the way they teach their field is in fact in alignment with the learning affordances of their material. I'm talking about good teachers, of course, not the ones who just read their PowerPoints in class - that's just bad for everyone, regardless of so-called learning style.
It does seem that the simplistic model of "student learning style" is so deeply reified that commenters like susankies and blendedlibrarian seem to have completely missed the point of the OP that is questioning the very assumptions that their responses parrot back. Engage with this research, question its validity perhaps, but if you're going to reply to it, don't completely ignore that it's questioning your assumptions.

18. 11264553 - December 16, 2009 at 02:38 pm

What is going to happen to students who are catered to and offered teaching/learning styles that fit them? They will fail to develop an intellectual repertoire that can respond flexibly to different life/work/class situations. We will handicap them both for college work and for life. Better to offer them different courses that follow the instructors's own styles, so they can learn flexibility/growth/adaptability now, before they hit the working world where it's "root hog or die" (i.e., they HAVE to adapt to the workplace, or end up out on the street).

19. no_einstein - December 16, 2009 at 03:08 pm

Others have touched on this, but here's one thing I get from this article:

To best teach students, teachers need to be aware of and transcend their own learning styles, and figure out the truly most effective way to present a lesson. Yes, this is probably very difficult, and 'the truly most effective way' is debatable -- but ultimately not impossible to determine.

I am not a biologist and this is oversimplified, but: (ex.) Prof describes mitosis for 90 minutes because she is an auditory learner, when perhaps a more effective lesson could have been to watch footage or observe it under a microscope.

20. karis36 - December 16, 2009 at 04:16 pm

If we do not already understand that each student has his or her own learning style, then that is probably one of the main reasons why we have such low retention rates among our college freshmen. All students do not learn the same way and while it may be impossible to match your own learning style to every individual in your class, the least you can do as a teacher is to be aware that every student will not learn the same way.
Therefore, it is only sensible to adapt your teaching strategies accordingly.

21. 11264553 - December 16, 2009 at 11:50 pm

I disagree. If teachers have good styles, it is the obligation of those teachers to be the best they can be at what they do, and it is the obligation of the students to come in to the class and be the best students they can be--which means, among many things, learning to be adaptable and flexible in varying situations.

There is a fundamental flaw in much of this discussion--something that has been proven falacious over and over again: the idea that students are passive receptacles of information. They are not; they are, or can be, active, self-motivating individuals who can, if they make the effort, gain something from almost any class that is well-taught. (Note the last caveat.) If you assume students are passive, helpless receptacles, then there's something wrong with your frame and your understanding of human psychology.

Our job is to challenge students to use their natural curiosity (assuming it hasn't been bored out of them, and even then it can be revitalized) and do a great job of doing what we each do best. Over the course of a college career, students can learn more ways to learn and interact, if they wish. That wish has to come from them, not us. They have to be "active learners" (avoid cliches like the plague), or they'll turn themselves into drones. Their choice.

22. arrive2_net - December 17, 2009 at 03:04 am

One great thing about this research is that it raised these issues from what may have seemed like settled science. It seems obvious that you would teach someone to drive a car using different methods than you would use to teach Western Civ. That is the content piece. Yet learners do have preferential learning styles ... and those styles maybe, in part, should and do drive what they choose to learn and how well they learn it. Also students have a repertoire of learning syles or modes, perhaps in paralell with a perceptial sets (or maybe the learning side of a perceptual set) and some of those abilities work better and are more well liked than others. Teachers are also learners, learning how to teach, ... and happen to have a different repertoire profile than other ... teachers/learners. I think that research really has great value.

23. vernaye - December 17, 2009 at 05:55 am

While the idea of "teaching styles" is not a ridiculous one - for practical tasks, for example, I know that I am a hands-on learner. I get nothing out of reading about, say how to assemble a motherboard. I have to be shown how to do it in order to reproduce it myself. Fine.

But for the most part, this discourse about learning styles is just a way to rationalize the failure of the education system to produce students who are capable of learning and adapting. That latter term is key - for the most part, learning IS adapting, so in this case we are fools for attempting to change the rules of the educational game so as to help students avoid this evolutionary and developmental necessity.

I can guarantee you that when students get out into the real world, whatever they do, employers are not going to accommodate different learning styles. Why not? Because the ability to adapt is precisely what they expect from the best graduates.

24. elena22 - December 17, 2009 at 04:24 pm

#23 vernaye: Amen to that! As much as I like "academically" discussing LS ideas and approaches etc, learning is what you do _yourself_, and without that student-driven (= student-initiated) participation my bending over backwards doesn't substitute for it

25. fluffysingler - December 18, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I always thought that the message wasn't that you should cater your teaching to a certain learning style, but that you should use a variety of methods so that there's something for everyone, regardless of their learning style. What's so hard about a little lecture with some discussion and some hands on learning? I mean are people really that lazy with their teaching that they can't adapt without saying "that's just how I teach" or "oh that's just the favor of the month"? I think if our students came to us with that excuse, we wouldn't accept it.

