Catering for learning styles hurts learning

Matilda wallpaper called Matilda

Agatha Trunchbull, the demonic school mistress from Roald Dahl’s book “Matilda”

(Reading time: 2 minutes)

The idea that teachers should cater for different learning styles to help their students learn better has been around for years. A lot of teachers have been trained to adjust their teaching to the learning preferences of their students. It turns out, however, that there is no scientific evidence proving the validity of this theory. The only thing research has showed us is that people have preferences.

Beth A. Rogowsky, a former school teacher and a current researcher and university professor, conducted research to check this theory. It turned out that people with visual preferences generally coped better with the tasks than people of auditory preferences, no matter if the tasks catered for their preferred learning style or not.

Rogowsky says that testing students’ learning styles, labeling students and teaching to cater for their preferences do students a great disservice. Identifying a student’s learning style gives a student a reason not to learn and not to try to develop certain skills. Keeping students away from the discomfort they might get from practicing their weaker skills only prevents them from developing these skills.

Many people believe that the only way to learn something is to like it and have fun with it. Rogowsky, however, says that learning can be hard and uncomfortable. She believes that success is a much better motivator than fun, so teachers should do their best to help their students really learn, and when they cope, they would like to learn more.

How could this information be useful to us? Well, there are more and more people today who prefer watching videos or listening to podcasts to reading, especially longer texts. However, most of the exams we take to get into high school or university come through the medium of the written word. Then, at university, we have to read a lot. Many of the well-paid jobs we dream of compel us to read through a lot of information. Besides, in the same contexts, we need to know how to write too. We better learn how to read and write rather than do our best to avoid these activities.