Myth F: Learning styles

When Howard-Jones and colleagues surveyed 158 graduate beginning teachers about to enter secondary schools , we found that 82% considered teaching to children’s learning styles could improve outcomes. Learning preferences do exist, in the sense that different individuals may prefer to receive information in different way. For example, it is possible to categorise learners’ preferences in terms of VAK: Visual, Kinaesthetic or Auditory. However, there seems little educational value in doing so. The functionality of different brain regions is sometimes used to support learning style theory. For example, different regions of the brain are more involved than others in processing visual, auditory and somatosensory (touch) information. But performance in most everyday tasks, including learning of information provided in just one modality (e.g. visual), prompts many regions in both hemispheres to work together in a sophisticated parallel fashion. In reality, the brain is so massively interconnected that sensory experience is always cross-modal in nature so that, for example, visual experience activates auditory brain activity.

As Kayser puts it, “the brain sees with its ears and touch, and hears with its eyes”. (This interconnectedness of the brain also means that neuroscience cannot be used to support Multiple Intelligences Theories since the distributed nature of neural function suggests we should not characterise individual differences in terms of some limited number of capabilities.) Scientific evidence from laboratory experiments shows that providing information in a learner’s preferred VAK style is “wasted effort” . At the end of their extensive educational review, Coffield et al. concluded there were no clear implications for pedagogy arising from any existing models of learning styles. However, the effectiveness of multimodal teaching is supported by both educational and scientific research. That is, using a wide variety of modalities (visual, auditory, touch, taste, smell etc) to teach every child really can support their learning.