Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence

Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork
Psychological Science in the Public Interest
December 2009

It is not easy to take on the illustrious Howard Gardner and the widespread belief in American ed schools that children’s “learning styles” differ in significant ways and must be taught to appropriately. But UVa psychology professor Dan Willingham began the debunking process in 2004 and this literature review continues it. The authors looked for rigorous studies that satisfied three methodological criteria: Students were divided into learning-style based groups, students were randomly assigned a type of teaching method, and students in all groups had to sit for the same test. Then, in order for the positive findings to hold water, the study had to have strong findings: that a student with one learning style achieves the best outcome with a method that differs significantly from another instructional style achieving the best outcome for students with other learning styles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, such rigorous studies are scarce; and when they do exist, they provide no evidence that differentiated learning-style instruction has a positive effect on student achievement. The bottom line is that this fad, like others before it, is probably groundless, and we may want to reconsider the many dollars invested in its implementation and use. You can read the report here or find it for free here.

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