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The Only Learning Style You Can Be Sure Of

the-only-learning-style-you-can-be-sure-of.jpgTeachers are dedicated followers of fashion. One year they’ll award one another top marks for following a great teaching idea, and the next they’ll dismiss it as “unscientific” and “new-agey.” Learning styles fell victim to such harsh treatment…all except one.

0. The appeal of learning styles

Adrian uses his eyes to learn. He needs to see something to remember it. If you tell him, he forgets; if you show him, he engages. Not good with names, great with faces though.

Berenice needs to move to learn. If you’re doing a project, she needs to be the one putting the pieces together. If you don’t let her get off her chair every fifteen minutes or so, she gets antsy. Videos work. Photos, somehow, don’t.

You only need to tell Carol once. She’s an auditory learner, and she’ll pay attention to the things you say. Don’t assume it’s obvious just because it’s on the whiteboard: say it to her and she’ll remember what you said. And, scarily, the way you said it.

All of this sounds brilliant. It’s like being sorted into a Hogwarts house: this is who they are. This is how they roll.


1. The Problem With Learning Styles

None of this withstands systematic scientific scrutiny. The research doesn’t add up; the claims are theoretically sound (maybe) but weren’t tested rigorously.

And for some, the very idea of labelling the way people learn can be dubious. If Adrian is told in his very first week at school that he’s a “visual” learner, what do you think the rest of his learning life will look like? If he gets to listen to something important, what excuse do you think he’ll make? The Hogwarts house idea worked, because it was magical. There’s no magic in just slapping labels on people, especially if you haven’t researched the person (or the label) well enough.

2. The Only Learning Style Worth Believing In


Not “given to you in first grade.” Not “what the kindergarten teacher told the parents to make them happier.” Not “the Facebook quiz just told me…which are you?”

Not even “we put you in white sterile labs where nobody ever comes to learn anything, except from us. Then we made you spend your day on bizarre tests, questions, tasks. This is science, and it’s spoken.”

The only learning style worth trusting is the way you (look at / handle / approach / think of / respond to) the things you need to study or master. This is something that works – or fails – for you personally. This is the only constant part in all your achievements and failures. This is the biggest, most readily-accessible bank of learning experiences you can rely on, criticize, adapt and expand.

You went through years of schooling, maybe through months of learning on the job, definitely decades of life experience. What else can you call the things happening to you – but a grand, well-developed, personal learning style? Nobody else does it the way you do. Which is why you should trust it.

3. Ten Questions To Get To Know Your Learning Style

  • How did I use to tackle such tasks in the past?
  • Am I happy reading/watching/hearing this? What would I rather do with this text?
  • Did I learn something from today? How and why?
  • What went wrong here, why didn’t I get it right?
  • What can I change about such attempts next time?
  • What’s my preferred way of doing these things?
  • Would it be the best way to go about this particular thing?
  • Why did that guy do so well / badly and not me? Is there something we can teach each other?
  • Where can I go from here, how else will I use this material / situation?
  • If all else fails, what will I most probably rely on to scrape through?

4. Learning Styles: The Final Word

Guys, I know this can be a hotly contested topic. Among teachers, the beauty of learning styles is that somehow this unscientific thing lets them get better at teaching. Among the critics, the idea of learning styles is that they are unfair and can lead to stereotypes.
But you don’t need to worry about those with that personal approach. All that needs to matter to you is the way you build your individual learning style.
So where would you start?

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