Reasons to Incorporate Learning Styles in Teaching

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

What are learning styles, and why should you incorporate them into your classroom? Learn that while there are criticisms of learning style theory, there are undeniable benefits to using it in your classroom.

What are Learning Styles?

Everybody is different. It's a mantra that all good teachers take to heart. But understanding how to best teach your students takes a lot more than the simple acknowledgment that they're each different. You have to know your students, and know how they work. One way that students can be described as different from each other is their learning style.

Some people prefer learning by seeing things with their eyes, like diagrams and pictures
Some people prefer learning by seeing things with their eyes, like diagrams and pictures

Learning styles are theories that try to separate students by their different and optimum methods of learning. For example, some learning style systems separate people into visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners: learners who prefer receiving knowledge visually, through listening, and through physical touch and doing. Some learning style models split things up far more, including social modes of learning, learning through musicianship and others. But the goal is the same: to find a structure to explain why students have different preferences for learning, and why teaching something one way can be best for one student, while teaching something another way can be best for another student.

Some people prefer learning by listening to things, whether lectures, music, or other sounds
Some people prefer learning by listening to things, whether lectures, music, or other sounds

Learning styles have been adopted across the teaching world, but learning style theory is still controversial. There are many criticisms. People argue that learning styles don't fit our understanding of how the brain stores information. Others point out that research suggests there may be an optimum way to teach a particular topic, rather than the same style always being best for a particular student. And rather than focusing on your best learning style, perhaps you should focus on your worst, and try to improve your ability to learn in every style.

These criticisms are all quite valid. So does that mean we should forget the whole thing? Certainly not. Even if the idea of learning styles has flaws, there are still many clear reasons that employing learning styles in your classroom will be beneficial to students. In this lesson, we're going to review a few of those reasons.

Some people prefer to learn by doing as these kids learn by creating a school garden
Kids harvesting vegetables

Reasons to Incorporate Learning Styles in Teaching

One of the biggest reasons to use learning styles in your classroom is because it encourages variety. While research on learning styles is mixed, one thing is common across all the literature: multimodal learning benefits everyone. If you hear something, see something, do something, and feel something in the process of learning a single concept, no matter what your personal learning style may be, you will learn that thing better.

Another reason to use learning styles is that engagement matters. If one of your students has a kinesthetic learning style, their life in a traditional school will tend to be boring and unsuccessful. If you prefer learning through physical touch and activities, spending all day reading, writing, or listening to lectures, is not going to make you feel excited by or interested in your education. Even if learning styles turn out to be nothing more than a personal preference, there's still plenty of reasons to find ways to interest all of your students. A multimodal classroom is a more fun and engaging place to be.

Giving students ownership of their own learning is a big deal. Many students never really engage in education because it's always something that is forced upon them, and never something that they really take control of themselves. There's a lot of evidence to support the fact that ownership of learning leads to improved outcomes. Learning styles are another way to do this because you can talk about learning styles with your students. Students that are more self-aware, who have taken learning style tests and thought about how they prefer to learn, will have better study skills, and will be more engaged in the classroom because they've reflected on the learning process itself.

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