Learning Preferences

Learning preferences are one of my pet peeves. Originally introduced as a classroom management tool (vary your presentation to help maintain interest), they have become one of the foundations of modern education. Everyone has a preferred learning style. I don’t argue with this. But what does a preference have to do with ability. As a cognitive scientist, I have never been able to understand the scientific basis for a learning preference making learning easier.

The evidence that has been gathered clearly shows that there is no scientific justification for the concept, and in fact, demonstrates that it can be detrimental to learning.

Combined with the mindset research done by Dweck, and you can see that learning styles can be extremely harmful to a person’s education.  Dweck found that a person’s beliefs have a massive influence on their motivation. As an example, if a person believes that they are poor at mathematics, they will put in minimal effort to improve their ability, because they are poor at math. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, if they believe it, they won’t try.

Now, label a child as a kinaesthetic learner, and (if they believe it) they will no longer put in effort to learn material presented in a visual or auditory modality. They are a kinaesthetic learner, and they can’t learn any other way. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, only what the child believes. This applies to labels in general (think: types of intelligence), and not just to learning styles.

Here’s a great take on learning styles.


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