There is widespread belief among educators, as well as the general public, that providing instruction based on an individual’s preferred learning style improves learning. That is, individuals with a visual learning style preference will comprehend better when they read rather than listen and, conversely, individuals with an auditory learning style preference will comprehend better when they listen rather than read.
As a result of this belief, educators and professional development leaders spend time and resources assessing their students and developing instruction to specifically match each student’s preferred learning style.
In a critical review of the literature, Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork (2008) concluded that there has been little empirical scientific research to support or negate the learning styles theory. They detailed the specific experimental design needed to investigate this theory empirically.
Following the design of Pashler et al (2008), Rogowsky, Calhoun, and Tallal (2014) (PDF, 115KB), in an article to appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology, empirically investigated the effect of learning style preference in college-educated adults, as applied to (a) verbal comprehension aptitude (listening or reading) and (b) learning based on mode of instruction (digital audiobook or e-text).
Results demonstrated no statistically significant relationship between learning style preferences (auditory, visual word) and learning comprehension based on instructional method (audiobook, e-text). Taken together, the results of the investigation failed to statistically support the meshing hypothesis, either for verbal comprehension aptitude or for learning based on mode of instruction (digital audiobook, e-text).
The main finding from the study — that across-the-board visual learners scored higher than auditory learners — may have a substantial impact on current educational practice. In fact, educators may be doing a disservice to auditory learners by continually providing them with instruction that meshes with their auditory learning style rather than focusing on strengthening their visual word skills.
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105–119.
Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2014). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 64–78. doi://10.1037/a0037478
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