The current scientific consensus on the idea of learning styles is clear: People often express a preference for learning in a particular way, they may even have distinct ways of thinking, but the notion of differentiating teaching to match students’ learning styles is one that lacks supporting evidence. We can have a semantic argument about whether this means that learning styles ‘don’t exist’ but I don’t think that advances us very far because it is this last meaning – learning styles as a guide to differentiation – that is the one that is commonly understood in the teaching profession.
The fact that differentiating according to learning styles is a practice that lacks evidence, coupled with the fact that differentiation is time-consuming for teachers, means that it is important to get the message out there. If you are differentiating your lessons to suit your students’ learning styles then you are wasting your time.
On EduTwitter, it is easy to assume that everyone has received this message by now. But we all know that EduTwitter is not the real world and there is plenty of literature and training out there that still perpetuates the learning styles myth.
Now, one prominent proponent of learning styles, Carol Black, has written a blog in defence of the idea. Black seems to think that the idea of matching teaching to learning styles is a ‘straw man’ i.e. nobody actually thinks that we should do this. However, it is not clear to me what she therefore thinks is the value of learning styles theories for teachers. But that does not seem to be the main point of the piece.
Instead, throughout her blog, Black reproduces a number of Tweets debunking learning styles that are all written by men. She comments:
“A disturbing feature of this discourse in education is the frequency with which it takes the form of male researchers and pundits telling female educators that their views on learning are cognitively childish and irrational and should therefore be disregarded. Cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, a prominent debunker, has shared some rather patronizing speculations as to why the vast majority of (mostly female) teachers persist in thinking their students have different learning styles (“I think learning styles theory is widely accepted because the idea is so appealing. It would be so nice if it were true.”) His paternal tone is especially disturbing since he makes his case by failing to mention the existence of legitimate competing views from respected scientists and education researchers.”
Is this really about sexism? Are learning styles debunkers really just a bunch of men having a go at what they perceive to be the silly beliefs of women?
No. It is about science, and men and women can access scientific truths equally well.
With very little effort, I managed to find the following Tweets from some pretty smart women. Hopefully, this will restore a little balance to the universe: