Why You Need to Think Less About Different Learning Styles

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It is a popular belief that each of us has a unique learning style that will help us learn more effectively. You may have heard of this before, I know I learned about it in school, and then later on when training to be an overseas English teacher.

Usually, we are taught that as teachers, we should tailor our teaching to each child’s learning style. However, research has shown that there is very little evidence that focusing on learning styles in the classroom helps students. In this article, we will take a look at what learning styles are, how many learning styles are there, why they may not be the best way to teach your child, and what you can do to help your child learn better. 

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What is Meant by Learning Style?

A learning style refers to a unique way that students are best suited for learning a topic. As the theory goes, some people learn better when they are presented with information in different ways. So some people might react better to information they can see in graphs, while others may need to physically do the action to maximize their learning efficiency. How many different learning styles there are differs based on which theory you subscribe to. Overall though, learning styles were a way to address the belief that, since each child was unique, every student should have a learning style that was tailored to their learning preferences.

How Many Learning Styles Are There?

That answer entirely depends on who you ask. Answers seem to vary between three and eight. Let’s take a look at how different theories categorize the number of learning styles and what those learning styles are.

What are the 3 Types of Learning Styles?

3 different learning styles

The most basic model of learning styles states that there are three main kinds of learners. These learners can be broken down into people who are better at learning in a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic way. 

Visual learners do better when they can see things written down or can watch someone perform what they are trying to learn. Auditory learners are better when they hear someone describe how to do something. Finally, kinesthetic learners learn best when they can physically do the task themselves. 

What are the 4 Types of Learning Styles?

4 different learning styles

The 4 types of learning styles are visual (sight), auditory (hearing), reading/writing, and kinesthetic (movement). This is also sometimes referred to as the VARK model of learning styles. In the VARK model, students are associated with one or more of these four major learning styles. The majority of students, about 50-70% of learners, are split between more than one learning style. These people are referred to as “multimodal learners.”

What are the 7 Different Learning Styles?

7 different learning styles

Associated with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, the seven learning styles split students among visual, aural, physical, verbal, logical, social, and solitary learners. 

In this theory, the first three kinds of students, visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, are similar to what we have seen before. However, in the seven learning styles model, reading has been dropped for verbal learners. Verbal learners favor learning through writing or speaking. Then we have the logical learning style, which refers to students who excel at things like math and prefer numbers or abstract concepts. In comparison, social learners learn best in groups and through interactions with others. Finally, solitary learners require quiet, introspection to learn effectively. 

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What are the 8 Learning Styles? 

8 different learning styles

Some people feel that not even 7 is enough kinds of learners, and add one more to the mix. In this theory, the 8 learning styles are visual, aural, verbal, social, logical, physical, solitary, and naturalist. Many of these should be familiar to you at this point. The stand out in this list are naturalist learners. These kinds of learners learn best when they can work with, and see the patterns in, nature.

Why Are There So Many Different Theories?

Mostly because this is not a settled science. Learning styles theory wants to be able to place every unique student into a general category, and it is impossibly difficult to do that. No matter how many categories you make, it still will never be enough. More importantly, there is growing evidence that none of this focus on learning styles are helping students learn better.

Learning Styles are a Myth

The basic underpinning of the learning styles theory is that, since we are all unique people, we all must learn in different ways. Unfortunately, research is finding that tailoring learning styles to different kinds of learners in no way provides positive results. As one article puts it, “we all learn in fundamentally similar ways.” If we all learn in similar ways, then there isn’t much use to thinking about accommodating different learning styles in the classroom.

Why Do We All Believe in Learning Styles?

We all probably believe in learning styles because it is something that we have been taught and because it is believed by many people around the world. One study found that more than 80% of teachers surveyed believed in the efficacy of learning styles. This widespread belief by teachers means that you have probably taken a VARK test before or something similar to it. As we have seen in other conspiracy theories, once a theory gets a certain amount of momentum, it can be difficult to reverse the belief in that theory. This kind of cultural inertia means that is difficult to change people’s minds on the usefulness of learning styles.

Are There Any Benefits to Teaching With Learning Style Theories?

Current research into the effectiveness of using learning styles theory in the classroom shows no overall benefit for learners. Researchers looked at different tests that are supposed to help learners determine their learning style, and it was found that most had no scientific credibility. Those learning style theories that did have some scientific rationale, when tested, actually weakened students’ learning outcomes.  

Not only can it be detrimental to students, it is also a waste of time and resources for teachers. Instead of focusing on learning and practicing these neuro-myths, it would be better to focus on building an engaging lesson. If you want to teach science, then do an experiment. If you want to teach math, demonstrate and explain. Instead of thinking about the best way to teach a lesson to each child, consider what is the best way to teach that specific lesson. Consider which methods will make this lesson interesting, impactful, and easy to understand.  

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How Can I Help Make Instruction the Best for My Child?

4 keys to a successful learning strategy: desire to learn, variety of learning styles, be bold, and child-specific tailoring

There are always things we can do better as teachers. No one is perfect, and there will always be ways you can improve. So, when thinking about how you are going to teach your child, keep these four things in mind. By thinking and acting on these four points, I believe that you can create the best learning environment for your child.

1. Child-Specific Strategies

Each student is different, even if they don’t necessarily learn in different ways. Think about your child as an individual and tailor lessons to the unique person your child is. This can mean looking at their interests, who they like to learn with, or what activities they like to do. 

2. Be a Bold Teacher

Try different things and see which works best for your child.

3. Include a Variety of Learning Styles

Variety is the spice of life. If a lot of your lessons involve lecturing, then maybe you should do some group work or a more hands-on demonstration. Students learn best when the material is presented in multiple formats, so it is always good to mix it up. 

4. Student’s Desire to Learn

Students learn best when they want to learn. Take this into account whenever you plan a lesson. Will this encourage my child or student to want to learn? It also means that it is not only up to the teacher, students must want to learn something if they are to be successful.

Final Thoughts

The theory of learning styles is an enticing thing because it tells us that if you just tailor your lessons to your child, then they will learn better. It takes the blame off of the child and onto the teacher. Unfortunately, there is no real evidence yet that putting students into learning style categories can help students learn better or teachers teach better. Instead of distracting yourself with this popular neuro-science myth, stick to basics when teaching your child. Plan lessons with your child in mind, test new learning methods, vary the materials, and make sure you keep them interested and motivated to learn. If you can do this, then the only kind of learner your child will be, is a good one. 

If you want to learn more about important teaching methods that can help you teach your child, take a look at our posts on teaching with movement and on important things to know when teaching phonics.

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