Learning Styles Don’t Matter

by David Smetters, CEO, Respondus Inc.

A recent article in a psychology journal presents evidence that learning styles are a bunch of bunk.

The authors express it more eloquently, but their conclusion is that students can learn equally well using different learning styles. More than that, they assert that students don’t learn information any better when their preferred learning styles are used.

I’m a science wonk. I was trained in social research and I crave the scientific method. So what does this study really tell us?

It tells us that students are intelligent beings, capable of learning information in many different ways. It tells us that students can learn from written text, pictures, and from speech.

What’s missing in this study is the cultural context in which learning occurs. I don’t question whether today’s students are intelligent enough to learn using different methods. I’m even willing to concede that students learn equally well using different approaches in an experimental setting.

But education doesn’t occur in an experimental setting. There are hundreds of variables and competing factors that impact a student’s learning experience. As an educator, I compete with Facebook, text messages, YouTube, uninvolved parents, girlfriends, children, work, late nights, and hangovers. I compete with other instructors who teach the same course, other universities offering the same degree. I deal with teacher evaluations, government regulations, student satisfaction surveys, retention rates, and outcomes.

Herein is the importance of learning styles. It’s about cutting through the noise, enticing students to learn what you want them to learn. It’s about meeting students where they are, even if you think it’s ridiculous where they are. It’s about cutting the learning objectives into small, bite-sized pieces so students can swallow them more easily.

Today’s learners are multi-taskers and media sponges. They are cynics and Sophists. They have a little knowledge about a lot of things. As an instructor you can’t stand in front of a classroom and tell students to learn it your way or hit the highway. Because you know what? They will hit the highway. They’ll switch to another class, or even to another school. If learners don’t like your teaching style, they’ll solve it with a click.

Teaching styles matter. Learning styles matter. They are two sides of the same coin. It’s not whether a student has the capacity to learn a certain way. It’s about offering compelling and competitive ways to get students to learn what you want them to learn.

Our StudyMate product is a powerful example of why learning styles are important. Anyone who spends two minutes with StudyMate sees that the process of learning can be interesting and fun.  It’s not that students can’t learn from lectures or by reading textbooks. It’s about engaging learners with technologies that are familiar and enjoyable. It’s about making learning interactive and social, just like a student’s daily life. It’s recognizing that learning is a part of life, and that life involves culture, and that today’s culture wants more than traditional lectures and textbooks.

StudyMate is also about giving students flexibility in how and when they want to learn. It supports both collaborative and individualized learning. Students can learn on PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets … online or offline … in a classroom or on the lawn. This flexibility is important to today’s learners and it’s intertwined with learning styles.

I’ll close with this simple challenge. Click the button below and spend a few minutes learning some stuff with StudyMate. If you’re like most people, you’ll find it compelling and a bit addictive. And while it’s unscientific and anecdotal, it’s simple proof that the process of learning matters. Learning styles do matter.

View Sample StudyMate Activities