Brain-Based Learning

Are Learning Styles Real – and Useful?

We’ve collected nine varying opinions from learning experts about whether the idea of learning styles is valid and a useful addition to a teacher’s toolkit.

September 22, 2015

As noted in Edutopia's Multiple Intelligences brief, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner describes learning styles as how an individual approaches a range of tasks "categorized in different ways: visual/auditory/kinesthetic, impulsive/reflective, right brain/left brain, etc. Gardner calls learning styles 'a hypothesis of how an individual approaches a range of materials.'"

Here we present the views of well-respected educators and researchers debating the limitations and utility of learning styles.

Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert A. Bjork

Harold Pashler is a Professor of Psychology in the Cognitive Science Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is also the author of The Psychology of Attention and the editor of Stevens' Handbook of Experimental Psychology. Mark McDaniel, Professor of Psychology with a joint appointment in education at Washington University in St. Louis, is the coauthor of Memory Fitness: A Guide for Successful Aging and Prospective Memory: An Overview and Synthesis of an Emerging Field. Doug Rohrer is Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida. Most of his research concerns learning and memory, with a recent emphasis on learning strategies. Robert A. Bjork is a Distinguished Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on human learning and memory, and on the implications of the science of learning for instruction and training.

Mark K. Smith

Mark Smith is a London-based researcher and educator at Developing Learning. He writes for and edits and is on the editorial board of Youth and Policy. His recent co-edited books include Learning Through Outdoor Experiences (PDF) and Youth Work and Faith.

David J.M. Kraemer, Lauren M. Rosenberg, and Sharon L. Thompson-Schill

David J.M. Kraemer is a Postdoctoral Associate at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Lauren M. Rosenberg worked in the laboratory of Sharon L. Thompson-Schill, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes leads the Learning and Performance Support Systems program at the National Research Council in Canada, and is one of the originators of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). He has published 135 articles, books, magazines, and academic journals, and has presented more than 250 times.

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is a developmental psychologist and a Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Senior Director of Project Zero. Among his 30 books are Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences and The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World co-written with Katie Davis.

Eric Jensen

Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul writes a weekly column about learning, and wrote Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, and The Cult of Personality.

Carol Tomlinson

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy at the University of Virginia. She has written over 200 articles and is the author of 15 books, including The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners and, with Tonya Moon, Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom.

David Glenn

David Glenn is the senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education and covers social science research. His writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Lingua Franca, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review.

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