While nearly 90 percent of Americans think people have unique learning styles — the best known are labeled auditory, visual, and kinesthetic — cognitive research has steadily debunked the idea over time. To mark Brain Awareness Week this month, 30 internationally respected neuroscientists, psychologists, and educators issued a public letter asking teachers to stop wasting time with it. The letter says:
…there have been systematic studies of the effectiveness of learning styles that have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or ‘meshing’ material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment. Students will improve if they think about how they learn but not because material is matched to their supposed learning style. The Educational Endowment Foundation in the UK has concluded that learning styles is ‘Low impact for very low cost, based on limited evidence’.
These neuromyths may be ineffectual, but they are not low cost. We would submit that any activity that draws upon resources of time and money that could be better directed to evidence-based practices is costly and should be exposed and rejected. Such neuromyths create a false impression of individuals’ abilities, leading to expectations and excuses that are detrimental to learning in general, which is a cost in the long term.
A recent survey about education myths pins both teacher training and the media for popularizing “learning styles” memes, which include the concepts of “right brain versus left brain,” “multiple intelligences,” and “reasoning versus intuitive.” These all make for fun TV segments and lots of moolah for pop psychologists like Malcom Gladwell, yet not only do not benefit learners through opportunity cost they keep people from doing something more useful with their thoughts and bodies.
“Newspaper articles, blog posts, and TV shows often promote ideas that turn out to have little basis in fact,” the Center for American Progress survey summary says. “…Instead, it seems that content makes the key difference. So students should learn music by listening to music, while students should learn reading by doing more reading.”
This myth is undoubtedly fed by the fact that a majority of U.S. teacher training programs and textbooks promote it: 59 percent of teacher training textbooks “advocate planning instruction around learning styles” and 67 percent of teacher training programs required student teachers to address learning styles in lessons they prepare, “generally requiring that every lesson plan address how instruction accommodates students in their so-called learning styles,” a 2016 survey found.
Posted March 26, 2017