Teaching or Learning Styles?

See “Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students” by David Glenn (Chronicle of Higher Education [15 Dec. 2009]):

Matching Style With Content

[I]nstructors, Mr. Pashler says, . . . should not waste any time or energy trying to determine the composition of learning styles in their classrooms [a.k.a. “matching” or “tracking,” i.e., sorting and labelling]. (Are 50 percent of my students visual learners? Are 20 percent of them kinesthetic learners?)

Glenn cites Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork, “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” (Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9.3 [Dec. 2009]).

Instead, teachers should worry about matching their instruction to the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions.

yet . . .

If the matching hypothesis is not well supported, then why do so many learning-styles studies show positive effects? Hundreds of studies that do not meet Mr. Pashler’s stringent criteria for experimental design suggest—at least loosely—that students do better when instructors are trained in learning-styles theory.

One possibility is that the mere act of learning about learning styles prompts teachers to pay more attention to the kinds of instruction they are delivering. An instructor who attends a learning-styles seminar might start to offer a broader mixture of lectures, discussions, and laboratory work—and that variety of instruction might turn out to be better for all students, irrespective of any “matching.”

A key figure in the learning styles movement, Robert Sternberg, criticises Pashler’s research base. In “A Triarchic Analysis of an Aptitude-Treatment Interaction” (1999), his team suggests, instead, that students learn better when their style of learning matches their teacher’s. Alternatively, as Susan Rundle argues, because it’s difficult to get teachers to match their instruction to their students, teachers should become aware of their own learning style and how that affects the way they teach.


See Sternberg et al. on learning styles (note that these links don’t offer free downloads):

Robert J. Sternberg, Elena L. Grigorenko, Michel Ferrari, Pamela Clinkenbeard, “A Triarchic Analysis of an Aptitude-Treatment Interaction,” European Journal of Psychological Assessment 15.1 (1999): 3-13.

Robert J. Sternberg, Elena L. Grigorenko and Li-fang Zhang, “Styles of Learning and Thinking Matter in Instruction and Assessment,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 3.6 (2008): 486-506.

See Rundel et al. on learning styles in teachers:

S. Rundle, A. Honigsfeld and R. Dunn, An Educator’s Guide to the Learning Individual (Denbury, CT: Performance Concepts International Ltd, 2002).

See “An Assortment of Learning Styles,” Chronicle of Higher Education (15 Dec. 2009):


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