26. 11264553 - December 18, 2009 at 01:22 pm

Hmmm...ok, lets teach Calculus by having discussion sections on how we feel about LaPlace Transforms, or how DiffeQ has made us better engineers. And let's apply it by using Vectors to evaluate different routes from the dormroom to the classroom.
Some classes just require a certain teaching or presentational style. But, let's not get lazy and assume our style is the only right one just because it's our style.

27. piakate - December 18, 2009 at 02:55 pm

Most of us teach both content and skills/methods and different learning goals lend themselves to different teaching/presentation styles.
I show students different ways of finding, learning, and using information - and then tell them they have to figure out what tools go best with their learning style, the material they are working with, and the particular assignment. In other words, as a historian I strive to impart more than a set of names and dates; I want my students to also understand the material and themselves be able to formulate a coherent historical argument. Lecturing alone will not accomplish that goal, but neither will abandoning students to their own devices with badly planned excercises where the blind end up leading the blind.

28. seekeroftruth - December 20, 2009 at 02:22 pm

As a long-time writing teacher and as a lifelong learner, I feel that the key is "meeting in the middle." Communication in the classroom or anywhere is a two-way street.

I know that I am very visual and kinesthetic in orientation: why wouldn't I be? I love words and literature. But there is an auditory piece, too. I call it "an inner ear."

Hearing my teachers, some of whom are now deceased, read literature led to all kinds of neurons firing. Reading my rudimentary essays aloud, even in the ninth grade, led to eurekas.

All human beings have all capabilities. We are multisensory creatures!

Students attend college to build on their strengths as well as to develop new competencies.

Some teachers, I suppose, teach the way they were taught. But when I began teaching (in 1982), my first, intuitive discovery what that I had to "sell" my subject matter (English). I was surprised that students were not inherently, instinctively interested. They already had habits of mind (reflexes? prejudices?) from having taking English classes throughout their lives. People who "freeze" in any class may have to overcome internal resistances or habits or even traumas.

I am not anti-technology...but the "quick fix" and "quick charge" of technology brings us yet another factor to consider.

The human mind -- gotta love it.

29. jhengstler - December 20, 2009 at 10:37 pm

There are a couple of other issues here:
1) assessment has to match instructional style: if students are taught how to construct models then are tested through text, there is a fundamental mis-match. The assessment style must be consistent. We have found this in the research around technology based instruction where assessment has been pen & paper.
2)if the assessed group for the research is post-secondary, there is a natural selection for students who can survive a highly text-based delivery & assessment model--despite any other inclinations.
3)I'm still a big fan of the Dunn & Dunn model--especially where Rita & Ken Dunn advocate that the STUDENTS begin to create and share materials in their primary and secondary learning styles. This makes the student pro-active, creates a bank of learning materials and takes a great deal of the pressure off instructors for creating and developing a range of materials on every subject taught. As they point out, classes where a percent of material taught in one style (ala the Bernice McCarthy or other models)does not serve all students optimally. This is why we help students become self-actualizing & begin to take some responsibility for how they learn.

30. abollman - December 21, 2009 at 07:35 am

This is an interesting article summary, but it seems to me that the original researchers set out to prove their hypothesis by ignoring many, many factors.

Learning takes place in more locations than the classroom. Instructors often have a particular method of teaching at which they excel. You can tell me as often as you want that English majors like instructors who are marvelous entertainers--a cross between George Carlin's humor and Oprah Winfrey's consciousness raising--and that they delight in it. And, if I try that, I will be lame. I can create activities by which students learn in the classroom--I cannot present.

However, I can recommend certain lecturers on Academic Earth to my students. I can recommend alternative invention methods to them (I often recommend outlining to sequential/logical thinkers, conversational inventions to social learners, and dramatic monologuing to introspective learners). I can help my students learn how to adapt in a classroom where the teacher mostly lectures (I can't stand lectures--I used to deal with it by writing down every word and reading it back to myself visually).

The classroom is one location for learning. Reinforcement assignments are another. Adaptive strategies for those who don't get maximal learning from the methods used are available--and instructors should know enough to make suggestions to students who come in during office hours or who complain in class or by email. If one only looks at what is going on in the classroom live and does not look at the quality of the materials (maybe the lecturer was a lousy one and the person who created hands-on activities was good at that) or supplemental activities and outside-the-class augmentation, then one is so limiting what one is looking at that one is likely to find precisely what one wants.

31. raghuvansh1 - December 21, 2009 at 10:36 am

Evey man in unique so his learning style is also unique.It is western tradition which is given too much importance to statistical survey.Draw all truth from this survey.I think this is wrong system to judge human nature.Our brain learn only from experiences, what child experience from his birth is always unique and we could not compare it with other child, even twin.So my observation is every child `s learning style is different.One conclusion I draw from my observation is those child very curious for every thing he is very eager to learn, his style is more curious.What may psychologists say those who love passionately to life they are more curious for every thing and their style is unique.

