Do Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic Learning Styles Exist?
What Are Learning Styles?
The idea behind learning styles is that students learn in different ways. Visual learners learn best by seeing information, such as pictures and colorful outlines. Auditory learners learn best by hearing, through lectures or recordings. Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands on assignments. About ninety percent of teachers believe these various learning styles exist. Many create lesson plans designed to teach material with these three learning styles in mind.
Do Learning Styles Actually Exist?
Yes and no. People do have preferences in how they learn. But those preferences don’t make them better learners, according to Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Willingham, a professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. There is no evidence that learning styles improve learning. Willingham says that students do learn differently and that teachers should take this into account. Some students love to learn and some don’t. Some students have more aptitude than others. Some have more background knowledge than others. Some students have learning disabilities. These are differences in cognitive ability rather than cognitive style.
Willingham acknowledges that students will often have preferences in how they learn. Some students may prefer lectures. Others may prefer videos and pictures. Some may enjoy hands on activities. But,
"when these tendencies are put to the test under controlled conditions, they make no difference—learning is equivalent whether students learn in the preferred mode or not."
Why Learning Styles Don't Impact Learning
Willingham gives the following example in his book Why Don't Students Like School. Anne, an auditory learner, and Victor, a visual learner, are given two lists of vocabulary words to learn. For the first list they listen to a recording. For the second, they look at a slide show of pictures representing the word meaning. Learning styles would predict that Anne would learn more words on list 1 and Victor would learn more words from list 2. Yet studies have found no difference in results based on learning style. The problem, according to Willingham, is that Anne and Victor need to remember what the words mean, rather than what they look or sound like. So, their learning style actually has no impact on their ability to remember word meaning.
A visual learner may have an advantage when it comes to memorizing the shapes of countries on maps. Auditory learners may have an advantage when learning proper pronunciation in a foreign language. But, Willingham says, most schooling involves mastering the meaning of things, not what they look or sound like.
What does this mean for teachers and homeschoolers? For teachers, creating lesson plans that cater to different learning styles may be more trouble than it's worth. For homeschoolers, a child may be more willing to study something if it’s presented in a way they prefer. Like with teachers though, catering to a particular learning style may sometimes be more trouble than it's worth, since the amount of material learned would be the same regardless of the method used to teach.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 JoanCA