Last week, NPR aired a report on new research from two academic psychologists who argue that teaching to different learning styles doesn’t work – or at least that there is no scientific evidence to prove it is more effective.
Many people instinctually feel that they (or their children) are better at learning new things when they are presented in a visual manner, while others prefer auditory lessons, and still others say they retain information best when there is a hands-on or tactile element.
But Dan Willingham of the University of Virginia and Doug Rohrer of the University of South Florida both say that catering lessons to visual, auditory or tactile learning styles is baseless. Willingham’s contention is based on brain function, while Rohrer’s perspective is based on the absence of randomized, controlled studies that uphold the claims of the more than 70 different learning styles that have been identified over the years.
The findings produced a mountain of feedback – 210 comments on the NPR site and more than 15,000 posts to Facebook – much of it arguing for the validity of learning styles.
We’re not going to make a judgment on which side in this debate is right. The science and supporting evidence are always evolving. But the report does conclude on a point that both common sense and recent research validate: teaching a topic or concept over longer periods of time does improve retention and comprehension. In short, repetition aids learning.
That’s something we’ve heard from student users of Livescribe smartpens since their introduction – the ability to go back over their notes and revisit lectures or lessons dramatically improves their understanding of the topic being studied. And that rings true for visual or auditory learners. Educators often tell us that regardless of a student’s learning style – whether auditory or visual – the Livescribe smartpen works well for both. With pencasts a student can visually watch the notes and classroom lecture replay and for students who learn by listening, they can replay their notes as many times as they need.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this debate.