Dancing About Architecture

Do you know your learning style? The idea is that everyone has a particular way of learning that works best for him or her, and – as a result – will learn most when information is presented in this format. You might well have already completed a measure of their learning style at school, college or work, but – just for fun – why not try the questionnaire below?

1. When making a cake do you prefer to a) follow a recipe from a book b) listen to a friend explain how to make it c) have a go, making it up as you go along

2. When buying a new product do you a) read reviews online b) ask your friends what they think c) try out lots of different types

3. When learning a new skill do you prefer to a) watch an instructional video b) listen to someone talk through the steps c) give it a try and work it out as you go

4. When you need to get somewhere do you a) use a map b) ask someone to explain the route c) just head in the right direction and follow your instincts

5. When you go to a restaurant do you prefer to a) look at pictures of the food, or what others are eating b) talk through the options with a friend c) try to imagine what each option will taste like

• If you chose mostly (a)s, you are a visual learner. You prefer to use diagrams, pictures, demonstrations, videos and lists of instructions.

• If you chose mostly (b)s, you are an auditory learner. You prefer to listen to verbal explanations or instructions and talk through problems (perhaps sometimes in your head).

• If you chose mostly (c)s, you are a kinaesthetic learner. You prefer to learn using your hands and body – feeling, touching, trying out, having a go.

Now scroll down to find out what your learning style says about you.

Photo credit: Andrew Gritt
Photo credit: Andrew Gritt

Dancing about Architecture: Answer

Now, I must apologise for leading you on a bit of a wild-goose chase. The idea that everyone has a particular style of learning that works best for him or her is almost certainly complete nonsense. This may surprise you, given that learning styles are so widely used in teacher training, from kindergarten and infant school all the way up to training courses for university professors. The problem is not so much with classifying people as visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners per se. Most people will quite happily classify themselves as belonging to one of these groups if you ask them. The problem lies with the claim that people learn best when information is presented in their preferred learning style. One recent review was unable to find a single experimental study that provided any support for this view, and a couple that provided evidence against. The method is simple. First you identify visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners, using a questionnaire like the one above. Then you give everyone a lesson in a new topic (e.g., for one particular study, this was basic electronics). Some people get information in their preferred style (e.g., visual learners get diagrams, auditory learners get spoken instructions), others get the opposite (e.g., visual learners get spoken instructions, auditory learners get diagrams). Then you give everyone the same final test. It turns out that the training makes no difference: both “visual” and “auditory” learners do just as well whether they have been taught via the diagrams or with spoken instructions.

In fact, a moment’s thought makes it clear that the best teaching method depends not on the learner, but on what is being taught. Nobody successfully learns to drive a car by watching someone else do it (as “visual learners”) or by listening to spoken instructions (as “auditory learners”); you need the kinaesthetic experience of having a go. On the other hand, no architect could train for her profession just by “having a go” (or through the medium of interpretative dance) – which ought to be the case for kinaesthetic learners; you have to read books, look at buildings and plans, and listen to experts. The same is true for school subjects. Are we to believe that children who are auditory learners find it easier to solve complicated mathematical equations by talking them through, rather than using a pen and paper?

So, if you are a teacher, by all means present information in different formats if it helps to keep your lessons varied and interesting, but – above all – present it in the way that is most appropriate to the material, rather than worrying about whether or not you are neglecting some particular “types” of learners.

Source: Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

This is a sample chapter in the style of Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge, forthcoming  from Profile Books (UK) and Penguin (US).  For details click here

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