32. educ8or - December 21, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I've been a university professor for 20 years. I don't dispute the learning styles theory. But, the overemphasis on kinesthetic and jazzing up the classroom is going a bit overboard. Ultimately, these students will become employees, expected to be verbal learners on the job because employers and clients will assume they can read and learn/understand!
Matching styles to topics is a very solid approach to this whole dilemma. And Kolb's argument is valid when he says perhaps the students should pursue fields of study that fit their learning styles:
A kinesthetic learner will have a much harder time sittng through law school than a verbal learner. He can still earn a law degree, but perhaps must put in more time and effort into it; keeping in mind that it was a personal choice to pursue a law degree! This is directly tied to the piece in the article discussing results of experimentation.
Everyone CAN learn under all styles of instruction, but they may not enjoy it as much as the person sitting next to them. As the old saying goes... Learning CAN be fun, but it doesn't have to!

33. jmonroe6400 - December 21, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Obviously different kinds of knowledge favor different ways of understanding. Schools generally attempt to teach whatever society values most highly in a particular era. Since time and instructional infrastructure are not flexible variables instruction must favor some learning "styles" over others. Perhaps someday teaching will be considered basic civic knowledge and societies will place a high value on the time parents have to tutor their children. That would be nice, but the first thing that needs to change is the notion that there is a common ideal of intellectual development that should stand as the ambition for all children. It is easy to say there are many ways of knowing, but hard to say that kids should adapt their ambitions to their background capacities --- as a matter of fact, there is hardly any social or professional gathering imaginable in which such a reality could even become a subject of serious conversation. Therein lies the rub.

34. firstname - December 22, 2009 at 10:17 am

I am still quite (a bit too) fond of my conclusion (based on some nonscientific observation and interpretation) that a. some students do not learn because of the teacher; b. some students do learn despite the teacher; and c. some students learn without a teacher. In many instances that just about seems to cover most, if not all, eventualities.

35. firstname - December 22, 2009 at 10:33 am

Let me get this off my chest while I have a chance: once again this whole discussion appears a matter of knowledge vs understanding.
Knowledge, in this case re education, always grows and becomes more complicated, till only a few specialists are convinced they understand the issues. Understanding, in stark contrast, simplifies things so that everyone can grasp the issues.
The question that fascinates me is: what is learning?
And let the question be largely rhetoric throughout, only to be used to focus the attention at every moment.

36. udippel - December 22, 2009 at 11:20 am

yhaik: "It is important that faculty know of the different learning styles and brain models of students to be able to adjust the lecturing style once students show signs of lack of understanding."

I really wished I had had you as lecturer. Because then only could I take your contribution - sorry - any serious. The proof of the pudding would have been in you picking me, and a bunch of other students 'up'; at our own individual learning styles.
I really wished I had had you as lecturer.Because then only could I have proven to you, that some lack of understanding was simply to do with factors completely exterior to the realms of learning styles.
Would you have suffered from noticing that neither of your intended and practised styles would have had any success on any of us?

Yes, I do agree with some others in this thread, though, who - using the simple zone of sanity offered by common sense - put the learning value back into the center of their undertakings. Of course, my students have their own learning styles, and I can only suggest that they explore and make efficient use of it. Because they study far larger percentages outside of my lecture hall. Within my lecture hall, and I am not even sorry, my lecturing style is likewise the one that suits me best.

37. cossackathon - December 24, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I teach history for an open university with primarily working adult students. I wish I got paid every time a student has begged to substitute a power-point presentation or video-montage for a 10-page term paper because their "learning style" prevented them from researching and writing.

38. foozler8 - December 25, 2009 at 01:56 pm


39. hand2mouse - December 29, 2009 at 06:47 pm

Isn't the key is what piakate said in comment 27: "different learning goals lend themselves to different teaching/presentation styles"?

How many of us have taught widely different topics? Should we act as if we know what's the best methodology to encourage comprehension of, for example, poetry, math, history AND physics?

My students are trying to learn (a) graphic design concepts, and (b) how to solve communication problems applying those principles, and (c) skills in using software to create designs.

I imagine I'm using different teaching techniques than those used by instructors in molecular biology!

40. ljohnso17 - December 30, 2009 at 03:08 pm

Clearly, the authors have either not spent enough, or any time--in the real trenches of teaching--with the students! Their research is incomplete and shallow. Their credentials mean nothing without the experience that comes from learning about learning--because they've put in the time to learn first hand--from students. Hopefully, your readers will continue to learn more about this subject from those who have lived it.

41. allens - December 30, 2009 at 05:01 pm

In my interactions with students on a small-group basis, I have not so much found differences in patterns of learning styles, but that, quite simply, putting things multiple ways is sometimes necessary. Persistence of trying different ways to explain something (using examples, using analogies, helping the student see the logic of how one can work it out, etc), along with creativity of coming up with those ways, is what appears to really matter. I'm not sure how well this will work with larger groups (and am indeed somewhat nervous about this...); feedback from the students is a lot of what guides me.

42. onlinemag - January 26, 2010 at 03:08 pm

There is a disturbing lack of evidence presented by those disagreeing with the authors' hypotheses and conclusions. Interesting that this is a point made by the authors; if one brags about one's classroom experience and them says that it "seems" to them...
These kind of complainers should not speak, but rather, go do a study of the sort the authors have done.
The authors' provide peer-reviewed evidence and none of the objectors seem to take that to heart.

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