There is an article in today’s Chronicle titled Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students.
I have been somewhat skeptical of the learning styles literature for a while, not the least for hearing the phrase being bandied about without much thought. I have heard people claim without much evidence, that today’s kids are visual learners. I have heard a teacher say that as a consequence, that visual learners prefer reading text from a Powerpoint slide, rather than read it on a blackboard! (Those who know me that I am rarely at a loss for words, but that statement truly struck me dumb! In Wolfgang Pauli’s words, that statement was not even wrong.) I have also had students claim that they did not do well in a certain course because it did not match their learning style!
Anyway, the study reported in the article
… does not dispute the existence of learning styles. But it asserts that no one has ever proved that any particular style of instruction simultaneously helps students who have one learning style while also harming students who have a different learning style.
What does this non-finding mean for practitioners (teachers and professors)?
The article says that more important than matching learning style to teaching style may be matching teaching style with the content to be taught. Here’s a key quote:
What this means for instructors, Mr. Pashler says, is that they should not waste any time or energy trying to determine the composition of learning styles in their classrooms. (Are 50 percent of my students visual learners? Are 20 percent of them kinesthetic learners?)
Instead, teachers should worry about matching their instruction to the content they are teaching. Some concepts are best taught through hands-on work, some are best taught through lectures, and some are best taught through group discussions.
Image credit: Reagan Mackrill Work
This makes so much sense to me. Understanding the deep relationship between content and pedagogy is at the heart of Shulman’s idea of pedagogical content knowledge, the forerunner of the TPACK framework.