The concept of learning styles appeared in 1992 to address the different ways that students learn. “These different learning styles—visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic (VARK)—were identified after thousands of hours of classroom observation.”  Visual learners prefer to receive information in  charts and graphs, while auditory learners favor hearing information. Those who favor the reading/writing mode prefer the written word, and kinesthetic learners prefer hands-on activities.  A learner who would like to ascertain his preferred learning style can take a  learning styles inventory.  “If accurate, learning styles theories could have important implications for instruction because student achievement would be a product of the interaction of instruction and the student’s style.” 

Despite the prevalence of promoting the concept of learning styles in teacher training, “the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience consider them a ‘neuromyth’ and disavow the practice of matching instruction to individuals’ preferred learning styles to promote learning.” Many educators believe that learning styles are set at birth.  That belief contradicts research by Carol Dweck regarding “growth mindset,” which states that students understand that their abilities can be developed. Teachers who adhere to the learning styles theory may also be unfamiliar with the concept of neuroplasticity: “the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience.”  A 2001 study suggested that a teacher’s belief  in the VARK model influenced their “intent to implement a variety of instructional strategies to meet the needs of different learning styles.”  Yet, “belief does not really hint at whether something has been proven.”

Research has found little evidence that matching a student’s learning preferences to instructional methods produces better educational outcomes. A number of studies have found that students taught according to their identified learning style do no better than students who are not matched to their style.  Students who identify with a particular style may actually avoid other effective learning strategies or even entire subjects they believe are a better fit for a learning style they don’t think suits them. “Because students gravitate towards what they deem as their dominant learning style, they may be limiting their experiences in a variety of subject areas.” Rather than restrict themselves to a pre-conceived learning preference, they may benefit from participating in different strategies and engage the brain’s natural capacity for neuroplasticity.  


Laura Maniglia