Many people these days believe that each person has an ideal way of learning through what they hear, what they see or by actually doing. In fact, many studies have been done to test if this is true. Before we delve into the meat of the topic, let’s go back and talk about a man named Neil Fleming. As a school inspector in New Zealand in the early 1990s, he noticed that few teachers were managing to effectively reach each of their students. This made him wonder what these teachers were doing differently.
As a result, Fleming developed the VARK Questionnaire, a test comprised of 16 questions used to determine a person’s learning style. VARK stands for “Visual, Auditory, Reading and Kinesthetic”, and specifically tests how well students learn through these four modalities. Over the years, however, studies have been conducted that challenge the theory that certain people learn best through certain features like auditory or visual stimulation.
In a study conducted by Polly Husmann and colleagues of Indiana University – and later published in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education – Husmann and her colleagues provided hundreds of students with study guides based on their VARK results. Students who scored high in auditory learning were given listening-oriented strategies and those who scored high in visual learning were given visual strategy.
The results revealed that, first, students did not study in ways that reflected their learning style, and second, students who adjusted their study habits to reflect their preferred style didn’t do well in tests. Husmann believes that students had fallen into studying habits that were difficult to break, and that although they were interested in their learning styles, this wasn’t enough to change their studying behavior.
A second study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning through visual means believed they’d recall pictures easier, whereas those preferring verbal learning styles believed they’d recall words better. The study found that these preferences had no correlation of what they’d be able to recall later on. Putting it simply, the study determined that certain students liked auditory or visual ways of learning, but this didn’t necessarily work better for their memories.
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For more information about this topic, check out the original article by The Atlantic here.