Belief in learning styles myth may be detrimental

May 30, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Many people, including educators, believe learning styles are set at birth and predict both academic and career success even though there is no scientific evidence to support this common myth, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

In two online experiments with 668 participants, more than 90 percent of them believed people learn better if they are taught in their predominant learning style, whether that is visual, auditory or tactile. But those who believed in learning styles split evenly into an "essentialist" group, with more strongly held beliefs, and a "non-essentialist" group, with more flexible beliefs about learning styles, said lead researcher Shaylene Nancekivell, PhD, a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan.

"We found that some people are more likely to believe that students inherit their learning style from their parents and that learning styles affect brain function," she said. "We also found that educators who work with younger children are more likely to hold this essentialist view. Many parents and educators may be wasting time and money on products, services and teaching methods that are geared toward learning styles."

In their responses to survey questions, the essentialist group members were more likely to state that learning styles are heritable, instantiated in the brain, don't change with age, mark distinct kinds of people, and predict both academic and career success. The non-essentialist group held looser beliefs about learning styles, viewing them as malleable, overlapping and more determined by environmental factors. The research was published online in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Psychological essentialism is the belief that certain categories of people have a true nature that is biologically based and highly predictive of many factors in their lives. People with essentialist opinions about learning styles may be more resistant to changing their strongly held views even when they learn that numerous studies have debunked the concept of learning styles, Nancekivell said.

Previous research has shown that the learning styles model can undermine education in many ways. Educators spend time and money tailoring lessons to certain learning styles for different students even though all students would benefit from learning through various methods. Students study in ways that match their perceived learning style even though it won't help them succeed. Some teacher certification programs incorporate learning styles into their courses, which perpetuates the myth for the next generation of teachers. Academic support centers and a plethora of products also are focused on learning styles, despite the lack of scientific evidence supporting them.

The first experiment included participants from the general U.S. workforce, including educators. The second experiment was weighted so that at least half of the participants were educators to provide a better understanding of their views. The small percentage of participants who didn't believe in learning styles weren't included in the analysis because the study was examining differing beliefs about learning styles. Demographic factors such as race, gender, parental status and income level didn't affect people's views on learning styles in the study, but educators of young children were more likely to have essentialist beliefs.

"My biggest concern is that time is being spent teaching young children maladaptive strategies for learning," Nancekivell said. "It is important that children from a very young age are taught with the best practices so they will succeed."

Previous surveys in the United States and other industrialized countries across the world have shown that 80% to 95% of people believe in learning styles. It's difficult to say how that myth became so widespread, Nancekivell said.

"It seems likely that the appeal of the learning styles myth rests in its fit with the way people like to think about behavior," she said. "People prefer brain-based accounts of behavior, and they like to categorize people into types. Learning styles allow people to do both of those things."
-end-
Article: "Maybe They're Born With It, or Maybe It's Experience: Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Learning Style Myth," by Shaylene Nancekivell, PhD, Priti Shah, PhD, and Susan A. Gelman, PhD, University of Michigan; Journal of Educational Psychology, published online May 30, 2019.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at

http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/edu-edu0000366.pdf.

Contact: Shaylene Nancekivell may be contacted at snancek@umich.edu.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 118,400 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

http://www.apa.org

American Psychological Association

Related Learning Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

When learning on your own is not enough
We make decisions based on not only our own learning experience, but also learning from others.

Learning more about particle collisions with machine learning
A team of Argonne scientists has devised a machine learning algorithm that calculates, with low computational time, how the ATLAS detector in the Large Hadron Collider would respond to the ten times more data expected with a planned upgrade in 2027.

Getting kids moving, and learning
Children are set to move more, improve their skills, and come up with their own creative tennis games with the launch of HomeCourtTennis, a new initiative to assist teachers and coaches with keeping kids active while at home.

How expectations influence learning
During learning, the brain is a prediction engine that continually makes theories about our environment and accurately registers whether an assumption is true or not.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Learning is optimized when we fail 15% of the time
If you're always scoring 100%, you're probably not learning anything new.

School spending cuts triggered by great recession linked to sizable learning losses for learning losses for students in hardest hit areas
Substantial school spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession were associated with sizable losses in academic achievement for students living in counties most affected by the economic downturn, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Lessons in learning
A new Harvard study shows that, though students felt like they learned more from traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in active learning classrooms.

Learning to look
A team led by JGI scientists has overhauled the perception of inovirus diversity.

Read More: Learning News and Learning Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.