I have a background in education and part of that education included learning about various learning styles. Imagine my surprise and confusion when I recently learned that there is no evidence to suggest that teaching to learning styles increases student success. What?!?!
Research using Kolb’s work on learning styles, placed learners in one of four categories on a 12-item instrument: accommodators, who learn from hands-on experience and gut feelings; divergers, who excel at seeing multiple options and viewpoints; assimilators, who learning by putting information into concise logical forms; and convergers, who do best when they can find practical applications for ideas and theories. The question was, which of the 12 ways of learning course content would be preferred by each of these learning styles? After using Kolb’s inventory to ascertain the learning styles of 201 students in eight different undergraduate management classes, the researcher used those scores to create four additional groupings that represented combinations of the four basic learning style categories. Each individual was asked to identify which of the 12 ways listed above they preferred to use to learn course content. Only three of the 12 ways could statistically be linked to a learning style, confirming earlier research which also found weak relationships between assignment preferences and learning styles. Researcher Loo writes, “In this sample, all learning styles and types showed a dislike for writing major term papers, giving presentations to the class and doing library research, but showed a liking for doing practical exercises, solving problems and participating in groups.” (p. 107) He theorizes that strong links between learning preferences and learning styles do not exist because of large individual differences within each learning style and type (the various combinations of the individual styles).
Based on this research and the lack of evidence that learning styles exist at all may indicate that instructors should use teaching strategies that best get the content across to students, rather than trying to accommodate preferences of all students.