A primary school boy asked me recently, ” Ma’am, was I not supposed to do a test when I came to you the first time to find out what is the best way for me to learn?”
What a good question and one that parents often ask me. I have always replied: “God gave you a whole brain and 5 senses and I am sure He wants you to use everything you’ve got!”
I am pleased that my thinking is supported by evidence from research studies.
The Learning Styles Theory states that:
- We all have a learning style such as ‘visual’, ‘auditory’, or ‘kinaesthetic’;
- We should use our learning style to learn better; and
- Learners that are taught in a way that complements their learning style will also learn and perform better.
This theory is however not backed up by a comprehensive review of various studies conducted by 4 professors of psychology in the United States. The findings of this study indicated that:
- Students might have a preference but a preference is not the same as a style. A preference is what you like the most, but not necessarily the way you would learn the best.
- Not one study could be traced that provided evidence that teaching learners in their ‘learning style’ led them to getting better results.
- There are lots of evidence that students who were taught in their favorite style did no better (in a wide variety of settings like education, medicine or psychology).
Dr. Caroline Leaf (in Think, Learn, Succeed) also refers to this meta-analysis of studies related to the learning-styles theory. She reports that there is a lack of empirical evidence for assessing the so called learning style preferences.
So, one recommendation is to teach (or learn) content based on what is being taught (or what must be studied). So if you are teaching or learning Geometry, visual-spatial tools and strategies will be important. A writing course on the other hand, will require a strong verbal emphasis, etc.
The Science of Learning also refers to another study which found that teaching and learning by using a wide range and combination of senses will often lead to better learning and better long-term memory. According to Dr. Leaf the world of education should be aimed at developing and implementing truly evidenced based interventions and approaches.
So, be careful when a child tells you “I prefer to do this or that” as it might be a preference (or to avoid effort) but not the best way!