The Association of Psychological Science commissioned a review of the evidence for the benefits of using learning styles, and the report is clear.

We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. (p. 105)

Research Citation:

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R.
(2008).
Learning styles: Concepts and evidence.
Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.

You can access the article by clicking here.

You can access Richard Mayer’s nice intro to the article—which stresses the benefits of research—by clicking here.

My $1,000 Learning Styles Challenge

Three and one half years ago I offered $1,000 to any person or group who could demonstrate the benefits of learning styles in a real-world practical training program. No one has collected the money yet.

Here was the challenge:

Can an e-learning program that utilizes learning-style information
outperform an e-learning program that doesn’t utilize such information
by 10% or more on a realistic test of learning, even it is allowed to
cost up to twice as much to build?

You can access my original Learning Styles Challenge by clicking here.

You can access my three-year update on the challenge by clicking here.

Final Nail in the Coffin of Learning Styles?

Is this excellent research review by some of the most highly-respected researchers in the learning-research field a final nail in the coffin of learning styles?

Well, as a researcher I must always maintain openness to new information. Perhaps someday more research will demonstrate some specific benefits to learning styles. As the authors of the review say themselves:

Although we have argued that the extant data do not provide support for the learning-styles hypothesis, it should be emphasized that we do not claim that the same kind of instruction is most useful in all contexts and with all learners. An obvious point is that the optimal instructional method is likely to vary across disciplines. For instance, the optimal curriculum for a writing course probably includes a heavy verbal emphasis, whereas the most efficient and effective method of teaching geometry obviously requires visual–spatial materials. Of course, identifying the optimal approach for each discipline is an empirical question, and we espouse research using strong research methods to identify the optimal approach for each kind of subject matter.

Furthermore, it is undoubtedly the case that a particular student will sometimes benefit from having a particular kind of course content presented in one way versus another. One suspects that educators’ attraction to the idea of learning styles partly reflects their (correctly) noticing how often one student may achieve enlightenment from an approach that seems useless for another student. There is, however, a great gap from such heterogeneous responses to instructional manipulations—whose reality we do not dispute—to the notion that presently available taxonomies of student types offer any valid help in deciding what kind of instruction to offer each individual. Perhaps future research may demonstrate such linkages, but at present, we find no evidence for it. (p. 116)

As a consultant in the workplace learning-and-performance field, I will likely do my clients harm if I advised for the use of a learning-style learning design. I will continue to advise clients against designing their learning based on learning styles. At the same time, I will encourage them to be watchful for specific learning needs of individual learners. For example, when a learner is confused, he or she probably needs feedback and guidance.

I recommend that you read the article and Mayer’s introduction. Both provide wisdom about how to think about research and how to avoid being fooled.

Article Note: The date in the article and on the database PsycINFO says the article is from 2008. However, the
copyright is from 2009 and the article includes citations from 2009 and
the article appears as the “current article” on the APS (Association for
Psychological Science) website, and news reports just started surfacing in December 2009 and January 2010. The evidence suggests the article just recently came out.