Old Wives’ Tales of Learning Styles

Old wives’ tales. We all grew up with them. They exist in all countries, ethnic backgrounds, and families from around the world. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (2017) helps define old wives’ tales as “an often traditional belief that is not based on fact.” Many tales exist and have become embedded within a wide variety of societal beliefs. These beliefs also include “tales” that have become interwoven with today’s academic settings.

From my perspective and experience throughout my career as a professor, I whole heartily agree with Kirschner’s (2017) views in his article on the myths that surround the concept of learning styles. Up until my start at the local college I teach at, I had not even heard of the concept of learning styles. There are many theories and models based on the principle that each person has a unique style when it comes to the learning process (Hawk & Shaw, 2007). I was even taught about some of the various models that were used within academia about 15 years ago. The college where I teach focussed on the Vark Model. The Vark model places the learner within a preference rage of four quadrants; visual, aural, read/write and kinesthetics (Drago & Wagner, 2004). Upon the completion of a pre-set questionnaire, a set of results would show which quadrants the individual learner would excel in.

Fifteen years ago, I assimilated this new knowledge on the Vark model and assumed it was correct. I did not research the Vark model any further than what I was taught. It was not until after my personal testing I found that that the Vark model fell apart. What I thought was my preferred learning style, did not correspond the outcomes of the questionnaire. These testing results occurred on four different occasions over the period of an academic semester. I also found similar results when using the Kolb model of learning styles (Hawk & Shaw, 2007). I, therefore, dismissed the concept of different learning styles and replaced the term ‘styles’ with that of preferences. Yes, the learner may prefer one way, but in reality, they can learn using all four quadrants. Upon reading this article by Kirschner, his results only cement what I have come to believe in over the years. I have also learned over my time teaching at Algonquin College that everything should be taken with care and research when assuming it is correct. Alas, it may only be an old wives’ tales.

Drago, W. A., & Wagner, R. J. (2004). Vark preferred learning styles and online education. Management Research News, 27(7), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1108/01409170410784211

Hawk, T. F., & Shah, A. J. (2007). Using learning style instruments to enhance student learning. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 5(1), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4609.2007.00125.x

Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education, 106, 166–171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2016.12.006

Old wives’ tales. (2017). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Retrieved from
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/old-wives’-tales

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