Is Learning Style a Myth?

Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education, 106, 166-171.

Kirschner (2017) wrote a paper to urge researchers in the field to stop the spread of learning style myth. This recent paper complemented a published article that was written in 2013 by Kirschner and van Merriënboer (2013). The 2013 paper critically discussed three unsupported viewpoints in education on digital natives, specific learning styles, and learners are capable of educating themselves online. Focusing on the learning style myths, Kirschner (2017) argued that the three statements on learning styles are not scientifically supported:

  1. Learners have a certain learning style that should be catered to for effective learning,
  2. Learners are aware of their own learning styles and their learning styles can be determined in a reliable and valid way, and
  3. Learning styles need to be identified so that instructions can be tailored for effective learning and teaching.

Although learners differ from one another in numerous ways and may prefer certain style of learning (e.g., visually, auditively, and kinesthetically), it does not mean that teaching, learning situations, and learning materials should be catered to those preferences. Kirschner (2017) referred to a list of studies that showed that learning style is not scientifically supported and pinpointed three main flaws of the notion of learning styles:

  1. Differences between the optimal way of learning and one’s preferred way to learn.
    Learners do not necessarily know what is best for them. Studies showed that students learning in their preferred way did not lead to better learning outcomes. Therefore, one’s preferences for learning do not naturally lead to effectiveness and efficiency in learning.
  2. Classification of learners into a specific group based on dichotomous learning styles.
    Validity, reliability, predictive powers of learning styles tests are low and inconsistent. Furthermore, differences between individuals are mostly gradual and not nominal that is not reflected by the instruments used to assess learning styles. Assigning a learner to one specific style will disregard the complexity of individual differences.
  3. There is little scientific evidence for the effects of catering to learning styles.
    Results from studies on tailoring learning instructions to learning styles to enhance learning are not strong.  At present, there is no evidence base to support the role of learning styles.

In conclusion, instead of jumping onto the bandwagon of catering instructions to learning styles, it might be more appropriate to evaluate scientific evidence or the lack of scientific evidence and consider adopting other educational practices with stronger evidence base.

Kirschner, P. A., & van Merriënboer, J. J. (2013). Do learners really know best? Urban legends in education. Educational psychologist, 48(3), 169-183.
Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education, 106, 166-171.