What’s Your Learning Style? Psych!

You’ve heard of learning styles, right?  You might think of yourself as a visual learner.  Or someone who needs to write things down.  The idea of learning styles is ingrained in many of us, our teachers, and our schools.  Indeed, I’ve sat through many presentations and discussions about the need to cater to different learning styles.

But recent research suggests different learning styles don’t even exist!  People might believe themselves to be visual learners, but experiments show they are no better learning with visual materials compared to the alternatives like readings or audio clips.  A psychologist at the University of Virginia recently wrote a short article about the myth of learning styles; check it out for links to scientific research on the subject as well as examples of specific experiments that have failed to find evidence for differentiated learning styles.  This isn’t the final word on the subject, of course, but it is pretty compelling evidence that we’ve been thinking about learning styles wrong.

When I first joined the school board five years ago, I assumed most decisions in education– particularly big decisions– were based on scientific research and empirical evidence.  The stakes, after all, are huge in terms of both the educational lives of our kids and the cost of public education to taxpayers.  Since then, I’ve been surprised to learn how much of the conventional wisdom about education is based on assumptions, traditions, and personal anecdotes rather than concrete evidence.

We can do better than this in East Penn, which is why I’ve been making a focus on data and rigorous analysis an increasing priority of my work on the board.

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