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No More Learning Styles! Four Accurate Alternatives for Describing Learners



Students learning in small group.

Hello, colleagues! Each month I highlight one of the frequently asked questions I receive as I make my way around collaborating with colleagues across the states. For more context about this blog site, check out this first post. Then come back and keep reading this one! For those who get the flow and are already familiar—let’s get to it! Also, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post or use the comment section of this site to keep our conversations and learning moving in glorious directions!


This Month’s FAQ

As a long-time teacher, I still use the term "learning styles"—is that so terrible?


Bottom Line

It may not be so terrible, but it could be—so teachers, beware! As we learn more about the way individual brains soak up learning, we must adjust our language to match our evolving awareness. The term learning styles has that “locked in” rigid kind of thinking about how individuals learn—so why not let your language evolve with your expanding perspective and set your students free!


Consider replacing the language of learning styles with learning preferences, learner abilities, strategic learners, or learning in context to match our current understanding of the ways individuals learn. Language matters, but what matters most is that you are flexible in designing lessons around the strengths and needs of the learners in your room. That means you know your students, the context of your lesson, and you embed strategies accordingly. Keep reading!


What do you mean there’s no such thing as learning styles?!

It has been ten years since I wrote about learning styles (blink!). Check out my original post: We Don’t Need Learning Styles via MiddleWeb (Yes, that's right... I had plenty of time to get really comfortable with making the shift away from learning styles!).


We can acknowledge learners have preferences, such as visual, auditory, kinesthetic modes for learning. But there is no reason to lock ourselves into thinking that any individual needs one mode or the same style to engage in learning. The context of the lesson and specific strategies are what’s important. Learners may have a visual preference when participating in a particular lesson in social studies class, yet, the very next class they may prefer an auditory approach for a particular lesson in English. If that English teacher followed a learning style approach—they would provide a visual of the text and possibly stop there—when auditory--for that lesson was best. Also, strategies that guide learners to make sense of the content should be a main focus.

It comes down to this... Know your students, consider the context of the lesson, and be intentional to embed strategies that work for them.


Perspective and Language Matters

I also hear a lot about educators who experience a bit of backlash as they continue to use the term learning styles to describe how they are designing instruction to meet the varying needs of their students. These teachers ask me: "What’s the big deal? Is it okay to still say learning styles even though I get it—I know I have to be flexible?”

I say, perspective and language matters. As we learn more about the way individual brains soak up learning, we become more responsible educators when we adjust our language to match our evolving awareness. The term learning styles has that “locked in” kind of thinking about how individuals learn—so why not let your language evolve with your expanding perspective. Using language such as learning preferences, learner abilities, strategic learners, and learning in context align best with how to express what we now know. It’s worth repeating…as far as we know, learning styles don’t exist—so why not stay current in the language we use to align with what is best for every learner in any classroom.


Do you agree? Disagree? Somewhere in between? Let’s talk about this! Please leave your comments below.


Resources to explore

2. Why Kids Don’t Like School by Daniel T. Willingham





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