THE CONTROVERSY OVER LEARNING STYLES

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We’ve all learnt about the different learning styles and how they can affect learning and how they should affect our teaching. At a basic level, it makes sense that learners learn differently and that different activities appeal to different learners. It can be difficult, though, to cater for all of our learners all the time when we have a class of 30 students, so often we end up with a hodgepodge lesson which includes all the different learning styles in the hopes that each learner will be satisfied at some point.

Theories on learning styles

The reason these theories on learning styles came about was because we were trying to find a reason why some people are better learners than others. If a learner does not grasp a concept, for example, it could be because it was not presented in the way that was optimal for that particular learner. The teacher, then, is responsible for making sure that learners are taught in ways which suit their learning style.

It also resonates with study habits. If you need to make mind maps and draw pictures when you are studying, then you are clearly a visual learner and that’s easy for you to identify with. As a student, then, you would imagine that lessons which incorporated visual elements would suit you better. Again, then, it’s up to the teacher to ensure the lessons are appropriate for the individual learners.

However, there is actually not much evidence to prove that if you are taught in a manner which matches your learning style, then you will learn better. So, there is no reason to try and think of activities which can be adapted to suit all your students’ different needs. Instead, you should focus on finding the best way to teach that particular concept. In other words, which learning style suits the content and not the learner.

Thankfully, this takes a lot of the stress off the teacher. Though, of course, different activities still need to be included in the lesson simply to provide variety, the burden of learning is on the learner rather than the teacher. As teachers, we cannot learn for our students; this is something they need to do themselves.

Of course, this does not mean that learning styles should be ignored completely. Learning styles are important when it comes to self-study. If you know and understand how you learn best, you can use those methods when you are studying independently. So encourage your students to utilise their own learning style to make their studying more effective, but don’t bend over backwards trying to deal with the different needs of all your learners just to satisfy their learning styles.

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