Hello Workwell

The Myth of Learning Styles

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Photo by Fischer Twins on Unsplash

Photo by Fischer Twins on Unsplash

What kind of learning style best suits you? Since the 1970's, learning styles have been heralded as a way to personalize our learning experience, hopefully for the better, making us smarter and more likely to succeed. Here's the catch: there is no science that supports it. If anything, it may have prevented people from trying subjects or going after jobs that they believed they weren't good at. ("I'm not good at math, therefore, I can't be an engineer." "I can't do the math, therefore, I can't be a manager.") Researcher Beth Rogowsky and her colleagues have carefully analyzed some of the most common learning styles and found that styles don't mean much. For example, if you take a standardized adult learning style inventory and the result is that you're a visual learner, you actually don't do any better when you're reading the words than if you hear the words. Likewise, if you test out as an auditory learner, you don't learn any better when you hear the material as opposed to when you can see it. Translation: there is no statistically significant difference when it comes to the relationship between a learning style preference and instructional method on your ability to comprehend the materials. Not only has research shown that targeting your best "learning style", doesn't appear to help you learn better, it seems like relying on your preferred style weakens your ability to learn using other senses. 

Here's what we know: stop worrying about what "type" of learner you are and instead, try different ways of learning new material or a new skill. Use all of your senses, and tools, to learn. Read, listen, draw and then do it all again. If we're going to get scientific about it, memory and learning are about spaced repetition (If you're up for it, get lost in the results of this Google search.) 

So, if you wished you could change fields, or maybe go back to school, and you're really interested in how to prepare your mind for learning, check out Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential. This online class is taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley, Ramón y Cajal Distinguished Scholar of Global Digital Learning at McMaster University and Professor of Engineering and Industrial & Systems Engineering at Oakland University. She's written numerous books on the neuroscience of learning and is a student of her own teaching. She went back to school in her thirties to pursue an engineering degree after a lifetime of believing she wasn't good at math. Booyah baby!