The world is addicted to axioms, and the belief in “learning styles” is one such axiom. This interesting TED Talk by Tesia Marshik highlights why this is the case.
So first, “what is an axiom I hear you say?”. It is something that is so ingrained into belief systems and generally accepted amongst the population that people just take it for granted as being true. Examples from history include the world being flat, or that the earth is the centre of the universe. Once upon a time these were the norm…what everyone believed. And it took a long time to change those beliefs.
At some point everyone has been exposed to the various learning styles that many of us speak about:
There’s a fair chance that you think one of these is your learning style. But evidence suggests there is no such thing. Yes there may be a preference to learn in a certain way, but Tesia says the learning outcomes are not impacted by the form of learning.
Most of what you learn is stored as meaning. What people learn in a classroom or in life isn’t just, “what does that look like” or “what does that sound like”. There is much more conceptual basis around looking for answers and outcomes. To be able to recount things it has to have meaning to us, we need to understand it. Putting it in context helps us do that. That’s why just reading notes or re-writing notes often isn’t an effective way of learning As it doesn’t create the meaning.
Content is king is a saying that gets thrown around in many forums. In a learning sense, the content itself will actually determine the best way to teach (or learn) something so that must be taken into account. For somebody to be able to learn what the smell of something is, the best way for them to do that is to smell the object. And that is the case whether they consider themselves to be an olfactory learner or not.
The reality is that many things can be taught (or learned) through multiple senses. By having the multiple mediums, there is generally more meaning, more of a story. This gives people more context and therefore the ability to understand and for the learnings to stick in someone’s mind.
So why does it matter that there is still a commonly held belief around learning styles? 2 key reasons are:
A waste of time and resources
Tesia Marshik asks why we spend time and energy on something where there is no evidence to suggest better outcomes. Especially when there are other evidence based learning and teaching strategies available.
Labels can be mis-leading and dangerous
For both a student and teacher, having a belief that an individual only has one way of learning that works best for them, may stop other ways of teaching being used that could actually be useful. Or it may lead people to switch of or lose interest if they don’t believe they can learn in a certain way. Leading to people giving up and creating a self-perpetuating cycle.
Watch the full 18 minute TED Talk to learn more.
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