Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence (Knupsky review of Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork)

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009).  Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence.  Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.

Reviewed by Aimee Knupsky, Psychology, Allegheny College aknupsky@allegheny.edu

In this review article, the authors examine empirical evidence for the application of learning styles assessments and practices.  The learning styles literature suggests that the instructional or assessment methods educators use will be more or less effective depending upon a student’s learning style.  For example, if a student is a visual learner, she would perform better with visual presentations of information.  However, the authors point out that very few studies have met the conditions necessary to test this idea.  In their review, the authors first discuss a variety of learning style inventories and then consider why the learning styles approach has received wide-spread support among students, parents, and educators.

Next, they make their case for the kind of evidence that would support the learning styles approach and examine any relevant psychological or educational studies that could provide this evidence.  The results of their review show support for the idea that individuals have strong preferences for the how they like to learn.  However, they find no evidence that these preferences are in any way predictive of actual performance.  Instead, they find evidence for differences in performance of students with high and low aptitude across various types of instruction.  For example, high aptitude students seem to perform better with less structure while low aptitude students perform better with more structure.  On the other hand, high aptitude students seem to perform better with lecture than with more active learning experiences whereas low aptitude students show the reverse pattern.

The authors conclude that the cost of incorporating learning styles based instruction is not justified until empirical support for its use is obtained.  However, they argue instead for more research examining best practices for teaching different disciplines and for considering the interactions between student aptitude and instructional methods since these questions seem to show more promise for improving student learning.  Finally, they emphasize research demonstrating a disconnect between our belief about how we learn best and our actual performance, which coincides with findings that students often misjudge how much they will learn using various study strategies.  Educators can make an impact by highlighting these mistaken beliefs and by utilizing or developing empirically supported best practices.



  • http://glcateachlearn.org/members/frank-denison/

    Important article.