I’ve Never Believed in Learning Styles

One of the discussion forums in my 3250 class has been devoted to learning styles… visual learners, tactile learners, auditory learners; what am I?

Sometimes I am one of them, sometimes I am all of them… mostly I think I am none of them.

Back when I was a student at SFU, I took a cognitive psychology class with Dr Bruce Whittlesea (Memory and Mind).  What I learned in that class, I’m now realizing, has helped to shape some of my beliefs in regards to learning.

Dr Whittlesea introduced us to the levels of processing theory of memory; essentially, if you process information at a deeper level, you are more likely to remember it.  Check this article out for a pretty solid summary:

Levels of Processing

How does this relate to education, and to my opinions on learning styles?  Well, if you think that the levels of processing theory makes sense, then trying to teach by putting information out into the classroom and hoping that students absorb it doesn’t.  Mode of presentation doesn’t matter so much as how deeply students work with the information.  Leaning on learning styles and teaching to them simply keeps us stuck in a world where the teacher is the holder of information, and the only way to take the learner into account is to alter the way information is presented.

I would actually argue that if a learner has a certain preference around how information is presented, maybe we should present it the opposite way and teach them how to take that information and then process it through their preference.  For example, I like diagrams.  I always want information in a diagram, but I understand content best when I draw the diagram myself – not when it’s presented to me.  So if you have a student that likes information presented visually, why not present it textually and get them to draw a picture of the information’s meaning?  That way you are acknowledging their preferences, but still getting them to work with or process the content at a deeper level.

How does that sound?

And if you like videos or Tedx talks… I agree with this one:

Learning Styles and the Importance of Critical Self reflection


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