28 Oct Students Learn Best When Matched to Learning Styles
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”Unknown
Do students learn best when teaching styles are matched to their learning styles?
The topic of individual learning styles and corresponding teaching styles is one of great ambiguity and confusion. As the literature and criticism has developed, the public has not kept up to date with the evolving information and perspectives. The history shows that there are many proposals of learning styles, thinking styles and teaching methods, some of which seem to make sense intuitively but are not necessarily supported scientifically. The more recent critiques are not of the specific theories but of the studies that were performed and how they were not scientifically accurate or comprehensive. It is important that the public be aware of the conflicting evidence and ambiguity of this topic as education is an incredibly valuable element of society. Education, to some extent, determines the direction of the future. Unfortunately, many people today take for granted education without questioning methods or curriculum. It is important that people make informed decisions about their child’s education because the experiences that an individual has in school can be incredibly transformative. With a background in Waldorf Education, an alternative education focused on developing a well-rounded, balanced, and mature learner I was able to look at this topic from a unique perspective.
Learning Styles Simple and Complex
Learning styles are the different ways in which people receive, relate to and respond to information. The literature on learning styles is vast and complex. Perhaps the most commonly known styles of learning are kinesthetic, visual and auditory (Fatt, 2000). This seems to be the most easily accessible idea of learning styles because many people have life-experiences of preferring a certain way of learning over another. A more complex theory of learning styles that examines deeper the dimensions of learnings style proposes 18 elements. This theory speaks about the environmental, emotional, sociological, and physical elements of learning styles (Dunn & Dunn, 1979). This is a good example of a theory of learning styles that seems to make sense intuitively but doesn’t seem to be fully based in science. Although it claims that there are studies that indicate “improvement in both student achievement and motivation when learning and teaching styles are matched” (Dunn & Dunn, 1979), there are no specifics of the studies performed and the specific conclusions of the studies. Life experience and intuition make this article seem legitimate.
Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Howard Garner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences is also something that has been used by many educational theorists in relation to learning styles. There are 9 specific intelligences that Gardner maps out that have been connected to learning styles. In a reflection ten years after the publication of his famous book, Frames of Mind, Gardner addresses myths that surround his theory. One specific myth he addresses is: “an intelligence is the same as a “learning style,” a “cognitive style,” or a “working style” (Gardner, 1995). Gardner responds to this myth by defining learning style as a “general approach” and intelligence as a “capacity.” He specifically speaks about the need for more research to link multiple intelligences with learning styles because it is only an “empirical assumption that needs to be investigated.” He claims that his theory of multiple intelligences has research supporting it but there is limited research connecting multiple intelligences with learning styles.
Temperament Based Learning Styles
Temperament based learning styles and the study performed byHorton and Oakland (1997) seem to incorporate aspects of the “18 Elements of Learning Styles” and the “Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” The study included the temperament types proposed by Myers and Briggs and evaluated the four temperaments extracted from it specific combinations for the four temperaments by empirical research. The four temperaments experimented with were SJ (sensing and judging), SP (sensing and perceiving), NT (intuition and thinking), and NF (intuition and feeling). Each of these were proposed to have their own learning styles (Horton & Oakland, 1997). The purpose of the study was to find out if students learn best when teaching styles match their individual learning styles, specifically their temperament-based learning style. The study did not conclude that this was the case. But “results did indicate that a strategy which capitalizes on personalization was superior for students of all types” (Horton & Oakland, 1997).
Learning Styles in Engineering Education
The next major development in the research of learning styles originates from Richard Felder and Linda Silverman “Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education.” He proposes a “learning-style model” which examines the way in which students learn, specifically engineering education. His disclaimer before listing his learning styles is the compilation of information from different previous individuals including Jung and Kolb. His theory is almost a summary of theories: “each of the stated dimensions has parallels in other learning style models, although the combination is unique to this one” (Felder & Spurlin, 2005). The Index of Learning Styles is an assessment which examines the four learning style preferences in the Felder-Silverman model of learning styles. Looking at all the combinations of the learning styles he says there are 32 learning styles. A crucial point that he makes is his insight into the learning styles that are usually incorporated into standard education: “the usual methods of engineering education adequately address five categories (intuitive, auditory, deductive, reflective, and sequential)” (Felder & Silverman, 1988). This is an important point because it seems that mainstream education focuses on certain learning styles over others and certain learning styles are attributed to certain qualities that seem to be valued in the workplace and society. Another interesting idea that he states is that learning styles are not supposed to be used to foresee academic performance and that they “reflect preferences and tendencies” (Felder & Spurlin, 2005). This is an important distinction to make. The goals of the Index of learning styles are simple. The knowledge of the differences in learning style will enable teachers to accommodate students with different learning styles and that students can utilize their learning strengths with the knowledge of their own learning styles (Felder & Spurlin, 2005). Even if the teaching style cannot be matched up with the learning style, students can benefit by knowing what their preferences are. Most surveys on learning styles present study tips and insights after informing the person taking the survey of their learning style preferences which can be helpful.
