February 3rd, 2016

Back in the early 80s, psychologist Howard Gardner of Harvard University claimed to have identified the following seven types of intelligences:

  1. Visuo-spatial
  2. Bodily-kinesthetic
  3. Musical
  4. Interpersonal
  5. Intrapersonal
  6. Linguistic
  7. Logical-mathematical

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is the basis of the concept of everyone having their own learning style. According to one survey conducted by a research team at the University of Bristol, 82% of teachers accepted the common concept as truth. Must be true because most people believe it, right? Are learning styles still legit or is this a myth?

What Does the Evidence Say?

The idea of learning styles has been widely debunked as a myth. In a 2008 scientific review, a group of noted psychologists described the evidence as “so weak and unconvincing”.  They were far from the only ones to expose the learning styles myth.
Back on September 12th, 2013, Popular Science published an article debunking the following three popular myths in connection with how we learn:

  1. We learn best if we are taught according to learning style
  2. Some people use the right side of their brain more, while others use their left
  3. There is one specific type of brain training that will make you smarter

In that same article, psychology professor at the University of California, Hal Pashler made the following quote, “There are hundreds of articles on learning styles–practically none, a small handful, that used appropriate research design. Their results tend to be negative.” Pashler also went on to state, “The evidence is a great big zero”.
Does this mean that instruction should only be taught in one way?

Benefits of Different Teaching Techniques

The learning styles myth does not dismiss the validity of using diverse teaching methods. Each and every one of us can benefit from being exposed to different ways of learning. Let us consider an example.
The 7 Styles of Learning
At Hoover Elementary School in Northern California, drumming, chanting and clapping were used to help grade three students grasp the mathematical concept of fractions. After six weeks of the “Academic Music” program, it was found that the grade three students scored 50% higher on their fractions test. What lesson do we learn? The positive results were not limited to those who supposedly had a “musical” learning style.
The following example also supports that there is benefits in finding unique and fun ways to teach information. The traditional ways of learning can be boring. We do better when we are engaged. This applies to me, you and everyone else.

What Do We Learn From the Learning Styles Myth?

The whole concept of learning styles is that we all learn in different ways. Instead of putting everyone in the same box, the educational system should adapt to the unique needs of each student.  The argument seems to have certain Vulcan logic. It is also flawed. Why?
The biggest flaw of the learning styles myth is that instead of everyone in the same box, you and I have our own boxes. Concerning this fact, Auburn University Associate Professor of Adult Education, James Witte made the following statement, “There’s nothing restrictive about a learning style”. Witte goes on to add, “Just because you prefer to read for informative purposes doesn’t mean you can’t learn through lecture.”
It is good to adapt to different learning methods. It is good to use a variety of different teaching methods when giving instructions. That applies to everyone, not just certain perceived learning styles.