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A prevalent neuromyth is that of “learning styles.”
According to this belief, people can be classified by how they learn best and should concentrate their educational efforts in that mode. If someone is an auditory learner, the idea goes, she’ll master a subject or skill faster and more effectively by listening to lectures than reading books or through first-hand experiences.
The idea of learning styles has infected our education systems and people’s understanding of themselves. And psychologists worry this can have consequences in our lifelong-learning pursuits.
There is a grain of truth to the myth. Namely, people do differ in their abilities and preferences. The VARK learning model, for example, classifies people as either visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic (hands-on) learners. Each method is part of the learning process, and people will have their favourites. Such preferences are as true in education as anything else in life.
Many proponents believe learning styles are inheritable, emerge early in childhood, have a physiological basis, predict learning outcomes, and are immutable.
Recent studies found no supporting evidence that learning was enhanced by a slavish dedication to a student’s learning style
In fact, despite broad acceptance, studies continued to show no benefit to a learning-style approach. As one study’s authors so aptly put it: “The most important finding of this study is, in essence, a non finding.”
Why then does the learning styles myth survive despite the evidence and experts’ red-faced arguments? Because like all neuromyths, it tells us something we want to believe.
The classic music myth gives worried parents a sense of control. The 10-percent myth tells us we’re secretly super-geniuses who just need to unlock our potential.
People prefer brain-based accounts of behaviour, and they like to categorize people into types. Learning styles allow people to do both of those things.
It may also tie into common misconceptions of success.
Success is complicated. It requires the right mixture of education, resources, skill, and luck. But we tend to streamline this equation into specialization equals success.
Engage with subjects in as many material ways as possible. Read, converse, seek out examples, get hands-on, and experiment. While we may have preferences, we should also challenge ourselves to try new methods and re-engage with less-favoured ones.
Each style is its own “genre” and each can be valuable in the creation of your lifelong-learning path.
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