Skepticism with regard to the concept of “learning styles” is hugely warranted, no matter how popular the concept may be

Source: March 19, 2017 tweet from KanatlarımVarBenim‏ @angell_bird - The Schoolmaster, 1662 - Adriaen van Ostade ( Dutch, 1610 - 1685)

Source: March 19, 2017 tweet from KanatlarımVarBenim‏ @angell_bird – The Schoolmaster, 1662 – Adriaen van Ostade (Dutch, 1610 – 1685). Click on the image to enlarge it.

A March 13, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Teachers must ditch ‘neuromyth’ of learning styles, say scientists: Eminent academics from worlds of neuroscience, education and psychology voice concerns over popularity of method.”

An excerpt from the article reads:

The letter, organised by Prof Bruce Hood, chair of developmental psychology in society at the University of Bristol, says most people believe they have a preferred learning style – either visual, auditory or kinesthetic – and teaching using a variety of these styles can be engaging.

“However the claim that students will perform better when the teaching is matched to their preferred sensory modality (learning style) is simply not supported by the science and of questionable value,” he said.


Learning styles

I can’t tell you how many times, in the years that I worked as a teacher, I attended workshops and Powerpoint presentations that spoke about the wide range of learning styles that students demonstrate.

At the same time, at a particular stage of my life I became fascinated with the concept that it’s helpful to look at the evidence, and to engage in evidence-based practice, in whatever endeavour a person is engaged in.

As the above-noted article, one of many that I have encountered over the years, notes, the evidence on behalf of learning styles is lacking, to put the matter mildly.

One of the lasting images, that I remember from my teaching days, is from a book that I was reading, during my teaching days, that focused upon curriculum development or curriculum implementation, or some such topic along those lines.

The image – it was a metaphor, really – had to do with the launch of a newly built ship. There’s a big ceremony. A bottle of champagne, as is the standard practice, is smashed across the bow of the vessel. The ship is launched and is seen travelling away from the dock, heading toward the horizon. The assembled audience at the shore claps and cheers. In time, the ship disappears, never to be seen again.

What was the ship a metaphor for? It was a metaphor for each new curriculum initiative that gets launched, as the years go by.

Another experience that I remember, from my years as a teacher, concerns the Myers-Briggs approach to “personality types.” In the years since I worked as a teacher, I have been most interested to learn that the empirical evidence, for the validity of the Myers-Briggs approach to personality assessment, is very meagre, to say the least. If evidence and evidence-based practice is what interests you, I would say that skepticism with regard to Myers-Briggs is hugely warranted.

Teaching is a wonderful profession. I have gained so much from my 30-plus years of experience as a teacher, working in a wide range of settings across the Greater Toronto Area. It’s not easy to attain proficiency as a teacher. Some people have the skills – and personality traits – that enable them to achieve outstanding success as teachers or administrators. The people who achieve success in this line of work are a strong source of inspiration for me. The value that first-rate teachers bring, to the advancement of our society, is tremendous and warrants celebration. I mention these things, by way of placing my comments, with regard to “learning styles,” into a suitable context.


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