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It is commonly believed that most people favor some particular method of interacting with, taking in, and processing stimuli or information. Based on this concept, the idea of individualized learning styles originated in the 1970s, and has gained popularity in recent years. A learning style is the method of learning particular to an individual that is presumed to allow that individual to learn best. It has been proposed that teachers should assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student's learning style.

Models and theories

Over 70 learning style models have been proposed, each consisting of at least two different styles.

Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (VAK and VARK)

Main article: Representational systems (NLP)

One family of models emphasizes the sensory modalities of informing stimuli. The models in this family may use different terms to describe same or similar learning styles. These models often describe four basic learning styles:

In such models, the term multi-modal describes people who have more than one strong learning style.

Other models

Aiming to explain why aptitude tests, school grades, and classroom performance often fail to identify real ability, Robert J. Sternberg listed various cognitive dimensions in his book Thinking Styles (1997). Several other models are also often used when researching learning styles. This includes the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Model and the DISC assessment.

In contrast to the VARK method of assessing learning, Jackson’s Learning Styles Profiler (LSP) argues for a biological and cognitive basis to learning. This 'neuropsychological theory' does not set out to measure learning preferences. Instead Jackson sets out to differentiate between functional and dysfunctional learners. Functional learners are curious about the world and have the cognitive skills to become successful whereas dysfunctional learners lack these skills. This is a new model of self-development learning with much validation evidence set out in the manual.

Evidence or lack of evidence?

Learning-styles theories have been criticized by many. Some psychologists and neuroscientists have questioned the scientific basis for these models and the theories on which they are based. Many educational psychologists believe that there is little evidence for the efficacy of most learning style models, and furthermore, that the models often rest on dubious theoretical grounds.[1] According to Stahl,[2] there has been an "utter failure to find that assessing children's learning styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning."

The critique of Coffield, et al.

A non-peer-reviewed literature review by authors from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne identified 71 different theories of learning style.[3] This report, published in 2004, criticized most of the main instruments used to identify an individual's learning style. In conducting the review, Coffield and his colleagues selected 13 of the most influential models for closer study, including most of the models cited on this page. They examined the theoretical origins and terms of each model, and the instrument that was purported to assess types of learning style defined by the model. They analyzed the claims made by the author(s), external studies of these claims, and independent empirical evidence of the relationship between the 'learning style' identified by the instrument and students' actual learning. Coffield's team found that none of the most popular learning style theories had been adequately validated through independent research, leading to the conclusion that the idea of a learning cycle, the consistency of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic preferences and the value of matching teaching and learning styles were all "highly questionable."

Coffield's critique of Dunn and Dunn's learning styles model

One of the most widely-known theories assessed by Coffield's team was the learning styles model of Dunn and Dunn, a VAK model.[4] This model is widely used in schools in the United States, and 177 articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals referring to this model [3]. The conclusion of Coffield et al. was as follows:

Despite a large and evolving research programme, forceful claims made for impact are questionable because of limitations in many of the supporting studies and the lack of independent research on the model.[3]

In contrast, a 2005 report provided evidence confirming the validity of Dunn and Dunn's model, concluding that "matching students’ learning-style preferences with complementary instruction improved academic achievement and student attitudes toward learning" [5]

Coffield's critique of Gregorc's Style Delineator

Coffield's team claimed that another model, Gregorc's Style Delineator (GSD), was "theoretically and psychometrically flawed" and "not suitable for the assessment of individuals."

Other critiques of learning styles models

Coffield and colleagues are not alone in their judgement. Demos, a UK think tank, published a report on learning styles prepared by a group chaired by Exeter University's David Hargreaves that included Usha Goswami from Cambridge University and David Wood from the University of Nottingham. The Demos report said that the evidence for learning styles was "highly variable", and that practitioners were "not by any means frank about the evidence for their work." [6]

Cautioning against interpreting neuropsychological research as supporting the applicability of learning style theory, John Geake, Professor of Education at the UK's Oxford Brookes University, and a research collaborator with Oxford University's Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, commented that

We need to take extreme care when moving from the lab to the classroom. We do remember things visually and aurally, but information isn't defined by how it was received.[7]

Assessment of learning styles

Instruments (usually questionnaires) used to identify learning styles include Kolb's Learning Styles Inventory, Fleming's VARK Learning Style Test, and the NLP meta programs based iWAM questionnaire.

Main article: Assessment of learning styles

See also


  1. Curry, L. (1990). One critique of the research on learning styles. Educational Leadership, 48, 50-56.
  2. Stahl, S. A. (2002). Different strokes for different folks? In L. Abbeduto (Ed.), Taking sides: Clashing on controversial issues in educational psychology (pp. 98-107). Guilford, CT, USA: McGraw-Hill.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.
  4. Dunn, R., Dunn, K., & Price, G. E. (1984). Learning style inventory. Lawrence, KS, USA: Price Systems.
  5. Lovelace, MK (2005). Meta-Analysis of Experimental Research Based on the Dunn and Dunn Model. Journal Of Educational Research, 98: 176-183.
  6. Hargreaves, D., et al. (2005). About learning: Report of the Learning Working Group. Demos.
  7. Revell, P. (2005). Each to their own. The Guardian.

External links

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