Learning styles : myth or what?

A recent question on my Twitter – are learning styles a myth? Or are they a valid means of differentiating activities for different children? This is my view on the issue.

Firstly what are learning styles? The idea has been around for a while as VAK, standing for – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic ways of learning: to which I would add – social. So, how does VAKS work as a strategy for enabling some children to learn more effectively? All of us learn better through our senses. Some children learn more visually. Others learn more by listening. Others learn kinaesthetically – touch-feely. Most children also learn by talking about ideas and concepts. The theory is that if schools tune in to each child’s preferred ways of learning, all children will perform better. I was introduced to VAKS early in my teaching career, and over time I realised that more children learn by using as many senses as possible, depending on the area of learning.

Take fractions, for example. Children need to move fraction pieces around (kinaesthetic), draw and colour in shapes (visual), listen to explanations about fractions (auditory), and talk about the ideas with adults and peers (social)- VAKS in action. Having practised fractions using lots of different activities, learning should then be secure.

The current NC buzzword is CPA: concrete, pictorial and abstract. Is this not basically the same idea as VAKS? Children practise using lots of kinaesthetic materials (concrete), draw and colour in images (pictorial, and then proceed towards abstract assimilation of the concepts (secured learning).

Mastery is yet another current buzzword. All activities should lead towards mastery of whatever is being taught. Are learning styles a myth? No, I don’t think so. I believe that all children, including those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, learn from using a combination of senses where appropriate. Whether this is VAKS or CPA is not important – but making, doing, seeing, listening and talking (as well as smelling and tasting)- are all learning styles that lead to mastery.

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