New Study Says Learning Styles Don't Harm Or Help Students

Jun 20, 2018

Learning style categories have been ingrained into teaching methods and study strategies for years, but an increasing body of research on the topic suggests those categories may not have as big of an impact on student outcomes as previously thought.

Schools and teachers often encourage students and other educators to pay attention to different learning styles, specifically, by placing students into categories: visual, auditory, literary, or kinesthetic learners.

But researchers at Indiana University say that doesn’t really make or break a student’s chance at success. Polly Husmann co-authored a study published earlier this year, and she says categorized learning styles can add stress to teachers and act as a crutch for students.

“Students themselves are looking at it as, ‘well, if they don’t hit my learning style there’s no possible way I can learn this so why should I try?’” she says.

Husmann says students may have preferences on how they like to learn, but overall, more active study habits – not what category of learner a student is – has a bigger impact.

The paper’s second co-author, Valerie O’Loughlin, says knowing how influential different learning styles really are, can help ease the pressures put on educators too.

“This research should help better inform pedagogy at both K-12 and higher [education] to state that, yes, teaching a wide variety of methods is preferable, but you do not have to do this for fear of negatively impact a student’s learning,” she says.

Past research has largely focused on instruction in the classroom, but the new findings support those that suggest learning styles don’t have the impact many people think they do. The study looked at how students use their specific learning styles to study outside of class is tied to their achievement, and it turns out, it doesn’t really make a difference.