School & District Management

“Learning Styles” Debunked (Again)

By Catherine Gewertz — August 29, 2011 1 min read

The idea that teachers should present material to children in modes that best fit their “learning styles” is being disputed. As Yogi Berra famously said: It’s déjà vu all over again.

The debunking is hardly new. A 2009 study from the University of South Florida found that there is no scientific evidence to support the popular idea that teaching should be differentiated according to whether a child is a visual or auditory learner, or absorbs ideas best when she’s up and moving around while learning. (There are other learning styles, too, of course.)

The fact that the study is two years old didn’t stop National Public Radio from airing a story about it today, though. They bring in cognitive psychologist Dan Willingham, who suggests that teachers are far better off learning about the cognitive processes human brains have in common rather than focusing on how they might be different.

It’s not entirely clear to me what prompted NPR to call attention to the study now, but the “learning styles” theory, and what teachers do with it, is interesting and potentially significant enough to be worthy of a go-round whenever it crops up.

It certainly sparked some strong feelings when we wrote about the study in 2009. See here for a piece by a teacher who argues that the study contradicts all her classroom experience, and here for a spirited rejoinder to that.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.