Because learning styles seem so cool to anyone who hears about them, they’ve been the subject of tons and tons of research studies over the years. Institutions like the University of California, San Diego; Washington University; and the University of California, Los Angeles have all gotten in on the act.
For every one piece of research that seems to support some usefulness of learning styles, there are dozens more that show no benefit whatsoever—despite researchers’ best attempts to find it. The overwhelming majority of the literature concludes the same thing: there is no proven benefit to matching a teacher’s instruction to a learner’s preferred style.
A More Effective Alternative to Learning Styles
Research may have crushed our dreams of learning styles leading to a lifetime of easy As, but it also offers plenty of suggestions for other techniques that can help our kids become star-studded studiers. Here are a few:
Focus on the Subject
Instead of customizing a lesson to a student’s particular learning style, it actually makes more sense to tailor it to the subject being learned. For example, learning to play the piano is best suited to kinesthetic learning. Students could listen all day to a lecture about how to sit at the piano, what keys to press in what order, and how soft or loud to play, but none of it would really stick until they actually got to practice tickling those ivories themselves.
Get Kids Out of Their Comfort Zones
Research from the University of Southern California shows that although people often enjoy a particular method of instruction, it may end up being the one that teaches them the least. That’s because learning can be hard—and sometimes we need to push past what’s easy and familiar to achieve real academic success.
Be a Flexible Instructor
When you’re teaching your child, closely monitor his progress. If he’s having trouble, don’t hesitate to switch up your style as needed. Because after all, there is no single style that is guaranteed to teach your child best.
Practice a Style Blitz
Take this idea a step further and plan on mixing up your teaching styles right from the start. Studies show that the more different ways children are exposed to a new concept, the more efficiently they’ll learn it. So instead of sticking to just one style, offer a combination of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning whenever possible.
The research dispelling learning styles clearly communicates that in education there are no easy outs. So be sure to praise all your little learner’s efforts, helping her appreciate the value of working hard to accomplish her goals. When you tell your child how proud you are that she tried really hard and finished all of her work, she’ll be eager to make you (and herself) proud again!
Look at, listen to or act on all the evidence, and we think one lesson is clear: it’s time to lose learning styles for good!
Who’s with us?