Learning Styles Debunked

The Ultimate In Leadership Is Coaching Your Team

The best leaders are coaches for their followers. Leaders who have amassed big followings impact their people by providing inspiration through coaching.

Yes, there is the charismatic leader who mobilizes huge crowds, but the leaders who really make a difference are those who coach their followers to great achievement. They invest time and energy in helping others grow and prosper.

One aspect of how to coach your team is about understanding their learning style. For decades there have been educational theories floated about that say people learn by three primary ways:

Auditory –  hearing what is said, something conducive to lecture-type learning

Tactile –  touching, feeling or experiencing their way through the subject matter

Visual –  pictures and diagrams to teach the information

Learning Styles Debunked
Learning Styles Debunked

While these three methods have been prevalent learning modes taught to aspiring teachers and educators, there is new science that suggests they are simply not true. Here is a video presented by Dr. Tesia Marshik where she explains the reasons to debunk the traditional three learning styles. According to Dr. Marshik,

“When something is so pervasive it doesn’t even occur to people to challenge it. We need to be willing to critically reflect on beliefs even if they are commonly believed. Another reason why this persists is quite frankly: The idea of learning styles is sexy. It sounds good. It feels good. Saying that people have different learning styles is another way of acknowledging that people are different, and differences are important, especially when it comes to the classroom. But me saying that learning styles don’t exist is not saying people are the same. People do differ in many important ways; learning styles just isn’t one of them, and just because some ideas sound really good, just because we really want something to be true, doesn’t make it so….

As she points out, there are two key reasons why these myths should be busted.

Waste of Time

They are a colossal waste of valuable resources placed on learning systems, leaders, and coaches i.e. if you have to figure out what style each of your students uses, then you are wasting time when you could be doing something far more productive for those whom you have been charged with coaching/teaching.

The whole fact that learning styles doesn’t matter, to some extent should be a relief. Because it is one less thing that leaders have to worry about. At the very least, we can’t afford to be wasting our time and resources trying to promote learning styles when there is no evidence that it actually helps learning. Especially when there are research-supported strategies, things that we know we can do, that actually do impact learning.

Placing Labels

Learning styles label people in ways that create limiting thoughts. If someone has been programmed to believe they are a visual learner (or any of the three), they immediately tune out an instructor who may not be presenting that way. The label becomes a convenient excuse as in “I don’t learn that way.” Labeling yourself as a (specific type of) learner or labeling an employee as a learner can not only be misleading, but it can be dangerous. If you as a leader think that you have a particular learning style and that you only learn in one way, that might prevent you from trying other strategies that could otherwise help you learn the information better.

Likewise if you as a student believe that you have a particular learning style, that could cause you to shut down or lose interest when a coach isn’t coaching in a way that is consistent with your preferred style. That might actually perpetuate your failure but it’s not because you couldn’t learn that way; it’s because you gave up and you stopped trying. This whole idea that learning styles don’t exist in many ways should be further good news. It means all of us are capable of learning in a variety of ways. We are not as limited as sometimes we think we are.

Given that I am big proponent of eliminating labels within work teams, I like the idea that we can get rid of this body of work that says people learn in only one of three ways.

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Group Think

Work teams are too diverse. Investing effort in grouping employees by learning styles would cramp any leaders effort to grow his team. No, the better alternative is to individually get to know those with whom you are working. Offer various experiences with learning; mix it up. Keeping things fresh and energized is a far better way to keep everyone’s attention.

[reminder]How do you handle the traditional view of learning styles when trying to coach your teams?[/reminder]

Citation: Various quotes and content quoted from Dr. Marshik’s writings found here.

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