Swansea University research finds that the Learning Styles myth is thriving in higher education

he use of ‘Learning Styles’ in education has been thoroughly and repeatedly discredited, yet research by Swansea University has found that it is still widespread across the world, and this could potentially be harmful for students.

Common Learning Styles methods involve using questionnaires to classify students into groups like ‘visual’ or ‘kinaesthetic’, and then trying to teach them according to their ‘style’. The work undertaken by Dr Phil Newton from the Swansea University Medical School, which is published by Frontiers, is an attempt to understand if and why the myth of Learning Styles persists.

Dr Newton analysed current research literature to capture the picture that an educator would encounter were they to search for “Learning Styles” with the intent of determining whether the research evidence supported their use.

‌Dr Newton found that the overwhelming majority (89%) of recent research papers on Learning Styles, as listed in the ERIC and PubMed research databases, implicitly or directly endorse the use of Learning Styles in Higher Education.

The presence of these papers in the pedagogical literature demonstrates that an educator, attempting to take an evidence-based approach to teaching, would be presented with a strong yet misleading message that the use of Learning Styles is endorsed by the current research literature. This has potentially negative consequences for students and teachers as it may mean that their time and money are wasted, or that students are deterred from pursing studies which appear to contradict with their ‘style’.

Stressed student

Speaking about Learning Styles and his findings Dr Newton said:

“Learning Styles do not work, yet the current research literature is full of studies which appear to advocate their use. This likely has a negative impact on students. It is in everyone’s interests for educational research and resources – time, money, effort, to be directed toward those educational interventions which demonstrably improve student learning, and away from those which do not. Educators should take a second to run a Google search on their own institution – put in the domain name – youruniversity.edu or .ac.uk or whatever it is, alongside the term “learning styles”. Chances are, something will come up.  Start there! “

Dr Phil Newton’s paper ‘The Learning Styles myth is thriving in higher education’  can be accessed on the Frontiers website athttp://tinyurl.com/gldzx4t

Find out more information about the different types of Learning Styles and the research that has been done on them in this blogpost written by Dr Newton https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mouse-man/201504/what-are-learning-styles