I distinctly remember one of the Humanities teachers coming to our Tutor Group and telling us about VAK learning styles – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. She learnt things by making up songs about them…an auditory learner…what were we? I’ve always put myself in the visual learner category. When I was learning the huge number of cases required for the GDL I would often remember the information based on where it was written on my mind map. Fisher v Bell, top right…Scotson v Pegg, in the middle with a red circle around it. I’ve never questioned the theory because it made sense to me and I saw evidence of it in my way of learning and memorising.
I used the above experience to help me create a law revision website that incorporates visual learning through the use of illustrations. So it was with some surprise that I recently discovered that the idea of learning styles – VAK being the most well known of many (one report identified 71 other styles) – has been dubbed a ‘neuromyth’. Something that continues to be believed but is not backed up by good scientific evidence.
Many argue that there is little or no evidence based on properly conducted experiments to back it up and some experiments have even shown that there is no correlation between learning style and improved learning. Learning and the brain is more complicated than that and just because people process information in different ways doesn’t mean that learners respond to only one style.
Lots of companies make money from selling assessment tools and learning resources geared towards learning styles. Then teachers are encouraged to spend their time assessing students and creating tailored learning materials. For those who question the theory the biggest problem is that schools are wasting already strained budgets and teacher’s time on a method that does not stand up to scientific scrutiny.
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Opponents also worry that children become pigeonholed as a particular type of learner and miss out on the full learning experience. Studies have shown that participants often incorrectly assign themselves as a certain type of learner. Just because we have a preference for a certain style doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a significantly greater aptitude for learning in that way.
But the idea persists amongst teachers and students. Why? I’d suggest it’s because, like me, most people do gravitate towards one ‘style’ and once you notice what you perceive to be a strength, and are told that we are a certain type of learner, confirmation bias takes over.
So, have I just created a visual learning resources that is completely obsolete?! Thankfully, no. It is not that there aren’t different learning pathways, visual being one of them, but that students shouldn’t be put in, or put themselves into, just one learning box. Visual learning is not the same as visual learners.
The use of images and colour to break up text, and the significance of images for memory, are not in dispute but they should be only one of several ways of presenting information to students. Diversity in the classroom, or in-home learning, works best.
So if you’ve always thought of yourself as a particular type of learner then maybe it’s time to really think about exploring other methods. You could well be strongest in one area but that doesn’t mean that you should not create a varied learning style for yourself.
Here are a few ideas, why not try something out of your comfort zone?
Words: Hannah Palmer.
Hannah studied History before working as a freelance photographer for many years. She then converted to law and took the BPTC before deciding that a traditional legal career was not for her. Since then she has created an online learning resource that focuses on visual learning to help students understand and remember case law and legal theory.
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