Letting Go of Learning StylesAs parents, we always want what’s best for our children. That’s why we search for the healthiest foods, the safest car seats and the cutest little kid outfits we can find.

It’s also why, when we hear about a super simple technique that promises to instantly improve our child’s learning skills, we jump all over it in a hurry.

What is this miracle technique, you may ask?

It’s a concept called “learning styles,” and it’s been tantalizing parents and educators alike for the past forty-plus years. According to the learning styles theory, kids learn better when you:

  1. figure out the one, single way that your child learns best, and
  2. customize all your teaching methods to match it.

So children who learn best by seeing would be Visual Learners, those who learn best by hearing would be Audio Learners, ones who learn best by doing would be Kinesthetic Learners, and so on.

At first blush, the idea that each person might have his or her own specific learning style is compelling. You may even identify with one of the styles yourself. For example, if you believe you might be a Visual Learner, you can probably recall several isolated examples of things that you have been able to learn visually throughout your life.

This concept gets even more exciting when you start thinking about your children’s lives—and how they could learn all sorts of lessons faster and more effectively if you simply taught them everything using their preferred method…

  • You could teach your Visual Learner to crawl by getting down on all fours and showing her your amazing technique!
  • You could teach your Audio Learner to use the potty by sitting him down and making fart noises with your armpit!
  • You could teach your Kinesthetic Learner the alphabet by contorting her body into the shapes of all 26 letters!

…and then just sit back and wait for all the academic scholarships to roll in.

There’s just one problem, as it turns out:

Learning styles are a complete and total myth.

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.

Their results?

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.

Emphasize Effort
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?

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