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Do Learning Styles Determine Grades?

Are Learning Styles a Neuroscience Myth?

A recent trending education topic is the idea that Learning Styles is a neuroscience myth, like other myths: we only use 10% of our brain, and that drinking less than six to eight glasses of water a day will cause the brain to shrink.

What are Learning Styles?

Learning styles are a person’s preferred approach to organizing and representing information. While there are a variety of learning styles models, the most common model is two-dimensional one with verbal-visual dimensions. The verbal learning style indicates that an individual prefers to represent information verbally, while the visual learning style means that the individual prefers to create mental pictures. There is also a wholist-analytic style dimension, which divides learners into whether they prefer to organize information into wholes or parts.

How did this myth arise?

The idea of learning styles based on the idea that we use different parts of the brain to process verbal and visual information. So the assumption is that students learn differently based on which part of their brains work better.

What’s the problem with the idea of learning styles?

1. We are not good of figuring out our learning styles

Research shows that we are actually very poor in figuring out how we learn. For example, a person may think they are visual learners, when in fact they have verbal strengths.

2. Learning styles do not predict grades

I wanted to explore the role of learning styles in grades so I recruited a group of high schoolers and gave them a computerized test of learning style to find out their preferred method of learning.

I then looked at their performance in standardized tests of English, math, and science. According to the Learning Style model, wholists-verbalizers will perform lowest in math.

I also tested the students’ working memory – the ability to process and remember verbal and visual information.

Results: The pattern was the same for all subject areas – students with high working memory performed best in English, Math, and Science, regardless of their learning style. Students who reported being visual learners still did very well in verbal-based tests, and vice versa.

This means that while a student may have a preferred method of learning, it is their Working Memory and not whether they are visual or verbal learners that determineS their grades.

WATCH a conversation on Learning Styles (start at 4.01)

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