Learning Styles Don't Exist



In this video Professor Daniel Willingham describes research showing that learning styles are a myth.

Professor Willingham's argument has implications for the use of  "multisensory" teaching advocated by practitioners of structured language and Orton-Gillingham approaches.

Professor Willingham explains that effective teaching and learning has more to do with meaning (concepts) than with input channel(s). So, the selection of the best modality (e.g.,  auditory, visual or kinesthetic ) for teaching any concept has more to do with the nature of that concept than with the student's "learning style" or processing preferences.

The implication for structured language practitioners is that (multisensory) methods need to be chosen because they help the child represent meaning.  Let's take, for example, two common types of errors:

1.  A child writes <b> as <d> and <d> as <b> in spelling words. (e.g., The word <bit> is written <dit>.)

2.  A child spells words with the consonant blend /tr/ using the digraph <ch>. (e.g., The word "trip" is spelled <chip>.)

A clinician using a learning styles or multisensory learning approach might focus on enhancing the inputs (e.g., using a kinesthetic element by having the child trace the letters in shaving cream or on sand paper).  However, a clinician using a cognitive approach would focus more on the concepts and cues for remembering these representations (e.g., <b> looks like a bat standing next to a ball and that letter represents the phoneme /b/ ;  <d> looks like a disk being inserted in to a DVD player and that letter stands for /d/;  There are 4 sounds in the word "trip":  t-r-i-p and 3 sounds in "chip": ch-i-p and <ch> is a digraph representing the first phoneme in that word.). 

This may seem like splitting hairs, but consider this:  Approaches that focus practice at the level of input modalities only (e.g., vision therapy, auditory therapy) have not proven to be effective whereas there is extensive research supporting the effectiveness of approaches that develop strong representations across all the domains of language. 


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