Sep 012011

Learning Styles Don’t Exist But Distracted Learners Do

Learning Styles: By , Presentation Skills Examiner, August 24, 2011

Professor Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia Department of Psychology posted a video on YouTube that addresses the debate over learning styles. Although the video was posted in 2008, it helps guide a path towards a more balanced discussion evaluation of the usefulness of learning styles.

In the video, Dr. Willingham takes issue with the auditory-visual-kinesthetic canard. Regular readers of this Examiner’s reports know that I believe auditory-visual-kinesthetic are not learning styles. Rather, they are input delivery systems that, although some people favor one over another, are all helpful in absorbing information.

Where auditory-visual-kinesthetic fails, is in oversimplification. Following an auditory-visual-kinesthetic approach, a learning program where the presenter speaks, showcases PowerPoint slides, and has attendees write could be defined as catering to all three learning styles.

Although Dr. Willingham focuses on auditory-visual-kinesthetic, he includes in his discussion all the different learning styles models. In the video he proclaims, “There’s no evidence to support any of the different theories.”

His base line argument is that the idea that the way information is organized or how people think about it matters in how people learn, and learning, rather than being auditorially or visually based, is meaning based.

Additionally, that the prediction of learning styles is that an auditory learner will remember things more effectively if the information is presented auditorially, but information usually does not fit into the auditory-visual-kinesthetic bucket.

Visualization is required for remembering maps, “auditorization” for pronouncing language, and “kinesthetization” for playing tennis. Although it is no doubt true that some people will learn to pronounce Italian more easily, and others have the coordination to become good at tennis.

Dr. Willingham’s makes a solid case. But then he qualifies it. “Good teaching is good teaching.” In a follow-up video, he adds, “Teachers do and should differentiate instruction and should based on student motivation, personality and interests, and that makes sense. I wouldn’t want a child of mine in a class where the teacher didn’t at least try to do that.”

He continues…

learning styles


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