Do you know what kind of learner you are? There are a number of assessments that you can take to help you identify your learning style(s), whether visual, aural, or kinesthetic, in order to improve your learning outcomes. There are also other ideas of what constitutes learning styles : Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences has 8 (verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, and naturalistic), David Kolb’s experiential learning has 4 (diverging, assimilating, converging, accommodating), and Neil Fleming’s VARK has 4 (visual, aural, reading/writing, kinesthetic), which is probably the most widely used variant.
However, all of these have one thing in common: they are good theories about how we learn, but there remains scant evidence that learning according to your learning style has any statistically significant impact on studying and learning outcomes. Despite this fact, many educators the world over still buy into and sell students on this concept. Why is that?
There is a certain appeal to the notion that you are a visual or aural learner, as opposed to someone who learns best through rote memorization of written materials – it makes learning sound more dynamic, interesting and perhaps fun. Further, current teaching approaches emphasize the need to vary inputs in order to achieve better results. But, if there is virtually no difference between the outcomes of learners who focus on their learning styles – according to whichever inventory, questionnaire or assessment they filled out – then it feels like a bit of a stretch.
So, do all of the theories and research about learning styles become a moot point? According to a recent article in The Atlantic, you can still learn about your own preferences related to learning, but that does not correlate to helping you learn better. The evidence based on experimental studies shows that identifying a learning style and using that as a filter for learning does not improve but, in some cases, may actually hinder learning. However, this is not to suggest that people do not learn well using a variety of materials (visual, aural, written). In fact, most research in applied linguistics, pedagogy, cognitive science and psychology related to education agrees that different media/inputs reinforce the learning process (for example, the older dual-coding theory). That research will be discussed in a subsequent article. For now, take the VARK assessment and judge for yourself: does the result capture your learning preference or is it something more fundamental to how you learn?