Meta Analysis Summary: Learning Styles
Fundamentally, the learning style theory asserts that people have preferred styles (or ways) in which they learn (Coffield, Moseley, Hall, & Ecclestone, 2004; Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, & Beyerstein, 2010; Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2009; Willingham, 2009). For example, if one is an auditory learner, than s/he learns best using an auditory approach. The theory has been popular for many years (Pashler et al., 2009), and has led to a variety of different models (Coffield et al., 2004). Overall, the models are similar, as they broadly define different learning styles, but differ in nuanced definitions. For example, the Fleming model (Fleming, 1995; Fleming & Mills, 1992) suggests that the four types of learning styles are, visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic, whereas the Dunn and Dunn model (Dunn, 1990; Dunn & Dunn, 1979) outline the four learning styles as environmental elements, emotional elements, sociological elements, and physical elements. Even though there are hundreds of articles, many books, and university websites (Vanderbilt University, Yale University, Columbia University, etc.) that promote learning styles, there is virtually no empirical evidence that suggests learning styles exist (Lilienfeld et al., 2010; Pashler et al., 2009; Willingham, 2009). A meta-analysis by Pasher et al. (2009) concluded ". . . at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning- styles assessments into general educational practice" (p. 105). Similarly, Riener and Willingham (2010) state, "students may have preferences about how to learn, but no evidence suggests that catering to those preferences will lead to better learning" (p. 35). A careful review of literature suggests that, while learning styles are prominent in education, there is nearly no supporting evidence of their existence, and that the theory should not be used in education.
- Do not use the theory of learning styles, as it is unsupported by empirical evidence.
- Learning styles myth video:
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- Resources for explaining the learning styles myth:
Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre (pp. 1-182). London, UK.
Dunn, R.S. (1990). Understanding the Dunn and Dunn learning style model and the need for individual diagnosis and prescription. Reading Writing and Learning Disabilities, 6, 223-247.
Dunn, R.S., & Dunn, K.J. (1979). Learning styles/teaching styles: Should they...can they...be matched? Educational Leadership, 36, 238-244.
Fleming, N. D. (1995). Iʼm different; not dumb. Modes of presentation (VARK) in the tertiary classroom. In A. Zelmer (Ed.),Proceedings of the 1995 Annual Conference of the Higher Education and Research Development Society of Australasia HERDSA (Vol. 18, pp. 308-313).
Fleming, N. D., & Mills, C. (1992). Not another inventory, rather a catalyst for reflection. To Improve the Academy, 11(1), 137-149.
Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2010). Students learn best when teaching styles are matched to their learning styles. 50 great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior (pp. 92-99). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science,9(3), 105-119.
Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The myth of learning styles. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 42(5), 32-35.
Willingham, D. (2009). How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners? Why don't students like school: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom (pp. 147-168). San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Last updated: 06/02/2015