It is hard for me to remember a time when the following wasn’t drilled into my head — that there are different styles of learning and that depending on the style of learning, whether it was through reading or hearing or a combination of reading and hearing, different people needed to approach learning in their own way. That was my mantra when I was in school and even in the office I would tell people that I was a visual learner over an audio learner and therefore requested that they back up what they told me with the same information in writing.

Only now, this idea is being completely turned on its head by psychologist Dan Willingham of the University of Virginia, who proposes that teachers should certainly not have different teaching methods for these different ways of learning and should pretty much use one technique for the whole class.

The biggest problem with the idea that there are different styles of learning for different students is that there is no actual scientific evidence that supports it. I’m quite honestly a little flabbergasted that we have allowed an entire generation to be raised on an idea that had no evidence to back it. It would be similar to children being encouraged to eat a certain food because someone had a feeling that it was a good idea to do so.

Willingham suggests it might be more useful to figure out similarities in how our brains learn, rather than differences. And, in that case, he says, there’s a lot of common ground. For example, variety. “Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention,” he says, adding that studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better.

It will surely be a long time before these new findings are reviewed and anything is done about it — if anything will be done about it at all. For now we have the findings of a couple of psychologists. As someone mentioned in the comment section of the article, this is not something widely accepted by the science community.

2 Comments

  1. Definitely an interesting argument, Gordon. I know I can learn things faster if I have someone demonstrate how to do it rather than just hearing it explained to me. I have mental images of the precise steps taken that I can recall.