Thursday, 12 August 2010

Learning Styles don't exist.

I came across this brilliant example of how to use YouTube through @samuelwebster. Do you talk about learning styles when teaching?


  1. Some good thoughts in this but wondering whether students that don't have a good visual memory should be considered differently when teaching a primarily visual subject like anatomy. Or is anatomy not as visual as those of us with good visual memories think?

  2. How would you teach anatomy differently? I think Willingham has said that the modality of the subject being learned is more important than any learning preferences. Imagine an auditory learner trying to learn to play basketball by simply listening to a coach on how to do it. Wouldn't work. If someone wants to learn to play basketball, they have to do it physically.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I guess this gets to the heart of what are we trying to teach with anatomy. My first thought was that it is the meaning of anatomy which is important. We are only interested in the path of the median nerve in so far as it can be disturbed and cause symptoms. In Belfast we has dissection (kinaesthetic), and I listened to others talking about it (audio) and studied atlases (visual) but it was only when I bought a textbook which emphasised the clinical application, and therefore the meaning that I started to pass the exams. Another form of meaning in anatomy is embryology. Remembering structures can be easier when you understand how they have come to be there.

    I wonder what others think.

  4. The existence of learning styles seems to be another topic that polarises opinion. Back in 2007 Kieran Walsh who is an editor at the BMJ published a letter in Medical Education (doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2007.02774.x) refuting the existence of learning styles claiming that the evidence upon which people argued for them was weak. Not only that, he also argued that there were probably more inventories and theories about them than there were published articles in the literature. He concluded by saying learning styles were probably nothing more than a reflection of one’s personality. The other thing to mention about learning styles is that if we have a particular style, we cannot completely be sure that we are using it and not another. We may may use one learning style to complete the first task, and then a completely different one in the second - despite both tasks being the same subject. How does that affect how teachers teach or infact how we approach our learning?

  5. Hello Rakesh,
    I know you have just been doing the Dundee postgrad course in Medical Education. Did they talk about learning styles?
    Why do you say that they polarise opinion. Are you aware of people in medical education wgo are deeply welded to the concept? The way you write about using one style or another sugggests that you do think that they exist, just that we can not really know about them.
    Willingham suggests that we all use different portions of our memory for learning, and will use some better than others, but as anon says, it is the modality of the subject being learned which is important. That seems intuitive to me.
    The difficult part to me seems to be figuring out how to teach meaning. Is that something a teacher can do, or is something that the learner has to do?

  6. The Secondary Education model still pees its pants about visual /kinaesthetic learning etc, and if you go for an interview somebody may actually ask you about it (tho less fashionable than when I trained 7 years ago.) It's a whitewash - the point is that it's easier to maintain order with a bunch of kids drawing something cos even the dumb bunnies can do it, and they are the ones who disrupt mixed ability classes. (Also reduces MARKING). Does it dumb down the whole class? Yes of course it does, as does the theory that the teacher is responsible for student behaviour. Both ideas really suggest that a learner doesn't need to do any actual working, and that it is ok for students to show no respect to either the subject or a work ethic or their fellow teachers or students.

    Teaching meaning is all about 1 - metaphors and 2 - How It Works (ie joining knowledge up so it makes sense, either with what the student already knows, or with the other stuff they are learning - as with you, AM, and anatomy. If it doesn't jigsaw together with knowledge you already have, you can't retain it cos it's neither proved nor - ooh - meaingful. (2 explains reason why 1 works)

  7. It's funny that we talk about evidence-based medicine but often ignore evidence-based instructional design. There's no evidence that adapting ISD to learning styles creates more effective learning. Learning styles are fun to think about in the same way that horoscopes are fun to read.

  8. Many research studies listed about this topic (myth) here:


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