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Here’s a letter to The Guardian from various cognitive science heavyweights such as Steven Pinker and Hal Pashler about the thicket of Ed Biz myths nurtured by Howard Gardner’s old Multiple Intelligences theory:
‘The claim that students will perform better when the teaching is matched to their preferred learning style is simply not supported by science,’ writes Bruce Hood. Photograph: Alamy
Sunday 12 March 2017 19.59 EDT
There is widespread interest among teachers in the use of neuroscientific research findings in educational practice. However, there are also misconceptions and myths that are supposedly based on sound neuroscience that are prevalent in our schools. We wish to draw attention to this problem by focusing on an educational practice supposedly based on neuroscience that lacks sufficient evidence and so we believe should not be promoted or supported.
Generally known as “learning styles”, it is the belief that individuals can benefit from receiving information in their preferred format, based on a self-report questionnaire. This belief has much intuitive appeal because individuals are better at some things than others and ultimately there may be a brain basis for these differences. Learning styles promises to optimise education by tailoring materials to match the individual’s preferred mode of sensory information processing.
There are, however, a number of problems with the learning styles approach. …
Finally, and most damning, is that there have been systematic studies of the effectiveness of learning styles that have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or “meshing” material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment. …
These neuromyths may be ineffectual, but they are not low cost. We would submit that any activity that draws upon resources of time and money that could be better directed to evidence-based practices is costly and should be exposed and rejected. Such neuromyths create a false impression of individuals’ abilities, leading to expectations and excuses that are detrimental to learning in general, which is a cost in the long term.
I’m not actually all that much against the “learning styles” myths, except for the opportunity costs and how Gardner’s popular mythology gets in the way of coming to grips with the hard realities of IQ science.
I would recommend that individuals self-experiment on themselves to figure out what learning styles work best for them.
There’s a funny story about the five Rockefeller brothers. The oldest John III. was given a superb traditional education and earned a Ph.D. in economics, but maintained a relatively low profile in life. The four younger brothers — Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop, and David — were educated according to the progressive principles of John Dewey and all grew up dyslexic.
But they had more fun in life because they seldom read anything and instead insisted on face to face communications. If you had something to tell VP Rockefeller, you didn’t send him a memo, you had to go and get barraged with his questions.
So having an oral learning style can work out swell … if you are a Rockefeller.
One Rockefeller adviser who naturally would have liked sending him long memos got so good at explaining things in person to Rocky that he got hired by Rocky’s victorious rival Dick Nixon to talk to him about foreign policy, and wound up having a real kick-ass life: Henry Kissinger.