A common framework used in some educational contexts, especially for school-aged children, is that of Learning Styles. The Learning Styles framework suggests that most learners fall into the categories of either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. This means that they learn best through either, seeing material, hearing material, or physically interacting with the materials.
This understanding of learning styles has long been seen as a guiding assumption for supporting students. However, there is increasing evidence suggesting that this approach is less than accurate.
Problems with the Learning Styles Approach:
- Learning styles are often determined by self-report surveys where students answer questions about how they learn. These surveys are subjective and therefore may reflect preference rather than an innate attachment to any one style. Answers may also change over time, which suggests that preferences may be dynamic, however learning styles suggests would suggest that a learner’s approach to content is static.
- Learning styles may limit learner’s opportunities and experiences. If students and their teachers begin to believe that they learn best in only one way, then they may try to receive material in only that way to the exclusion of other approaches.
- Some people even argue that the learning styles approach is limited because it only focuses on classroom and school learning, which is a very particular context, and does not account for all the kinds of learning that may take place in other environments
So what can we do instead of focusing on learning styles?
Alternatives to the Learning Styles Approach:
- In general best practice is to provide material and content in a variety of modalities as the more ways in which children can interact with content, the better. It also allows children the opportunity to choose in what ways they would like to learn and gives them flexibility from topic to topic.
- Elaborating on materials to make meaningful connections is also an important thing to consider when breaking away from the learning styles approach. A focus on learning styles lends itself to traditional educational practices involving memorization and repetition. This is not the main goal of current education, and certainly not the goal of early childhood education. ECE focuses on developmental trajectories and foundational skills, as well as allowing students to be agents in their own learning. Therefore, moving away from single-track learning styles and focusing on meaningful connections promotes critical thinking skills and engagement.