Learning Styles are nonsense

As a teacher I was trained that pupils fall into one of three groups:

  • Visual learners learn best by reading and writing notes and watching demonstrations and videos.
  • Auditory learners learn best by listening to their teacher and by talking about and discussing the material being studied.
  • Kinaesthetic (or “active”) learners learn best by doing; by carrying out experiments and directly experiencing the material in a hands-on way.

and that pupils should be taught according to their preferred learning styles.

A report by the Learning and Skills Research Centre (Coffield et al, 2004) found that:

“A thriving commercial industry has also been built to offer advice to teachers, tutors and managers on learning styles, and much of it consists of inflated claims and sweeping conclusions which go beyond the current knowledge base and the specific recommendations of particular theorists.”

and that:

“[F]or [some teachers], learning styles are the central doctrine in a quasi-evangelical crusade to transform all levels of education.”

As a result names like Myers-Briggs and Honey & Mumford have become all too familiar to teachers.

A paper by Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006) investigated the learning styles hypothesis. Their results were damning, to say the least.

They found that:

“[T]here were no significant correlations between learning style and objective memory performance … [our] results cast doubt on the central assumptions of the learning style model as it is used in education.

“An assessment of learning style does not provide information about an individual’s best learning environment.”

and concluded that:

“[F]ocusing on learning styles as defined by sensory modalities [learning styles] may be a wasted effort … [M]ost people are likely multimodal and multisituational learners, changing learning strategies depending on the context of the to-be-learned material.

“[P]resenting material to students in multiple sensory modalities is undoubtedly beneficial to learning and interest.”

Harrison et al (2003) investigated the tests used to assess pupils’ learning styles and found that:

“There are a myriad of instruments available commercially, from standardized formal tests of learning styles to informal learning styles questionnaires that claim to provide educators with information on students’ unique approaches to learning. Unfortunately, most of these instruments lack a sound theoretical basis. Indeed, many have never been validated, and it is uncertain what exactly is being measured.”

This agrees with initial findings by Krätzig and Arbuthnott  in which the two different methods they used to assess pupils’ learning styles agreed only 45% of the time.

Harrison et al concluded that:

“[T]he ability to draw on multiple strategies for different tasks distinguishes good and poor learners.”

Now don’t even get me started on Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Updates, and more information:


  • Coffield, F. et al (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review (Report No. 041543), London: Learning and Skills Research Centre. Link
  • Harrison, G. et al (2003) Current perspectives on cognitive learning styles, Education Canada, 43(2), pp. 44-47. Link
  • Krätzig, G. & Arbuthnott, K. (2006) Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: a test of the hypothesis, Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), pp. 238-246. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.1.238

6 thoughts on “Learning Styles are nonsense

  1. Negating learning styles makes it easier for public school teachers. And yes, most of us are multi-modal. But that doesn’t explain how children considered learning disabled can be taught via special modalities, programs, schools, and go on to further their education and become successful adults. Most children can learn the same way. But for the 15% who can’t…it’s just easier to dismiss them, than teach them the way they learn. They go on to drop out of public schools, collateral damage of a system that will not bend.

    I’m not blaming teachers. It’s hard work motivating kids who learn differently. They don’t pay you to teach outside the lines. I have a kid who learns outside the lines, and also a degree in Special Ed. It took me years to understand. And I know of MANY parent/teachers in the same boat.

  2. was there not a time when children who were naturally left handed were punished and forced to conform to a dominant right hand method. were there not experts who said that being left handed was abnormal and perhaps the work of the devil? we grew past that eventually as I hope we do when we acknowledge that ASL does not work as effectively for VSL children. Learning styles are different in each but it is we that must adapt and not the children

  3. Learning styles? I have been researching them and have been confounded by the lack of logic…Dynamic teaching and teaching a subject well will have more impact on a persons learning. Also not missing pieces of information that can only lead to confusion such as in maths. See John Mighton and his JUMP Math and how successful his approach has been in Canada. Plenty of praise and breaking down information incrementally has made slow learners into great learners hungry for knowledge.
    I am also of the belief that learning styles are a nonsense. John Mighton, Khan Academy are two brilliant math resources with real results. No mention of learning style here.

  4. From a lifelong learner’s perspective, learning comes from the ability of the teacher to:
    – Keep the student interested and paying attention (i.e. “engaged”)
    – Explain the material in a way that the student can understand and correlate to the student’s current knowledge and experience.

    The new knowledge is best retained if then used in practice, especially if through failure.

  5. The idea that someone has a learning style that must be taught to is absurd. Intuitively so. Obviously this can only be detrimental to development as its natural conclusion is to lead to atrophy of those modalities NOT chosen. Rose, far from making it easier for teachers, negating learning styles makes it IMPOSSIBLE for teachers as they are told, as we heard in the blog article, that, “it is what ofsted want to see” Good teaching is teaching which is alive, vibrant, interested, dynamic and covers ALL the modalities. All this nonsense about learning styles is a lazy way for schools to tick a box. I’m staggered that people, working in the industry, are still talking about learning styles as though they exist. How did this ever take a hold? There is not one shred of evidence to support VAK theory and how could there be? If this is what OFSTED want to see then OFSTED needs to justify itself. I would love to see THAT statement. Teaching professionals need to promote and share good practice not blindly follow some dictate from a less than perfect quango and perpetuate this utter nonsense.

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