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Learning Styles: True or False


Kent Fischer has one of the most provocative local education blogs, one he's written as a reporter for The Dallas Morning News for about four years now. He focuses mostly on issues related to Dallas ISD, but writes about broader trends and concerns for K-12 schools as well.

One of Kent's items has been making the rounds among education reporters this week, with a link to this video that questions the notion of "learning styles." The focus on the idea that children all have different optimal ways learning has been revelatory for many educators. But the learning-styles model also has a significant corps of dissenters that deems it's misguided, even destructive.

I'm not familiar with Daniel Willingham's work, but the Web site for the University of Virginia psychology professor says he is focused on "applying cognitive psychology to K-12 education." He writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine. His views are pretty clear. What do you think?


Hi Kathleen
One thing to note. Learning styles theories hypothesize that different individuals can learn what is essentially the same material more or less easily, depending on how that material is presented. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is a theory of abilities, which is quite different. I seeks to describe one some people are better able to learn and use knowledge and skills in different domains (e.g., math vs. English, although he uses more precise, science-y terms.)

"Good teaching is good teaching" is right. As educators we need to be sure to hit ALL learning styles with every lesson.

Adding to what Dan says, the mistaken conflation of learning styles theory and Gardner's MI theory has happened over and over again for the last 26 years. That makes it important to explain it adequately: Multiple Intelligences means that we all can think/perform/create in a variety of domains (linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, visual-spatial, naturalistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic) and each of us has a unique profile of intelligences (relative strengths and weaknesses). The implications for education have been widely explored through numerous books, articles, and curricula.

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