Learning Styles: Were Teachers Misled?

It’s been commonly accepted that each individual student has a favored learning style: visual (spatial), aural (auditory), verbal (linguistic), and physical (kinesthetic). Educators profess that by hitting each learning style in a lesson, success for all students is nearly guaranteed. And teachers have been directed to make sure that their instruction addresses each. Have we been misled? 

Like many educational trends, the learning style theory has recently gone out of favor, and evidence of its inaccuracy is continuing to mount. More specifically, in this article in Science-Based Medicine, Dr. Josh Cuevas breaks down the learning styles fallacy and offers an alternative for how to reach all learners.

Cuevas makes a strong argument for the lore being little more than a long sustained farce which led to new curriculum and new schools. And as is often the case, the new “discovery” brought hefty paydays for those involved in trainings and the creation of new materials for what was then believed to be a teaching necessity. Cuevas expresses concern that educators bought into this idea, which he labels a “hypothesis,” so easily without any research backing. He contends that those studying education “have been convinced via no more than word of mouth,” and that “many have come to hold a strange religious-like fervor for the concept.”

Cuevas agrees that students are unique individuals with their own likes and dislikes, but sees no evidence to support the idea that teaching to students’ so-called learning styles improves their educational outcomes.

Cuevas and other educational researchers have been searching to find the evidence necessary to transform the learning styles hypothesis into a theory, but have not found any. He points to many studies conducted over the past several years, which found no support for instruction focused on learning styles would positively impact student outcomes. And just as damagingly, he deemed studies that did support the learning styles hypothesis as only showing a correlational connection, not a causal one.

Despite this growing evidence that the education world may have been duped into believing in the power of learning styles, many educators are still holding on to this idea. Change in education methods can be slow and challenging, especially when there isn’t an alternative readily available. However, Cuevas believes that he may have the answer for what educators should swap into their instruction when they move the learning styles approach out.

Cuevas introduces dual coding theory, which apparently is known by few educators but supported by the work of many researchers. The dual coding concept states that all humans learn best in the same style, one that includes verbal and visual presentations of information. According to Cuevas, by giving new information in spoken and seen formats simultaneously, both brain hemispheres are activated and working towards retention.

Cuevas points out that it can’t be true that all of us learn better by simultaneously seeing and hearing new information, as dual coding predicts, and some of us learn better by only seeing the information or only experiencing it kinesthetically, as learning styles claims. It must be one or the other. Thus if dual coding theory is true, as research has shown, then the learning styles hypothesis is disproven.

StepUp Summary

StepUp combines movement, rhythm, and repetition with curriculum. As children progress through the program levels, they develop fluency in reading decoding, handwriting, and math fact retrieval.  

Watch this video to see StepUp to Learn in action!