Learning Styles Challenge — Year Eight — Now at $5,000


As of today, the Learning Styles Challenge payout is rising from $1000 to $5000! That is, if any person or group creates a real-world learning intervention that takes learning styles into account–and proves that such an intervention produces better learning results than a non-learning-styles intervention, they’ll be awarded $5,000!

Special thanks to the new set of underwriters, each willing to put $1000 in jeopardy to help get the word out to the field:

Learning Styles Challenge Rules

We’re still using the original rules, as established back in 2006. Read them here.

What is Implied in This Debunking

The basic finding in the research is that learning interventions that take into account learning styles do no better than learning interventions that do not take learning styles into account. This does not mean that people do not have differences in the way they learn. It just means that designing with learning styles in mind is unlikely to produce benefits–and thus the extra costs are not likely to be a good investment.

Interestingly, there are learning differences that do matter! For example, if we really want to get benefits from individual differences, we should consider the knowledge and skill level of our learners.

What Can You Do to Spread the Word

Thanks to multiple efforts by many people over the years to lessen the irrational exuberance of the learning-styles proliferators, fewer and fewer folks in the learning field are falling prey to the learning-styles myth. But the work is not done yet. This issue still needs your help!

Here’s some ideas for how you can help:

  • Spread the word through social media! Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook!
  • Share this information with your work colleagues, fellow students, etc.
  • Gently challenge those who proselytize learning styles.
  • Share the research cited below.

History of the Learning Styles Challenge

It has been exactly eight years since I wrote in a blog post:

I will give $1000 (US dollars) to the first person or group who can prove that taking learning styles into account in designing instruction can produce meaningful learning benefits.

Eight years is a long time. Since that time, over one billion babies have been born, 72 billion metric tons of carbon pollution have been produced, and the U.S. Congress has completely stopped functioning.

However, not once in these past eight years has any person or group collected on the Learning Styles challenge. Not once!

Research on Learning Styles

However, since 2006, more and more people have discovered that learning styles are unlikely to be an effective way to design instruction.

First, there was the stunning research review in the top-tier scientific journal, Psychological Science in the Public Interest:

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

The authors wrote the following:

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)

To read more about what they wrote, click here.

Two years later, two of the authors reiterated their findings in a separate–and nicely written–article for the Association for the Study of Medical Education. You can access that article at: http://uweb.cas.usf.edu/~drohrer/pdfs/Rohrer&Pashler2012MedEd.pdf. Here’s the research citation:

Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning styles: Where’s the evidence? Medical Education, 46(7), 634-635.

A researcher who had once advocated for learning styles did an about face after he did some additional research:

Cook, D. A. (2012). Revisiting cognitive and learning styles in computer-assisted instruction: Not so useful after all. Academic Medicine, 87(6), 778-784.
Of course, not everyone is willing to give up on learning styles. For example, Furnham (2012) wrote:
The application of, and research into, learning styles and approaches is clearly alive and well. (p. 77).
Furnham, A. (2012). Learning styles and approaches to learning. In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, T. Urdan, S. Graham, J. M. Royer, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology. APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 2. Individual differences and cultural and contextual factors (pp. 59-81). doi:10.1037/13274-003

A quick cursory look–today–through the PsycINFO database shows that scientific published articles on learning styles are still being published.

Learning Styles in the Workplace Learning Field

Guy Wallace, performance analyst and instructional architect, has been doing a great job keeping the workplace learning field up on the learning-styles debate. Check out his article in eLearn Magazine and his blog post update.

You’ll note from Guy’s blog post that many prominent thought leaders in the field have been suspicious of learning styles for many years.