27 May 2009

Learning Styles theory at controversy?

Do you think that surveys, tests and inventories that are given to figure out our students’ learning style are not always reliable or objective? To assess learning styles on a large scale is time-consuming? Do teachers do informal assessments with students about different interests, strengths and weaknesses? How do they apply all of these preferences to their daily lessons? Assessing learning styles on a large scale is not practical for most of us, educators?

There has been a great deal of talk about learning styles; pros and cons views, and the same controversies surrounding the whole issue will persist. Some educators have condemned as racist and others have defended as a valuable teaching tool. With reference to this debate, Susan A. Santo (2007) remarks: “A learning style is an individual's preferred way of learning. When an instructor's style matches a student’s learning style, that student typically experiences greater satisfaction and a more positive attitude toward the course. However, there is considerable disagreement as to what degree learning styles actually affect a student's ability to do well.

Another area of controversy is in regard to what the different learning styles are or what they should be called. There is no currently existing overall, holistic theory of learning styles; rather there are bits and pieces. In fact, what some call learning styles, others have labeled as cognitive controls, cognitive styles, or personality. For the sake of simplicity, we will use the term "learning styles."

If we assume that individual learning styles do exist and can be measured, there is disagreement about what the instructor should do about it!”

In addition, professor Santo adds: “A major mismatch between instructor style and learners' styles can lead to trouble. For example, suppose that learners prefer independent work and reading, but the instructor prefers group projects. Never rely totally on any one method, but try to vary them. If a student does not seem to be learning, consider whether his/her learning style might be at odds with your teaching style. Remain flexible and be able to change planned learning activities if students are having trouble in a given area.”

In accordance with the controversial theory, Marie Rossiter (2006) reports: “Steven A. Stahl is one of the most vocal opponents of learning style theory. In a 1999 article, "Different Strokes for Different Folks?", Stahl offers a detailed critique of the entire concept of learning styles, particularly in the field of reading. Why is he so down on learning styles? In short, Stahl believes that:

  • Many of the studies supporting learning style theory are not based on reliable study.
  • Many people mistake learning preferences with learning styles--and, according to him, there is a big difference.
  • People like Howard Gardiner are simply looking for ways to make those with gifts in more creative avenues feel more "intelligent".
  • Learning Style theory is used to try to meet the needs of the many, diverse learners in our classrooms.”

Source: Santo, Susan A. “Learning Styles and Personality”. The University of South Dakota. Updated: December 2007. May 26, 2009 Adapted.

Adapted by: Victor Hugo ROJAS BAUTISTA (2009) Associate professor of Language Teacher Education at UNE & UNMSM


  1. I think you can consider the learning styles of your students to vary your methodology according to. All the students do not learn in the same way. Maritza

  2. Certain topics can only be taught a given way. Culinary Arts lends itself primarily a physical, kinesthetic learning style. Studying ancient history lends itself primarily to visual, reading learning style. We need to expose our students to as many different teaching / learning styles as possible, but we must retain the authenticity of topic by focusing primarily on the method that best illuminates the specific topic at hand.

  3. I think you are wrong about the practicality of learning style assessments. Creating an assignment is only as time consuming as you make it. Instructors can take the information and use it as another tool in the tool box of teaching. In my opinion the information gained is best utilized by the student for their personal self awareness and as a guide to successful study habits.

    On the flip side I believe an instructor can use a variety of teaching styles without catering to a specific student, that would be time consuming. If instructors mix up their lesson plans it exposes students to diverse learning styles wile meeting the needs of all the students.

    Kimberly Cron