Learning Styles are a Myth. But Does that Matter?

education Feb 07, 2021

I stumbled into teaching as a profession. In the late 90s and early aughts, there was such a shortage of teachers in some parts of the country that you could get hired, over the phone, with a decent bachelor’s degree (true story for my wife!). You were then tasked to backfill education courses while running the trenches of day to day teaching.

Probably one of the best ways to learn.

It was also one of the easiest ways to discover the difference between theory (hello education classes) and reality (how do I teach a student the Bill of Rights when they keep trying sell drugs in the bathroom?).

I remember the first time I was taught learning styles (and the adjacent concept “Multiple Intelligences”). The idea that my students were all so different, complete with different “styles” of learning and other “types” of intelligences felt very woo-woo American. Almost consumerist in concept. It didn’t resonate with my experience in the classroom. And the idea that I had to create lessons that fit all the different learning style boxes seemed, well, impossible.

And sure enough, when you dig into the science of learning styles and multiple intelligence, you don’t find much (if any) evidence.

Learning styles are a myth.

The human mind is more alike than different. If you’re a teacher, hold tight to that axiom. Not only will you have science on your side, you’ll also keep your sanity.

Despite learning styles being a myth, it is still very much a thing in education. It won’t go away (I personally wish cognitive science would become more of the thing - shoutout of pedantic hero-worship to Daniel Willingham). This is why I found Frontiers in Learning study so fascinating. The question isn’t about the learning styles, but does the belief in them cause harm over time?

How Common Is Belief in the Learning Styles Neuromyth, and Does It Matter? A Pragmatic Systematic Review

A good read for those wondering if the belief actually hurts (or helps) the student.

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