Another big question re: learning styles

This question is an add-on to my last post: I no longer believe in learning styles. You? It might be a good idea to read that to put this in some kind of context :)


If we cater to individual preference in terms of how to receive input

aka match our teaching style to students’ preferred learning styles

how can we possibly properly develop the multiple intelligences that, according to Gardner, we all posses?

If all we have is a hammer all we will see are nails. What happens when we come across a screw?

If Johnny, the supposed visual learner, receives only visual input most of the time (as part of his formal learning, since his teacher will be matching how she teaches to his preference…), he will only be able to deal with what can be dealt with visually to any degree of depth.

Sounds pretty uni-dimensional to me.

ESPECIALLY when we know that for knowledge to enter long term memory it is most successful when dually encoded – visually and verbally! The more diverse the input we have, the better the learning.


  • Tracy says:

    Thanks for remembering the conversation, Julie, and bumping it up with the resources :) I’ll give them a listen.

  • Hi Tracy. Here is a podcast and two YouTube videos from Professor Daniel Willingham about learning style theory I thought might be of interest to you:

  • You bring up great points, Tracy. Personally, I never really believed in teaching to learning styles. Yes, I am saying that out loud.

    • Tracy says:

      @Topher, Well, I’m glad you are back and hope you’re feeling better!

      I think it is a matter of intention, what’s our focus? Focusing on individual learning styles is starting to be proven (actually, since 1999) not to be an effective way of looking at why we are delivering our material the way we are. But focusing on diversifying instruction because we know that such a practice will improve learning is a much more research-based focus that makes sense for me.

      @elona, I think that you are right on about needing to see it, hear it, and do it when it comes to learning.

      I used to think that my preferred learning style (after doing a whole whack of tests during my MA) was visual. So I’d do everything visually – make maps, illustrations, watch videos… Now I realize that it’s not that I am a visual learner, but that the visual adds to the learning that happens when I listen. I was doing myself a disservice by focusing only on the visual, I realize now.

      @Joan Young, Thanks Joan. Shaving cream writing sounds like fun! When I used to tutor kids with difficulties learning language I remember making letters out of glue and sparkles or sand, or sometimes jello. I think the fun aspect helps a lot as well – we tend to remember more when we were having fun doing it!

      @Julie Niles Petersen, ha ha ha! Thanks for saying it out loud – it’s good to hear! What made learning styles not feel right to you?

  • elona says:

    Yes, I still believe in learning styles because I know that I can learn things more easily if I use my preferred style.

    I do agree though that good teaching uses all the learning styles. Kids get to see it, hear it and a chance to do it. There’s really no magic to it. One style reinforces the other styles so that all three work together.

    I have had students ask me to show them how to do something because telling them how to do it wasn’t working for them. I’ve had other students ask me to tell them how to do something because they need to hear the instructions and the written instructions weren’t helping them understand what to do.Other kids ask me to let them try it to see if they’ve got it. There’s definitely something to be said about meeting a students preferred learning style but that doesn’t mean we stop teaching using the students less preferred learning style. All learning styles work together and get strengthened to the benefit of the student.

  • Topher says:

    It’s been shown, I think, that people don’t necessarily learn better through their preferred learning style. But that doesn’t mean that incorporating a variety of instruction doesn’t improve learning and make for an interesting learning environment. You’re spot on about reinforcing learning through combinations of visual/verbal, and that we should teach students to strengthen weaker areas.

    I’m sorry I’ve been away from your blog – I enjoy it so much! July turned out to be full of vacation/sickness. It’s all I could do to post one or two things myself!

  • Joan Young says:

    I agree totally Tracy that it’s great to develop all of the ways kids can remember and learn. Instead of testing kids for a preference and locking them into learning that way, why not ask them questions and lead them to ask themselves the question: which way or ways work best for me? I love when kids discover that listening to a rap or song of something while looking at it visually helps them remember. In my kindergarten class we often used music with dry erase boards or shaving cream writing so they were processing/embedding in multiple modalities. Another great post!!

  • Linda704 says:

    What I believe is that just like any other personality trait, we all have preferred strengths/modes. We need to develop multiple strengths/skills to meet the challenges in life.

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