Teachers and pupils don’t always agree on learning styles

A study published in Frontiers in Education investigates whether there is an association between pupils’ self-reported preferred learning styles and teachers’ evaluation of each pupil’s learning style, and whether teachers’ assessments are informed by their pupils’ intellectual ability.

The term “learning styles” is used to account for differences in the way that individuals learn, and the idea that pupils learn better if teachers can tailor their teaching to a pupil’s preferred style of learning, often described as either visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

In the study conducted by Marietta Papadatou-Pastou and colleagues, 199 fifth and sixth grade pupils from five schools in Athens, Greece, chose which was their preferred learning style (visual, auditory or kinesthetic). They also completed a short IQ test (the Raven’s matrices). Their teachers were asked to identify each of their pupils’ preferred learning style. Each pupil’s learning style was judged by one teacher.

There was no significant correlation between the teachers’ judgements of their pupils’ preferred learning styles and the pupils’ own assessment. There was also no association between the teachers’ judgments of their pupils’ learning style and the students’ intellectual ability, suggesting that the teachers were not using intellectual ability as a proxy for learning style.

In Best Evidence in Brief, we have previously reported research showing that there is no practical utility in knowing pupils’ learning styles. This latest research reinforces this conclusion.

Source: The learning styles educational neuromyth: Lack of agreement between teachers’ judgments, self-assessment, and students’ intelligence (November 2018), Frontiers in Education

Making learning stick

The results of a trial reported in Impact suggest that using a software platform that incorporates a blended approach of spacing, interleaving, retrieval and the use of visual cues to learn material is more effective than other approaches in aiding pupil performance in assessments, regardless of background.

Lukas Feddern and colleagues at Seneca Learning, who designed and developed the software system, tested its efficacy in a randomised control trial of 1,120 Year 9 pupils in the UK (ages 13 to 14) from independent, grammar and comprehensive schools, including single-sex and co-educational schools. The pupils were randomly assigned to one of the following three groups: software group, spacing group (a spaced learning approach using a PDF of the same material) and massed practice group (a massed practice approach using a printed version of the material).

The results showed that while pupils in selective schools performed better in the assessment than those in non-selective schools, regardless of the experimental group, the software group improved their scores in both school settings.

Source: Retrieval, interleaving, spacing and visual cues as ways to improve independent learning outcomes at scale (February 2018) Impact, Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching, Issue 2: Science of Learning

What does the research say about learning styles?

A recent blogpost on the Deans for Impact website looks at the research evidence behind learning styles.

Dr Dylan Wiliam from UCL IoE writes that within education, the idea that students will learn more if they receive instruction that specifically matches their learning is of particular interest. However, a 2008 review of learning styles found that “If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated.” Of three robust studies, one gave partial support, while two clearly contradicted it.

Dr Wiliam argues that the whole premise of learning-styles research – that the purpose of instructional design is to make learning easy – may be incorrect. “If students do not have to work hard to make sense of what they are learning, then they are less likely to remember it in six weeks’ time.”

Teachers need to know about learning styles to avoid the trap of teaching in the style they believe works best for them. “As long as teachers are varying their teaching style, then it is likely that all students will get some experience of being in their comfort zone and some experience of being pushed beyond it.”

Source: Learning styles: what does the research say? (2016), Deans for Impact.