Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

29 June 2007

Learning Styles

Clark @ 12:22 PM

I keep hearing queries and statements about learning styles, so here’s a slightly edited (but still not particularly diplomatic :) response to a recent query about learning styles (as I also posted to ITFORUM, a great discussion list if you like academic discussions on learning technology like I do):

Rubbish. Yes, mix types of media and experiences to match learning tasks and maintain motivation, but not for ‘styles’.

I have very strong thoughts on personality type and learning: I spent 2+ years leading a team developing a system that adapted learning on the basis of individual differences.

I’m not a psychometrician, but I have a PhD in psych, and I studied the learning styles literature (including Jonassen & Grabowski’s non-critical compendium “Handbook of Individual Differences in Learning & Instruction” or somesuch) for several months to create the plan for that systems, and I then got to hire a psychometrician and a senior cognitive scientist (Valerie Shute, who’s work with Patrick Kyllonen at Brooks AFB is probably still the best cognitive psychometrics stuff going, she did her PhD at UCSB with Dick Mayer) to back me up.

Essentially the existing learning styles stuff is not sound, and that’s not just my reasonably-well informed opinion, but the result of a research study (warning, PDF) done in the UK.

And apparently another one as well, check out Wikipedia’s entry, which is pretty good, too.

Great way to raise awareness of differences, don’t get me wrong, but most instruments (that is, assessments) are flawed, and misused. There’s good stuff you can do, but few limit themselves to that. Go to an ASTD conference expo, and you’ll see a veritable plethora of ‘learning styles’ assessments available to ‘improve’ your organization.

My take-home is as with multi-cultural learning: do the best job for the content, and if that’s counter to a person’s learning style, help them learn to process or cope with different modalities.  Your thoughts?


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! I’ve been eager to hear your take.

    Comment by Cammy — 29 June 2007 @ 1:02 PM

  2. My thoughts? First, figure out what the person is supposed to do. Next, determine what tools, practice and support are best for the circumstances, including the work environment and other general characteristics. Then use sound instructional, media and information presentation methods to create learning resources that provide some flexibility for different needs and abilities.

    I have yet to see any evidence of an effective learning program that used learning styles to any degree. I know that Will Thalheimer tried to get some evidence, but so far no takers on this year-old challenge:

    “I will give $1000 (US dollars) to the first person or group who can prove that taking learning styles into account in designing instruction can produce meaningful learning benefits.”


    Comment by Harold Jarche — 29 June 2007 @ 1:52 PM

  3. No worries, Cammy, all you have to do is ask: I have opinions on lots of things! ;)

    Comment by Clark — 29 June 2007 @ 2:26 PM

  4. […] as a catch-phrase to say that the training will be suitable for different tastes and abilities. Clark Quinn has one word on learning styles – rubbish. I agree, noting that Will Thalheimer still hasn’t […]

    Pingback by Harold Jarche » Designing Learning for Any Style — 30 June 2007 @ 4:04 AM

  5. Thanks for this Harold! I’ve been rather uneasy about these sorts of diagnostics and classifications, in the same way that I am not always happy with our approach to dealing with learning difficulties. I do think a lot of these ideas can be useful, but more as something to keep in the back of your mind when designing resources and activities. The objective here is to make sure you design something that is adaptable and varied and a consideration of these styles can help you do that.

    The problem arises when we start to feel the need to categorize people based on these ideas, and slap a standard recipe for success on their learning based on this categorization.

    Comment by Rene Meijer — 30 June 2007 @ 4:55 AM

  6. Rene, I agree that categorization using these insufficiently justified approaches is wrong. They can be used for ‘awareness raising’ to shake someone out of the “all students are the same”, but they’re not the basis for prescriptive interventions. And stop calling me Harold! ;)

    Comment by Clark — 30 June 2007 @ 8:09 AM

  7. I hate to say “when I was in school” but when I was in school there was a big emphasis on learning styles although in my case it was in K-12. At the same time validated research on various educational practices (programmed instruction, various media types, and the like) had a big focus. Of course basic research showed no significant (or any at all) differences for accommodating learning styles. Yet the myth remains.

    Comment by Kelly Smith — 20 July 2011 @ 10:15 AM

  8. […] Clark Quinn : http://blog.learnlets.com/?p=166 – From: http://learnstreaming.com/7-resources-explaining-the-learning-styles-myth/ – […]

    Pingback by Learning Styles: The Validating Evidence is Not There — 7 November 2011 @ 10:55 AM

  9. Someone just tweeted this again, Clark :) So would you say that learning styles don’t exist, or they do but we shouldn’t design for them? Because I’m usually screaming they don’t exist from the rooftops ;)

    Comment by Koreen Olbrish — 26 November 2011 @ 4:42 PM

  10. Koreen, I say that people do differ as learners but a) the instruments out there to assess learning styles aren’t psychometrically valid, and b) there’s no evidence that you should adapt instruction to learners’s styles (use the right media for the message). Two later posts, one on rethinking, and this one on going further elaborate my thoughts. In short, I think that we might find results if we took the learner’s anxiety/confidence level into account, and work with their learning style while they’re anxious, and once they’re confident, we might challenge them against their style. But that’s an empirical question….

    Comment by Clark — 26 November 2011 @ 5:27 PM

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