Exposing a myth on learning styles and how they affect your grades

By Michael Mears
By Michael Mears |

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I am writing in response to the article, “Optimise your learning style” (Young Post, February 15). The University of Hong Kong’s faculty of education still teaches the learning methods as part of its curriculum. However, it is high time this myth is finally put to bed.

There is little proof that the learning styles – auditory, visual and tactile – can boost students’ educational achievements.

Basically, learning has nothing to do with individual preferences – it’s about the nature of the material being taught. For example, it would be difficult to learn English grammar using pictures, or geometry verbally.

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More problematic is the fact that even if learning styles are to be accepted, evidence has shown that learning style questionnaires are unreliable. This is because people’s preferences don’t really correlate with their actual learning abilities. So someone who claims to be a tactile learner might actually perform better by visual or auditory means.

Finally, maybe people will heed this warning. In 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, Scott Lilienfeld notes that encouraging a learning-styles approach results in teaching to students’ “intellectual strengths rather than their weaknesses”, but “students need to correct and compensate for their shortcomings, not avoid them”.

So learning styles are probably a myth, and if not, students are unable to accurately identify their optimum learning style anyway. Even if they could, teaching according to these learning styles would be doing them a disservice as it would not help them work on their weaknesses.

Michael Mears

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From the Editor

Thank you for your email, Michael. You have pointed out the discrepancies and differing opinions regarding different learning styles. Young Post always strives to give its readers accurate and hopefully useful information, and we agree that the learning style theory has its detractors.

The nature of learning and cognitive psychology is constantly changing and it takes a while for institutes to follow suit.

We heartily agree with you that students should work on correcting their weaknesses when they have the time to do so. As exams barrel down upon our readers, however, it might be worth it to play to their strengths.

Hong Kong students can be most creative in the way they learn. A few years ago, students at Methodist College (Kowloon) rocked the internet with their inventive geometry song. I would wager that few students messed up their geometry that year.

Susan, Editor