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Learning & Development Blog

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Is Learning Style Theory a Hoax?

So…do you remember the last time you heard someone make an excuse for forgetting a vital piece of information, claiming it’s clearly not their fault because they are a visual learner? Well, turns out they were full of it.

Doug Rohrer, a psychologist at the University of South Florida, has looked very closely at the learning style theory over the last several years and has found no evidence to suggest that multiple learning styles exist among different people.

Do learning styles exist

Similarly, psychologist Dan Willingham at the University of Virginia says teachers should not tailor instruction to different kinds of learners. He claims we’re on a more equal footing than we may think when it comes to how we learn.

Both psychologists recommend scrapping the learning style theory altogether, and instead, believe we should figure out similarities in how our brains learn, rather than differences.

So what does this mean for training developers and education providers?

Mixing things up is still a good idea. Using diversity in teaching methods is scientifically supported to boost attention, and studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better. Recent studies also find that our brains retain information better when we spread learning over a longer period of time, say months or even a year, versus cramming it into a few days or weeks.

This research only reinforces the notion of learning as a means to an end, not the end itself. We must remember that the end is performance. I think sometimes trainers and teachers have leveraged the learning style theory as a justification for unnecessary, over-the-top, expensive training. But it’s not about the visual quality of the training. It’s about how well you help individuals achieve their performance objectives.

So remember, the next time someone complains about the lack of visuals in your instruction, instead of relenting to their learning style bologna, try something that will grab the attention of all the learners. Make them stand up. Turn the lecture into a song. Do something to mix it up and the group will be closer to reaching their performance objectives.

 free training audience analysis template