Taking the idea of teachers applying various teaching methods to individual learning styles James Fatt suggests that teachers accommodate the “students’ group learning style” (Fatt, 2000). He proposes a four part questionnaire that would help determine the learning style of the students in a class and states that teachers should be concerned particularly about the group learning style and adapt to that instead of taking varied individual learning styles into account (Fatt, 2000). Fatt also takes into account that certain learnings styles are preferred by society and explains that course-designers need to take the “group learning style” into account and the “desired styles for survival in society” (Fatt, 2000). This is interesting in comparison with Felder who points out that there are preferences but does not indicate a promoting of those styles specifically.
Just as Felder speaks of learning styles not being indicators of academic achievement, Abbas Gilakjani states that even though is seems beneficial to have teaching styles and learning styles match up they are not the only predictors of achievement. There are other aspects such as age, education, and motivation that make differences in what ways students like to learn (Gilakjani, 2012). He does speak about the benefit of knowing one’s learning styles. Specifically that it can help a student become a “more focused [and] an attentive learner” and Gilakjani states that the point of learning styles is to find “the best ways for both students to learn effectively and teachers to teach effectively” (Gilakjani, 2012).
I think that Rogowsky, Calhoun and Tallal would agree with Fatt in that society expects certain standards of capability in certain learning styles. Whereas Fatt suggested incorporating those “desired styles for survival” with the preferred learning styles, these authors claim that perhaps by accommodating individual learning styles, educators are preventing them from developing their other learning styles and matching with what society values (Rogowsky, Tallal, & Calhoun, 2015). This is an early article criticizing learning styles. The focus is that there is that perhaps part of education should be to teach students to learn the way standardized tests want them to learn and universities want them to learn.
Criticism of Learning Styles
arning styles. Most people believe that learning styles are true and based in scientific fact but it has been revealed that the studies supporting this research were not adequate. This does not, of course, prove that learning styles are not real. It just reminds us that often we are victims of sensationalized science which leads us to believe everything that comes with the label of science, without examining the facts. Pashler did examine and evaluate the facts of the studies performed and concluded that “there is no adequate evidence to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general education practice” (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, &Bjork, 2008). Moreover they “revealed that the appropriate design was used in only about 20 studies, and the results of most of them are compellingly negative” (Rohrer & Pashler, 2012). This statement does not completely negate the whole discussion of the rest of this article. There are complexities and details of this new information. The first key point is that there is a difference between the “existence of study preferences and…the learning-styles hypothesis” (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008). Essentially people will specify what their preferences are in relation to learning and processing information. This is also something to think about when someone is taking a learning styles test and they volunteer answers. They could be answering with certain preconceived ideas and contexts in mind. Pashler states that these preferences do exist but the benefit of altering an education system to take these into account seems less beneficial especially seeing that the preferences could be easily influenced (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008). The discussion then moves to the learning-styles hypothesis which claims that teaching students are taught in a way that does not match with their learning styles the learning is “ineffective, or at least less efficient” (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008). Finally they present the proper way of researching learning styles which is in the image. The fourth and final step is that the “results need to show that the learning method that optimizes test performance of one learning-style group is different than the learning method that optimizes the test performance of a second learning-style group” (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008).
For more information on the criticism, watch this recent video.
Students do learn best when teaching styles are matched to their learning styles. But the definition of “best” is crucial. I think that even though there might not be substantial evidence supporting the benefit of matching teaching styles with learning styles but students seem to have a more positive and motivating experience. What is not a valid claim is to say that if teaching styles don’t match learning styles, the students cannot learn. We each have the whole range of learning capacities there are just certain ones that we prefer, which are our strengths, but that doesn’t mean we cannot take in information any other way. Perhaps there will be research in the future to fully support this idea but for now we can think of it in terms of our personal experiences and if this is true in our lives. I think that knowledge of learning style is important for students. Even if the teaching style does not match up with the learning style there are many ways to better a classroom experience and study experience simply by knowing our learning preferences. When sending our children to school we should be knowledgeable about the different literature surrounding education and learning styles and ultimately do what we can to develop a love for learning in our children.
Key Reference: https://sites.google.com/a/haverford.edu/the-psychology-of/contact/students-learn-best-when-teaching-styles-are-matched-to-their-learning-styles