I’m sure you’ve heard about how some people are visual learners, some people are verbal learners, some people are tactile learners.*
Chances are, you probably have a good sense of what you are. And you’ve probably been mindful of different learning styles if you’ve done any training or developed online courses in the past.
You might even be saying to yourself, “DUH! Of course people have different learning styles! We’ve always known that!”
But, here’s the thing:
There is no real evidence that they matter.
Let me say that again -> There is no actual evidence that your preferred learning style has any bearing on how well you learn something.
In fact, researchers are telling us that we can pretty much forget about all that learning style stuff – that it’s just one big folk tale.
So what does that mean for us course creators?
We don’t need to tailor instruction to different kinds of learners.
Huh. There are moments in one career that just stop you in your tracks – and this was mine maybe 6 or 7 years ago. I had published a book just a few years prior in which I touted the pay-attention-to-learning-styles approach (just as everyone else was doing back then).
And then, a friend emailed me with a link to a research study – one of many debunking the learning styles myth. (Myth? What the..?)
So I dove into the research.
Turns out that for decades, people have been researching and publishing on this learning style theory thing (saying that it’s real). Everybody took the Learning Styles Are Important point at face value. Many, many books touted it. (Err, including mine.) Many educational programs taught it.
So what happened?
Eventually, a bunch of skeptical big-time academics in the psychology of learning field got together to see if they could disprove the theory…
And guess what? They did.
(You can read about it here, in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.)
Since then, nobody’s been able to prove learning styles are the real deal. Okay, it doesn’t mean that absolutely, positively that they’re not – it’s just easier to disprove something then prove it in a world where there just aren’t enough research funds for really good, air-tight research design (cuz, hey, the big research bucks go to things like drug studies and the like – not to education and training).
But the point here is that they weren’t able to prove that adjusting to various learning styles has an impact on learning.
I know you’re like – wait! I know I learn better socially (or kinesthetically or conceptually or whatever)! I do, I do!
Well, yeah, you definitely have a preference and so – yes, your learners have a preference.
But what we know so far is that you learn best with the method that’s matched to the topic and with the method that’s matched to your level of expertise – regardless of your preference.
So, for example, there’s evidence that when you’re new at a topic, you learn better from studying examples. But when you’re more expert at a topic, you learn better by solving problems.
And there’s evidence that some topics are better suited for particular teaching methods than others. So when you’re just starting to learn French, it’s very helpful to listen to the language but when you’re starting to learn geometry, it’s very helpful to see problems being solved. I mean, you wouldn’t want to listen to a book about geometry, would you? You wouldn’t want to only read French, right?
Okay, so let me sum that up for you. Here’s what you need to know:
1- Match your teaching method to the topic you’re teaching.
2 –Match your teaching methods to the appropriate level of learner you’re teaching (such as novice or expert).
There you have it.
Hope this helps! Let me know below if you have any questions or comments.
Oh, and before you leave, there’s that asterisk from above to content with! Here goes:
* Just to be clear – there are many, many learning styles beyond the Big 3 (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), it’s just that most people know of at least these. You’ve probably also heard of left-brain, right-brain thinking, too. Well, there are over 71 learning styles in total. Really!