Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • There's a few different versions -actually, many different versions - of learning styles.

  • But probably the most common one that you've heard of,

  • is that some of us are auditory learners,

  • where we learn best by listening to things;

  • some of us are more visual learners,

  • where we learn best by seeing things;

  • and some of us might be more tactile or kinesthetic learners,

  • where we learn best by actually doing things

  • or engaging in physical activities.

  • How many of you have heard of that before?

  • Well, the good news and bad news:

  • the bad news is, if you believe in learning styles, you're actually wrong.

  • I'll explain that in just a minute.

  • But the good news is that it's not entirely your fault.

  • This belief in learning styles is incredibly pervasive.

  • It's so common that few people ever think to even question it. Right?

  • It sounds so logical. It sounds so real.

  • But when put to the test, we found that learning styles don't exist.

  • And there are tons of people that believe this.

  • When we survey, for example, students and teachers,

  • we find that something like 90 percent of them

  • or over 90 percent of people believe they have a learning style.

  • And many teachers today are still told that part of their job,

  • in order to be effective teachers,

  • is to figure out what their students' learning styles are,

  • and then accommodate them for the classroom.

  • There are even a host of companies and organizations out there that support learning styles,

  • and who, for a fee,will train you on how to maximize your potential or that of your students,by addressing learning styles and learning what yours are.

  • But again, the key is, when put to the test,

  • these learning styles don't exist; it doesn't make a difference.

  • I will say that when we survey people,

  • many people say they have preferences.

  • So if I asked, "How would you like to learn something?"

  • or "How would you like to study?",

  • many of you might say, "I'd prefer to see it,"

  • or "I'd prefer to hear it," or "I'd prefer to actually do it."

  • So that's true.

  • But the key is that those preferences don't actually enhance your learning when we test them in experimental conditions.

  • And there are many different ways to test this,

  • but the basic design is this:

  • We bring in a bunch of different people

  • who supposedly have different learning styles.

  • We teach them in a variety of ways.

  • Then we see if teaching them in one way was somehow better for them or more effective than others.

  • So for example, let's say I had a list of words I wanted you to memorize.

  • In one group I might show you that list of words;

  • I'll present the list of words for you.

  • Or in another group, similarly,

  • I might show you images of those words.

  • In yet another group or another condition,

  • I might just let you listen to those words and hear them,

  • so you wouldn't actually see anything,

  • but you would hear someone saying: dog, hose, coat, etc.

  • Now if learning styles existed, if it was true,

  • we would expect that visual learners, or so-called visual learners,

  • would be able to recall more words when they saw them.

  • So, either when they saw the list or when they saw the actual images.

  • And we would expect that so-called auditory learners

  • would be able to recall more words when they heard them, right?

  • But the finding is, learning is actually the same.

  • The number of words you recall is exactly the same,

  • regardless of how the material is presented to you.

  • I know that's just one example of one particular study,

  • but I’m asking you to trust me

  • that this has been replicated in many different contexts

  • with many different people of all different ages,

  • and tested in slightly different ways with exactly the same results.

  • In fact, there have been several meta-analysis papers

  • where they've looked at all the research on this topic for 40 years,

  • and all of them have concluded the same thing:

  • that there is still no evidence

  • that matching teaching styles to supposed learning styles

  • or students' preferences actually makes a difference.

  • But I would encourage you to look up some of this research on your own.

  • In particular, these review articles.

  • So how is that possible?

  • I’m sure some of you are wondering, "How does that even make sense?"

  • Because it sounds so good.

  • And there's a lot of different research on learning and memory to explain this,

  • but one of the main ideas is that most of what we learn in the classroom

  • and most of what our teachers want us to know in particular

  • is stored in terms of meaning,

  • and it's not tied to one particular sense or one particular sensory mode.

  • Now, just like people have preferences,

  • it's also true that some of you might have better visual memories

  • or better auditory memories or auditory processing skills

  • compared to other people,

  • and that might be advantageous for certain type of tasks.

  • So for example, if I wanted you to remember:

  • What was the color of the coat on that last slide?

  • or: How many windows were on that house on the last slide?

  • then having a really good visual memory would help with that.

  • Likewise, if I had read you the list of words and I said,

  • "Were they read in a high voice or a low voice?"

  • or, "Which words were read by a woman,

  • and which ones were read by a man?",

  • then having a really good auditory memory would help with that.

  • But those aren't typically the kinds of questions

  • that teachers are asking you to remember,

  • or the things teachers want you to learn in the classroom.

  • Mostly what you learn in the classroom is much more conceptual,

  • or meaning based.

  • It's not just what something looks like or what something sounds like.

  • And by the way, this finding, this whole idea, also helps to explain

  • why simple rehearsal strategies, like rereading your notes

  • or just rewriting your notes,

  • even though they're very commonly used strategies,

  • they tend to be not very effective,

  • because rereading your notes or rewriting your notes

  • doesn't necessarily help you understand the material.

  • In order to retain information,

  • we have to organize it in a way that's meaningful.

  • We have to make connections to it,

  • connecting it to our experiences or coming up with our own examples

  • or thinking of how we're learning something in one class,

  • and how that relates to what else we know.

  • That's what helps us remember it.

  • There's a lot of research to support this idea

  • that most of what we learn is stored in terms of meaning,

  • and not according to visual images or auditory sounds.

  • But some of the best, most relevant research

  • comes from these classic studies that were done in the 70s.

