Education Myths Part 2: Learning Styles

By Jonathan Sherbino (@sherbino)

On Tuesday, I shared the myth of the digital native’s superior use of technology to promote learning.  Today I want to highlight Kirschner’s and van Merriënboer’s dissection of learning styles.  The myth busting of learning styles is not new.  Recently it was debated (and debunked) on the DR-Ed (Doctor Ed) list serve.

Too often I hear learners repeat this myth, stating that they are a verbal v. visual, holistic v. analytical, impulsive v. reflective etc. learning style.  Thus, my instructional methods should be tailored to their “style.” I have to admit that personal guilt (I wasn’t reaching
some learners) coupled with inherent laziness (I don’t want to design multiple variations of a curriculum) forced me to quickly research this myth.  As we discuss on the upcoming KeyLIME podcast the “research” on learning styles is pretty weak.  Essentially, its hindsight-biased, self-reported data.  (Not many Karolinska prizes here. ) Moreover, cross-over studies matching self-reported learning styles with congruent and incongruent instructional methods showed no significant correlation to learning style.  The final piece in busting this myth is that differences in cognition are not categorical (e.g. visual v. auditory), rather they are continuous, following a spectrum.  With more than 70 learning styles possible (per one literature review) and an learner mapping along a spectrum for each style, the overlap between styles (270 if you want an incomplete mathematical representation) leads to both a blurring and overlap between styles. A discrete learning style isn’t possible; a preferred instructional method can’t correlate.

Of course, good curriculum employs multiple instructional methods to maintain learner attention and maps content to optimal formats (e.g. learning music without audio and only with sheet music seems silly).  But thankfully, as a CE we don’t need to reinvent an established curriculum for each unique user.

So… what education myths do you think need bustingShare them below!

Image: Frits Ahlefeld, via flickr under Creative Commons License CC2.0