Learning Styles: The Homeopathy of Education

Are you a kinesthetic, visual or auditory learner? Studies show that there is no such thing.

Written by: Carmen Figueras

Art by : Winnie Lei


The concept of learning styles gained popularity in the 1970s; although widespread, the concept is not backed by much evidence.  Some psychologists and neuroscientists have gone as far as to say that such an approach to learning could actively harm a student’s progress.

The Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic (VAK) model is arguably the most well-known educational theory. Popular worldwide, it was especially commonplace in the British education system in the early 2000s. In the VAK model, one is labelled either a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner. According to Professor Chris McManus, from the UCL faculty of Brain Sciences and Medical School, this model is ‘much believed in, but there is not much scientific evidence for them’. These styles were created to simplify learning and develop a more personalized learning experience . They represent the possibility of creating a middle ground where student individuality can be taken seriously, whilst a unified teaching method is also maintained. However, this middle ground has been transformed into a way to explain bad academic performance: so much so that Professor Phil Newton, from Swansea University Medical School, described learning styles in 2015 as the ‘educational equivalent of homeopathy’.

Research has shown that, even though different people can differ in their learning abilities, being taught in one’s best modality does not affect educational performance. There is also evidence suggesting that learning can be achieved by taking people out of their ‘comfort-zone’, and exposing them to teaching methods that do not match their strengths. However, Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic from the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences has argued otherwise, stating that ‘there is a great deal of evidence for the importance of learning styles’, and that ‘regardless of the type of the teaching, some students will prefer to learn in some ways, others in other ways’.


Everyone has their preference, of course, but is limiting the ways in which things are taught the right method to make learning more efficient? Surely the concept just validates the separation of students according to their preferences. Splitting children into categories of different learning styles may just group like-minded people together, instead of encouraging diversity and more divergent thinking.

 

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