  • Chase & Simon were interested in chess players' abilities

  • to recall pictures of chessboard games in progress.

  • So what they would do is show players an image of a game in progress

  • for a short time -- typically, only five seconds or so --

  • and then it would disappear.

  • Then they would ask the players to recall where all the pictures were,

  • where all the pieces were in that picture.

  • And what they found was a big difference

  • between novice players, or beginner players, and experts.

  • Beginner players, when asked to recall where the pieces were,

  • could only remember about four pieces.

  • Experts, on the other hand, could actually identify almost all of them -

  • over 20 of them, they could correctly identify

  • on the next game board when asked to recall these.

  • Again, they were interested in knowing: Why is this difference?

  • Why do we see this difference between beginners and experts?

  • It wasn't because, like you might be thinking,

  • that the experts had better visual memories than the beginners.

  • It was because the experts had more experience playing chess,

  • and more knowledge.

  • In other words, this game board was more meaningful to them.

  • They could see the strategy involved.

  • They could imagine what was happening

  • and why the players had their pieces positioned the way they did.

  • And to further support this idea, they did a follow-up study.

  • In the follow-up study,

  • they showed the chess players pictures of randomly arranged chessboards.

  • That's this picture here.

  • Now to you or I, or to a beginner chess player,

  • these might look basically the same.

  • I mean, yeah, the pieces are in different places,

  • but for the most part, they might be equally difficult to remember.

  • To an expert, though, we found big differences

  • when presented with a randomly configured board.

  • Once it was random,

  • experts no longer had an advantage in remembering pieces,

  • because it wasn't meaningful to them.

  • Because there's no meaningful arrangement in the second piece,

  • they lost that advantage, which again, it just shows us further evidence

  • that we store information in terms of meaning,

  • and not according to a sensory mode.

  • And this basic finding, by the way, has been extended to other contexts,

  • everything from chess to basketball,

  • to computer programming and to dance.

  • We store information in terms of meaning

  • and not limited to particular sensory modes.

  • So that's the first reason.

  • Another reason why this learning-styles theory doesn't pan out

  • is that the best way to teach something or learn something

  • really depends on what it is you want to learn.

  • It depends on the content itself.

  • Now, if I wanted you, for example,

  • to know what a bunch of different songbirds looked like,

  • the best way to teach you that

  • is to let you look at pictures of those songbirds,

  • or let you see them in real life.

  • But note that that's true for everybody,

  • not just because you're a visual learner.

  • That's because looking at them is what I'm asking you to do,

  • to remember what they look like.

  • On the other hand, if I wanted you to remember what they sounded like

  • or be able to distinguish between different songs of different songbirds,

  • then letting you hear them would be the best way.

  • But again, that applies to everybody.

  • Just like if I wanted you to know what different flowers smell like.

  • The best way to teach you that

  • is to let you experience those flowers by smelling them.

  • But that doesn't mean you're an olfactory learner,

  • or that you learn everything better through smelling.

  • I mean, take a minute to imagine

  • what that would look like in a math class

  • or an anatomy class or a physics class.

  • And as absurd as that sounds, it's really important to remember

  • that the same problems, the same criticisms apply

  • whether we're talking about so-called olfactory learners

  • or whether we're talking about auditory learners or visual learners

  • or even kinesthetic learners.

  • The last three might seem more palatable or more reasonable,

  • but the same issues apply.

  • It really depends on what I'm asking you to learn, the best way to teach it.

  • But that also brings me to another point,

  • this idea that many things can be taught using multiple senses.

  • So it's not just limited to one, for example.

  • So, say I wanted you to learn the game of football.

  • Probably the best way to teach you football

  • is to get you out there and play football,

  • to actually practice and have that physical experience playing.

  • But you would also probably benefit from being able to watch a football game,

  • or being able to look at schematics or drawings

  • of the different formations and different positions,

  • just like you'd probably also benefit from hearing coaching

  • or hearing feedback as you're playing.

  • You're getting the kinesthetic experience, the visual and the auditory.

  • Similarly, if a music teacher wanted you to know

  • the different parts of a symphony orchestra,

  • then going to an orchestra and listening to one would be beneficial.

  • But it would also add to the experience

  • if you had the capability to touch the instruments,

  • or maybe to learn how to play them.

  • Or to actually watch one live.

  • Again, it's not that different modes make it meaningful to different

  • people based on their learning style.

  • It's not like all the visual learners are only going to learn by seeing it.

  • It's because incorporating multiple sensory experiences

  • into one lesson makes it more meaningful.

  • So then you might be wondering:

  • Why does this myth persist?

  • There's a few different explanations.

  • The first one is quite simply that everybody believes it.

  • It's so common that you never even think to question it.

  • How could so many people be wrong?

  • If so many people believe it, how is it possible that it's wrong?

  • But as you know, just because something is commonly believed

  • doesn't necessarily make it true.

  • Remember, just as an example, at one point we used to think

  • that the Earth was the center of the universe,

  • until scientists like Copernicus and Galileo proved us otherwise.

  • Likewise, there was a time in which some people

  • actually believed or were worried that polio might be caused by ice cream,

  • which we now know is nonsense.

  • And, unfortunately, even today one unfortunate myth that still persists

  • is this idea that vaccines cause autism,

  • despite the lack of any scientific evidence.

  • Just because a lot of people believe it, doesn't make it true.