tl;dr: It seems Learning Styles are demonstrably not really a thing.
Basics: In a 2015 paper titled, “The Scientific Status of Learning Styles Theories”1, the authors posit that evidence is lacking in the defense of the Learning Styles Model. On the 24th of July 2018, one of the authors of this study conducted an interview.2 In this interview, Daniel Willingham presents some salient implications of some of his new work, presented below:
Q. What are the implications of this new work?
A. One educational implication of this research is obvious: educators need not worry about their students’ learning styles. There’s no evidence that adapting instruction to learning styles provides any benefit. Nor does it seem worthwhile to identify students’ learning styles for the purpose of warning them that they may have a pointless bias to process information one way or another. The bias is only one factor among many that determine the strategy an individual will select – the phrasing of the question, the task instructions and the time allotted all can impact thinking strategies.
A second implication is that students should be taught fruitful thinking strategies for specific types of problems. Although there’s scant evidence that matching the manner of processing to a student’s preferred style brings any benefit, there’s ample evidence that matching the manner of processing to the task helps a lot. Students can be taught useful strategies for committing things to memory, reading with comprehension, overcoming math anxiety or avoiding distraction, for example. Learning styles do not influence the effectiveness of these strategies.
Thoughts: There is a popular idea amongst many teachers that people learn best in one of a set number of ways. There are many different models, or sets, of modes of thinking but the one that I hear most makes the distinction on the following basis: you are either a visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic learner. The implication has been that we as teachers should discover what kind of student we have in front of us and tailor their learning with that in mind. <Tangent> My initial concern with this paradigm is that students who don’t like English or Maths can now give a reason for their relative lack of success in that subject: “I’m not good because I’m not the right kind of learner”. It shifts the responsibility from the learner to the teacher. Surely this is the whole point of you being a teacher: to find the best of way of teaching each student. Harumph! Sort of. This doesn’t take into account though that what is perhaps more important than whether they learn if Winnie the Pooh is communist propaganda or integration is the corollary of derivation is that they are good learners. By good here I mean that they are characteristically able to learn something that they desire to learn. If I have a ready-made excuse not to learn a thing, especially if that is provided by my teacher, then I will be at a disadvantage in terms of learning that thing. To attempt to get back to my main point, this is only a real concern if it is the case that people are limited by a learning style, which, as it turn out, they don’t appear to be. <Tangent/>