The existence of learning styles has long been a subject of debate among experts, with many pointing to a lack of scientific evidence proving that different learning methods can play a role in a person’s academic results. While the concept of learning styles hasn’t been supported in the lab, a study published in the British Journal of Psychology did show that when people learn using what they believe is their preferred style, they feel like they learned more effectively, even though technically they haven’t.
Now, a study carried out by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine has cast even more doubt on the existence of learning styles. The researchers enlisted hundreds of undergraduates in a study that involved taking the popular online survey on learning styles known as VARK. VARK, which stands for Visual, Auditory, Reading and Kinesthetic, is a questionnaire that helps people discern whether they learn best through reading and writing, visually, or doing things practically.
After the assessment, the students were enrolled in an anatomy course and were told to study in a way that is consistent with their style of learning. During the course, the researchers interviewed the students about the methods they used to study in order to see if they were adhering to their dominant methods. At the close of the course, the researchers assessed whether their studying style had an effect on their final grades.
They found that there wasn’t any significant correlation between their dominant learning style and their academic performance. Two thirds of the students did not study in the way that they were supposedly best at anyway, but those who did study in a way that is consistent with their learning style did not get better grades than those who did not.
The researchers also discovered that practical work with a microscope and reading lecture notes were the most effective ways to study for all students, while flash cards were not as useful.
This means that people who say they can’t learn a certain subject because they are a “visual learner,” for example, are doing themselves a great disservice. Those who ascribe their academic failures to their teacher’s teaching style not lining up with their personal learning style might have to take more accountability.
The researchers would like teachers and students alike to pay attention to these findings and keep them in mind in their own classroom approaches. With 96 percent of teachers reportedly believing in learning styles, it may take some time to change people’s mindsets about this, but it could ultimately help enhance learning for all students. Homeschoolers might also consider adjusting their approach if they lean too heavily on learning styles in the homeschool environment.
Despite these findings, there are still some truths about learning that appear to be universal. For example, other studies have shown that beginners learn better from examples, while those with more experience in a topic learn more by solving problems. In addition, combined approaches like drawing while studying can also boost learning.
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