Does Tailoring Instruction to “Learning Styles” Help Students Learn?
In this 2018 analysis, Daniel Willingham revisits his 2005 review of the literature on learning styles. Thirteen years ago he concluded there is no evidence supporting theories that distinguish between visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles and improved achievement. To update his earlier study, Willingham examined research published since 2005. Learning style theorists have postulated that teaching to a specific learning style will help struggling students achieve success in school. Willingham begins by differentiating between learning style and ability. He defines learning style as the way a person completes tasks, and ability as how well the person executes the tasks. Learning style advocates believe that having a student focus on a preferred style will lead to improved performance. The recent research examined by Willingham supports his earlier conclusion: “There is not convincing evidence to support the idea that tailoring instruction according to a learning-styles theory improves student outcomes.” Matching instruction to learning style ultimately offers no credible benefit to students.Willingham did find new research confirming that people do show a preference for one style over another, but acting on the preference does not improve performance.
The implications from this research are that educators do not need to match learning style to student. Finally, it is worthwhile for teachers to teach students strategies that are effective and necessary for solving specific problems such as memorizing information, reading with comprehension, overcoming math anxiety, and avoiding distraction.
Citation: Willingham, D. T. (2018). Does tailoring instruction to “learning styles” help students learn? Ask the cognitive scientist. American Educator, 28–43.