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“Perhaps the most popular and influential myth is that a student learns most effectively when they are taught in their preferred learning style,” writes Howard-Jones in his 2014 paper on the subject.

In this video Professor Daniel Willingham puts forward a compelling argument that learning styles are a myth and describes research purportedly supporting his stance. (It is interesting to read some of the comments and discussion below the video too). You can also listen to a podcast interview with Willingham: The Learning Styles Myth: An Interview with Daniel Willingham, which is introduced as "If there is no scientific support for learning styles then whey do we believe they must exist? We also discuss multiple intelligences. While there is support for this idea, many people are confused as to what Howard Gardner really says about his own theory. Let’s see if we can set the record straight about learning styles, abilities, and intelligences in this episode of The Psych Files". For a more recent article on the subject, you might also want to check out The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest n... (Jan 2016).

Carol Anne Tomlinson offers a balanced, considered riposte to Daniel Willingham in this blog post. And it is also worth reading this book review about 10 things I learned from ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’, which was also written by Daniel Willingham. The book adds much greater depth and insight into Willingham's position on learning and how we learn.

  • Do you agree or disagree with the points Willingham makes in the video? Why? Why not?
  • What have your experiences with learning styles been?
  • What conclusion have you reached about learning styles?
  • And, what implication(s) does that have for the design of learning experiences?

Please jump in and contribute to this discussion.

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Tomlinson's response is perhaps more useful for teachers than Willingham's attempt to debunk the learning styles.

we bring with us a multitude into the classroom, and our ability to learn is as affected by how our day is playing out as it is by our culture and gender and experience, and yes, by our relationship with visual, auditory and kinisthetic stimulation.

To me, it doesn't matter if Wellingham's thesis is correct - it's irrelevant. Using a variety of signifiers in the course of facilitation will engage the greatest number of students, and will spark them to a greater breadth of expression themselves. Which is what we want from our students, a high level of engagement that leads to learning and the capability to express and "to do" in a variety of ways.

If anything, this research has reinforced my thinking that we should continue to create learning situations that take into consideration the many situational factors that students bring into the classroom, and that includes as many sights and sounds and actual 'things' that promote learning as we can think of.
If I just focus on what Willingham says about the VAK approach to learning I can see what he means about assumptions people make about this particular learning style. And I am guilty of this too. As a scientist more than an educator he has looked at biases, influences and assumptions of research and I think it is important that people outside of the field of education do this. It is too easy for educational research to be NOT grounded in objective data but desired results fitting facts derived subjectively. Questioning assumptions is healthy and productive as far as I am concerned. It raises awareness of problems inherent in the multiplicity of learning styles now written about.

However this is not going to stop me introducing all three VAK ways into my course or alternative ‘learning styles’. I will try anything (most commonly in a controlled practice ESOL situation) to enhance engagement. (I agree with Ed here.)
I disagree with the some points Willingham makes in the video but I totally agree with Ed's comment, "To me, it doesn't matter if Wellingham's thesis is correct - it's irrelevant. Using a variety of signifiers in the course of facilitation will engage the greatest number of students"

My experiences with learning styles is that students do absolutey enjoy different activites. In particular more gifted and talented students do learn best when for example studying for exams by listening to a tape if their preferred learning style is audial, making colourful posters and drawings if they are visual learners and making flash cards or even play dough models of landscapes in geography to recall knowledge.

I see Yvonne also believes in using alternative learning styles.

An interesting video Hazel, thank you for posting this although I don't agree with Willingham's attempt to debunk learning styles.
Whilst what he says may be scientifically 'true' I rather think he has missed the point about learning styles. It is not (necessarily) about how the teacher presents the information, it is about what the student needs to do to learn the information. So for myself if I need to learn a list I 'see' the list in my head but I know for my son he needs to complete an action associated with the list.
I have been having an interesting conversation with Tony Barrett around learning contexts (which I felt had relevance to the conversation around learning styles), via email, and he has agreed to me sharing it here:

Tony Barrett
"The attached chapter suggests individual learning was the original stress during the early years of the cognitive revolution. The current stress during this revolution is on the social dimension. The mistakes that academic often make is in thinking in either/or terms. The ancient injunction to: Know Thyself often neglects the other saying in Delphi. Know your moment." You can access the article to which Tony refers by clicking HERE.

Hazel Owen
"This article is really interesting...and thought provoking. I responded particularly to "establishing an elaborate narrative context for learning might be ineffectual and potentially counterproductive; instead, attending to explicitly tailored instruction through a lecture format might be optimal" (p. 108). One of the factors that I have tried to build into working with educators around curriculum design and facilitation is identifying optimal formats, and I think it is necessary to build in flexibility and choice - for learners and teachers. Knowing your moment, though, as you suggest, is a good way of remembering that some of what is happening is due to the current 'big thing'."


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