Why I Still Teach Learning Styles

Wow, do people get fired up about learning styles or what? In 2009, a now famous study de-bunked the “science” behind the idea that different learners would benefit by having access to materials customized to their specific learning styles.

Recently, Will Thalheimer upped the ante for his “Learning Styles Challenge” to $5,000 for anyone who can scientifically prove the value of learning style theory.

I respect science. If scientific studies have been conducted that say we don’t need to customize our training courses to offer only verbal information to auditory learners, only written information for visual learners and only movement-based information for kinesthetic learners, then let’s not create all those individualized materials.

But I’ve never, ever heard of anyone spending any extra time customizing three sets of materials for their learners, depending on their learning style.

I have, however, heard of presenters who lecture and talk at their audience for their entire presentation.

I have sat through training sessions in which trainers tell us the theory behind their topic, without allowing anyone to de-brief the ideas that were shared.

I have sat through many a sermon and homily on Sunday morning when, in the absence of any visual cues or movement, I simply zone out and begin thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch.

Incorporating design elements that include auditory, visual and kinesthetic activities into a presentation or training module is simply good teaching. It’s simply a way to engage learners, to get them involved, to make them feel a part of the presentation and to capture their imagination. Therefore, it’s something I continue to teach in my train-the-trainer sessions.


4 thoughts on “Why I Still Teach Learning Styles

  1. Thanks for this post Brian. Could not agree more. It seems that the manifestation of learning styles is just having a truly participant-focused experience. The other reason that I discuss in classes is that none of our learning objectives are achieved by simply listening to a presenter speak. Regardless of learning style it is essential that I build in interactions/discussions/demonstrations that show me, as the facilitator, that we are meeting our objectives and ready to move on.

  2. I struggled with the Myers Briggs type test after I read some research showing it maybe wasn’t very valid or reliable. However, I believe it’s still a valuable exercise. Helping people think about and consider their own personalities and how that impacts their behavior is critical, and the MBTI is a fun, user-friendly way to do it.

    After reading your post, I’m now on board with learning styles, too!

    • I think MBTI is an interesting example. I know when we did that as a team a few years ago, it seemed to help explain some of our interpersonal differences. While the “science” behind it may not exist, it seemed to be a valuable tool to spark discussion.

      With learning styles, I think it’s important to disclose that it’s not a scientific principle, but rather a doorway into discussion about the fact that there are different ways to deliver content. Relying too much on one delivery method (ie: lecture) can be a tool for anti-engagement.

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