Learning styles theorists, like Kolb, Jung, and the Dunns, believe that each person has a unique set of ways of grasping, processing, and retaining information. What and how much of this information is grasped, processed, and retained largely depend on the meshing of the teacher’s instructional method to that of the students’ preferred learning styles. They believe that when instructional method and learning styles are aligned, learners become more engaged and satisfied with learning, hence overall learning outcome is improved. On the other hand, when mismatches occur, learners become frustrated and learning problems arise.
Learning styles theories seem promising in improving learning results, however, these theories and the famous VARK model by Fleming, have come under fire. Critics say that recent works of research don’t warrant its effective use in school settings. They added that there’s no evidence to support that aligning instructional method and learning styles will influence or improve learning outcome. In 2008, Pashler, and his colleagues said “we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above (learning styles and instructional method), which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis.” (p. 105, Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence) He and his colleagues argued that the study doesn’t deny the existence of learning styles. However, it asserts that no current study has shown that a particular instructional method has either improved the learning outcome of a student with preferred learning styles or jeopardized the learning outcome of a student with a different one.
Despite the criticisms, I still agree that learning styles improve learning outcome. However, in practice, I don’t spend much time and energy categorizing my students and aligning each of my students’ preferred learning styles to match my instructional method. Instead, I use my limited time on planning the most effective way to deliver a particular concept. For example, if I want to teach the anatomy of the heart, then I will use pictures and anatomical models. In doing so, it will bring optimal learning to all my students regardless of their preferred learning styles.
Cherry, K. VARK Learning Styles. Visual, Aural, Reading, and Kinesthetic Learning. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/educationalpsychology/a/vark-learning-styles.htm.
Glenn, D. (2009). Matching Teaching Style To Learning Style May Not Help Students. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Matching-Teaching-Style-to/49497/.
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Retrieved from http://psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf.