Tip #908: The Persistent Myth of Learning Styles

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“There are 3 kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” Will Rogers


What is it about the idea of learning styles? It has been proven that there are no such things. Yet, even esteemed trainers, who ought to know better, continue to refer to learning styles. They write about what methods to use to meet the needs of different learning styles.

I think I know why, or at least two reasons come to mind.

Pervasive and Foundational

First, learning style models are varied and pervasive. One identifies three styles: visual, verbal, and kinesthetic. One identifies four: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing. Another model mentions five: visual, auditory, written, kinesthetic, and multimodal. Still another model has six: visual, aural, print, tactile, interactive, and kinesthetic.

There is a model with seven learning styles: auditory and musical, visual and spatial, verbal, logical and mathematical, physical or kinesthetic, social and interpersonal, and solitary and intrapersonal. There is even a model with eight styles: visual, aural, physical, verbal, logical, social, solo, and natural.

As a teaching profession, we have spent decades coming up with these different explanations and models of how learners learn. It’s been a foundational principle for so long, it is automatic to categorize learners according to our favorite learning style model. It has become a habit, it is part of our vernacular, and we do it unconsciously.

Guidance for Design

Second, models help us make sense of the world. Life is too large and too complex. We need to compartmentalize to make life (and training) manageable. So, we wrestle to pin each new observation or idea into a meaningful category. But life and the world are constantly changing. For this reason, we have multiple models for almost everything, including personality types, leadership styles, management styles, and communication styles, etc.

Models give us a sense of order and control. We like to know where everything fits. A learning style model gives trainers guidance when they design training programs. It tells them to plug in a variety of different learning activities, to make sure that there is something for everyone.

Even if we know that there are no such things as learning styles, the idea is so ingrained in us that we still tend to think in those terms when we design and facilitate our training programs.

I just don’t see that ending any time soon.

Question: Do you still design your training with learning styles in mind?

May your learning be sweet- and safe.


#learningstyles #learningmyths #models

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