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Turns Out A “Preferred Learning Style” Isn’t A Thing

You think you're a "visual learner"? Think again.

The idea that we all learn better when information is condensed into a certain style — visual, aural, “by doing” — is a pretty popular one. But interestingly, it has no bearing in science.

We all think we have a way of learning that suits just us. It’s why we have unique ways of writing things down on flash cards, or recording our voice saying our notes. In fact, it’s pretty common to hear someone say that they’re “a visual learner”.

It’s also common for teachers to hold this belief, too. As Wired pointed out, a survey of teachers from China and the UK, amongst others, found that 96 per cent of them believed students learned better according to their “style”.

But really, a specific learning style has no actual bearing on the success of a student’s grades. Well, according to science, anyway.

The Evidence

A recent research study conducted by a pair of researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine wanted to know once and for all whether or not “learning styles” are a legit thing.

So, they got hundreds of undergraduates who were taking an anatomy course to be participants in the study. This particular anatomy course involved practical lab classes and lectures. At the beginning, they asked the students to complete a test on VARK, a website that asks you a bunch of questions and determines your “learning style”. Once students were given their learning style, they were encouraged to study for the rest of the semester according to how their learning style permitted. I.e: students who learn better “aurally” were told to listen to notes rather than write them down, etc.

It turns out, by the end of the semester, the researchers found that the students who studied according to their “style” did not have a meaningful improvement in their grades. Specifically, “student performance in anatomy was not correlated with their score in any VARK categories”.

So What Does Work Then?

According to the findings from the study, practicing with the microscope and learning off lecture notes were proven to increase grade performance in the anatomy class. This was true no matter what kind of “learning style” the students subscribed to.

As highlighted on Phys.org, the study’s findings “provide strong evidence that instructors and students should not be promoting the concept of learning styles for studying and/or for teaching interventions. Thus, the adage of ‘I can’t learn subject X because I am a visual learner’ should be put to rest once and for all.”

So next time, don’t rely strictly on your “learning style” to study because you might be limiting yourself.

You can have a look at the full study here