Thursday, April 05, 2018

Learning Styles: The Conventional Wisdom is Wrong!

Many leadership development professionals continue to adhere to the view that people learn more effectively if we adapt pedagogy and instruction to their learning styles (i.e. some people are visual learners, while others prefer to absorb information by reading and writing, etc.).  Many educators in our schools continue to adhere to this conventional wisdom as well.  Unfortunately, a stream of research strongly suggests that learners do not benefit if we adapt instruction and pedagogy to their preferred style.   Individuals might feel as though they gained more knowledge when employing their preferred style, but objective results indicate that they do not learn more effectively.  

A new study confirms this conclusion about learning styles.  Scholars Polly Husmann and Valerie Dean O'Loughlin conducted a study with 426 anatomy students at a university.  They administered the VARK - a commonly used survey to assess learning style.  The researchers shared the results with the students at the start of the semester, and they shared information from the VARK website about study tips associated with each learning style.   They surveyed them later about their study habits, and they examined their grades.   

What did they find?  No correlation existed between dominant learning style and course grades.  In fact, most students did not actually utilize the study strategies most commonly associated with their learning style.  Most importantly, those students who did use the strategies connected with their preferred learning style did not achieve higher grades in the anatomy course.  

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