Should Lesson Plans Be Based on Learning Styles?

Many teachers make it a priority to present material in a variety of formats. They fight hard to make sure that every student walks away understanding each lesson. After all, tailoring lessons that speak to each student’s learning style is important, right? As it turns out, researchers are scrutinizing the widely accepted theory that every person falls into one of three learning style categories: visual, auditory or kinesthetic. The outcomes of several recent studies suggest that, while we may have distinct learning preferences, we are all equally capable of learning information in the same ways.

Image courtesy of Bill Browning: http://www.mnispi.org/cartoon/2001/index.htm

The concept of learning styles has been embedded in teachers’ formal training, continuing education and professional literature for the last 30 years. For some, thinking of the time and energy that has been devoted to planning lessons applicable to all learning styles can be discouraging. The good news is that those efforts by teachers have not been in vain. Research on learning styles has made one thing clear: people retain information better if it is presented in a variety of formats over a long period of time. So teachers, if you present fractions one week through traditional lecturing, the next week by splitting students up into groups of 4/5 and 1/5 of the class, and the next by sharing fractions of a pizza (my personal favorite), your students – all of them – are benefitting greatly.

Perhaps the best advice that educators can take away from this research is to avoid pigeonholing students. By exposing them to a wide variety of learning experiences, teachers give their students every opportunity to be engaged, curious and eager learners.

Teachers, has the concept of individual learning styles been a large part of your training? Do you feel that recognizing a student as a certain type of learner helps or hinders their progress?

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