Experts warn about the learning styles approach

Photo: Flickr

Photo: Flickr

A new paper alerts that the learning styles approach may oversimplify human cognition and provide wrong advice, with the danger of negative outcomes for learners.

Learning styles are a series of theories that state that education must be tailored to match an individual style of learning. This approach has been very influential in education, despite wide criticism.

The study “Learning styles theory fails to explain learning and achievement: Recommendations for alternative approaches” shows three critical problems with this approach:

  • Lack of a clear, explanatory framework
  • Problems of measurement
  • Failure to link learning styles to achievement

In an analysis of the paper, Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel warns that tailoring instruction can have negative outcomes for learners. She identifies three wrong ideas, and provides evidence-based concepts as an alternative:

Not verbal versus visual learners, but multiple sensory learners. Combining verbal and visual representations will allow the to-be-learned material to stick better.

Not concrete versus abstract styles, but experts versus novices. Individual differences are better spotted taking prior knowledge into consideration.

Not impulsive versus reflective styles, but general cognitive processes and personality. This dichotomy is flawed because other combinations of speed and accuracy are valid options.

In addition to this study, a group of scholars criticized the approach arguing that it lacks sufficient evidence and should not be promoted.