Learning styles describe the different ways we absorb, process and apply information. Most people will have identifiable learning style preferences. At face value, learning styles seems useful for enhancing metacognitive learning.
However, there is a lot of conjecture regarding the usefulness of learning styles. The major critique is that there is no imperial evidence suggesting that learning style matching, i.e. only playing to learning styles preference(s), improves ability to learn and recall information. Whilst this research needs to be respected, it does not mean that learning styles are irrelevant or play no role with improving learning.
Learning styles is a very useful tool for students. In short, the styles themselves – as well as associated strategies – can increase exposure to different ways of learning, revising and applying information, students would otherwise be unaware of.
For example, consider a student with a ‘read & write’ learning style preference. Learning style matching would suggest that this student should only learn and study by reading and re-writing.
However, exposing this student to other available learning styles would provide them with additional ways to learn. For example, strategies related to ‘auditory’ learning such as reciting notes aloud or playing back tape recorded lessons, could be used to help memorise content. Additionally, leveraging a ‘visual’ learning style by converting written lesson notes into a structured diagram, or creating a mind map (for an essay topic) may be an equally useful technique for this student. There are many other examples of learning style strategies that could further aid learning.
The science underpinning the rationale to use multiple ways of learning is related to ‘Neuroplasticity’. In essence, we know that the brain can process more information and improve its performance through developing stronger neural connections. In short, using multiple ways to absorb, communicate and apply learning helps promote more ‘whole-brain’ wiring.
Therefore, the value of learning styles is not about matching to preferred styles, but rather understanding and leveraging off multiple styles and strategies. We need to help promote student awareness of the many ways to absorb, communicate and apply information – learning styles is a great tool for achieving this!
Interested in learning more? MindScholar Online Learning module ‘Learning Styles’ has students undertake a Learning Style questionnaire and provides a fact sheet covering all the learning styles with tips on how best to apply them in learning and study!
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