MythBusters: Learning Styles

Mythbusters is a new series at PIA where we take on some of the most popular beliefs, myths, and ideas surrounding psychology and succinctly provide empirical evidence for or against such claims!

Myth: We all have a learning style that helps us understand how we best learn information. For example, I am a visual learner, an auditory learner, a kinesthetic learner, etc. When my style is matched by a teacher’s teaching style (e.g. auditory to auditory), I perform better. But when there is a mismatch, I perform worse.

As seen in: High school classes, lower-level college courses, online quizzes.

Evidence for this: Sternberg, Grigorenko, Ferrari, and Clinkenbeard (1999) conducted a study that found evidence that matching styles could improve performance, but there are severe criticisms of the study. These criticisms include only recruit highly gifted students, excluding a large proportion of the sample, transforming the data (and not reporting the raw data), as well as unspecified “screening” of deviant scores (aka kicking out the outliers).

Evidence against this:  Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, Bjork, 2008 conducted a literature review of all the research to date that looked at evidence to support learning styles, and found that among them, only Sternberg et. al (1999) found evidence in support of learning styles. The rest of the studies do not provide the type of interactions that would constitute as support for learning styles (showing that matching styles would show improvement, and mismatch styles would show worse performance).

Final verdict: We have learning style preferences, but there is no strong evidence to show that we perform better when this preference is matched or worse when there is a misalignment.

 References

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

Sternberg, R.J., Grigorenko, E.L., Ferrari, M., & Clinkenbeard, P. (1999). A triarchic analysis of an aptitude–treatment interaction. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 15, 1–11.

About Stacy Shaw

Stacy is a second-year graduate student in the developmental area with interests in mathematics and science learning, as well as creativity and divergent thinking. A former competitive public speaker and volunteer ambassador for the Chabot Space and Science Center, Stacy is also interested in scientific communication and open science. She received her bachelor’s degree from California State University, East Bay in human development, with minors in psychology and statistics.

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