How do we learn?

I’m a visual learner! I’m a kinesthetic learner! I’m an auditory learner!

These are declarations that are often heard in schools, workplaces and beyond as people proclaim their preferred learning style. So let's discuss learning styles and how people learn.

Learning styles theory is incredibly pervasive and it stems from the work of a number of theorists who propose that humans have a preference for particular modes of learning and therefore we need information presented in that mode to be able to learn best. So for a number of years educators and workplace trainers have faithfully presented information in the appropriate learning styles of auditory (talking), visual (diagrams, pictures) and kinesthetic (hands-on). We can probably all name our preferred learning style right? Well, what if I actually tell you that learning styles have absolutely no scientific evidence to back it up and are actually harmful for learning! 

You might want to sit with that for a while!

Willingham, Hughes and Doboyli (2015) wrote that Learning Styles gained traction for two main reasons. The first reason is that people believed in the theories because they had enough anecdotal evidence that explaining to students something in a different way helped them to understand a concept more clearly. Therefore it must be because of a preferred learning style. The second reason is that there is confusion between a style and an ability. For example a student that is weak in Maths might do better if their Maths was taught through Music. However, when doing Maths we need to think mathematically and when doing Music you need to understand music cognition. These two types of thinking are incompatible.

So then if learning styles is not a thing how do we learn?

The Deans for Impact which is a group of Heads of University Education Departments across the United States have used evidenced based research to come up with the following ways that people actually learn:

Hopefully this is a helpful insight into how we learn. God has created us in really wonderful ways with the ability to learn new ideas and ways to do things and to reflect His image. We are working on implementing more of these ways of learning into our program here at MECS especially through providing more formalised feedback using our new continuous reporting system.

Further Information

TOP589505 266..271 (ucsf.edu)

The_Science_of_Learning.pdf (deansforimpact.org)