“Many educators believe that learning styles can help a person learn more effectively,” a colleague told us at a meeting. “However, do you know that learning styles have been debunked by some researchers?” he asked.

I know something about learning styles but nothing about them being debunked. So, I decided to do some research. Here’s what I found.

Learning styles

What are learning styles?

The idea behind learning styles is that people learn in different ways. Learning styles refer to how you absorb, process, and remember information. Knowing your learning style can help you understand how you learn better.

According to Wikipedia and other research (see references below), there are many types of learning styles. In this post, let’s look at three common learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. By knowing each of these learning styles, you will gain a better understanding of how you learn and how to create techniques that will help you learn more efficiently.

Visual learning style

Visual learning uses visual aids to help you take in and remember new knowledge. This learning style is commonly used in schools and is useful in engaging students and helping them to learn.

Learning styles: Visual learning
Visual Learning

Visual learners frequently find it beneficial to take notes while studying, write down essential concepts, and develop visual aids that will help them absorb and recall knowledge. They may also use color-coding strategies like highlighting sentences or making drawings to mark out certain sentences to help them organize their notes so that they can review the material rapidly.

Visual learners often find it beneficial to take notes while studying, write down essential concepts, and develop visual aids to assist them to absorb and recall knowledge. Color-coding strategies or other visual techniques may also assist visual learners organize their notes and review the material rapidly.

The following are some ways that visual learners use to learn more effectively:

  • Highlighting and color-coding to categorize information.
  • Diagramming to explain relationships between ideas and concepts.
  • Using flashcards with keywords or pictures to remember certain information.
  • Using mind maps or concept maps to link and organize ideas and concepts.
  • Drawing infographics to explain complex information.
  • Drawing flowcharts to explain a sequence of steps.

Auditory learning style

Auditory learning uses sound and spoken language to help you learn and remember information. This learning style focuses on listening and verbalizing thoughts and concepts.

Learning styles: Auditory learning
Auditory Learning

Auditory learners will find it easier to learn if they read the information aloud, discuss ideas and concepts with other people, or have other people read the material to them. They may also find taking notes while listening to new material, and recording lectures and relevant discussions useful.

The following are some ways that auditory learners use to learn more effectively:

  • Listening to lectures, audio recordings, and podcasts.
  • Participating in discussions.
  • Engaging in verbal activities like reciting facts, stories, word games, and puzzles.
  • Memorizing facts and repeating them aloud.
  • Practicing speaking and presenting what they learned in front of a group.
  • Using music when studying.

Kinesthetic learning style

Kinesthetic learning is a type of learning style where you learn and recall new information through bodily movements including sensing and touching. Physical activities, such as writing, sketching, and making models, are frequently used to engage learners and help them better absorb and remember what they learned.

Learning styles: Kinesthetic learning
Kinesthetic Learning

This style of learning frequently includes physical activities such as experiments or hands-on activities such as building models. Kinesthetic learners may benefit from regular breaks when they are allowed to walk about and refocus while they are learning.

The following are some ways that kinesthetic learners can learn more effectively:

  • Learning by doing hands-on experiments and role-playing.
  • Using physical models to understand concepts.
  • Creating physical representations of ideas like diagrams and drawings.
  • Doing physical activities such as walking to process information.
  • Writing notes or drawing diagrams while listening to lectures.
  • Participating in sports and physical activities.

Benefits of knowing your learning style

If you know your learning style, you can develop a better understanding of how you learn. This will help you develop techniques to learn more effectively.

For example:

  • If you are a visual learner, stick to using visual aids like books, text, drawings, and videos for learning.
  • If you are an auditory learner, use auditory aids like audio recordings that will be helpful.
  • If you are a kinesthetic learner, take part in physical activities and use physical models.

Learning styles debunked?

While there are teachers and researchers who find learning styles to be useful in helping people learn, there are others who think otherwise.

On one hand, there are many researchers who have proposed that learners have a preferred learning style. These include Anthony Gregorc, Neil Fleming, Rita Dunn, Kenneth Dunn, Ned Hermann, and David Kolb.

On the other hand, a panel of eminent psychologists and cognitive scientists reviewed existing literature on learning styles and found these studies did not use randomized research designs that would make their findings credible (Pashler, et al.).

Other researchers like Coffield also found the studies on VAK (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) learning styles rather weak with many studies having research problems like poor samples, low-quality data, and poorly organized studies (Coffield).

Conclusion

So, what does all this mean?

I have spoken to many teachers about VAK learning styles and nearly all agree with the concept and its usefulness. Even though the research says there is no evidence that VAK learning styles improve learning, I will stick with them until there is more conclusive evidence that they do not work.

As a consultant and corporate trainer, I’ll continue to project clear and legible PowerPoint slides, speak clearly, and get my workshop participants to work on exercises and case studies so that they will learn more effectively.


References

  • Coffield, F., Moseley, D., et al. “Should We Be Using Learning Styles? What Research Has to Say to Practice.” Learning & Skills Research Centre, 2004.
  • Dunn, R., et al. “Survey of Research on Learning Styles”. Educational Leadership, vol. 46, no. 6, pp50-589, 1989.
  • Gleen, D. “Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec 15, 2009.
  • Pashler, H., et al. “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence”. Association for Psychological Science, vol. 9, no. 9, pp. 105-119, 2009.
  • Riener, C. & Willingham, D. “The Myth of Learning Styles.” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, vol. 42, no. 5, 2010.