Should teachers teach to individual learning styles?
Does research show that teaching to learning styles is effective?
Are learning styles determined by brain skills or preference?
An article in Scientific American explores these and other questions that matter to educators and parents everywhere.
The article begins with the story of Dr. Ken Gibson who, inspired by his own reading challenges, founded LearningRx, a brain training company that strengthens cognitive skills weaknesses.
According to Dr. Gibson, cognitive weaknesses are often at the root of preferred learning styles. That’s because students lean on their particular cognitive strengths as a way of compensating for one or more weaknesses. “We have a natural tendency to use the skills that are strongest,” Gibson adds. “That becomes our learning style.”
He does a great job of explaining why learning preferences develop. The burning question, then, is this: When schools accommodate those preferences by teaching to individual learning styles, does it help? Sophie Guteri, the article’s author, examines several studies, quoting researchers who say there’s no real evidence that accommodating individual learning preferences results in higher grades or better test performance.
In the article, Gibson doesn’t chime in on whether or not accommodations work. His point seems to be, instead, that they shouldn’t be necessary. That is, in fact, the premise behind his company, LearningRx. At LearningRx, students are given a cognitive skills assessment to identify weaknesses in skills including memory, logic, visual processing and auditory processing. Based on the results of that assessment, LearningRx brain trainers customize training exercises to target and strengthen those weaknesses. As weaknesses are strengthened, students find themselves better equipped to process incoming information in a greater variety of formats.
In this fascinating article, Guteri does an excellent job exploring the complexities of the issue, while the studies cited create a compelling case for interventions, such as brain training, that improve students’ ability to learn regardless of how material in the classroom is presented.