Revision notes

Do we each have a ‘learning style’?

We help you separate scientific fact from brainy baloney

At some point in your school life, you may have been told that you learn best by seeing images and diagrams, making you a visual learner, or that you need to hear things explained to really take them in, as you’re an auditory learner.

You might even have been told that you need to physically do things, such as roleplays, to understand and retain information, because you’re a kinesthetic learner. You may have been given specific tasks or split into groups based on which type of learner you are, and maybe it worked for you; however, it’s more likely that it didn’t.

There is no neuroscientific evidence for the visual-auditory-kinesthetic (VAK) model of learning styles, despite how popular the idea has become. Study after study has found little to no beneficial effect on students’ learning using these styles, yet research has found that 76 per cent of British teachers have used learning styles at some point in their teaching.

The VAK model is just one of many different learning-style theories. There are about 70 different models, most of which have been widely discredited, including the ‘left brain versus right brain’ theory (read more about this myth here). VAK just happens to be the one that gained traction in British schools.

Negative effects of the learning-style myth

There are many problems with promoting the idea of learning styles. If people believe they have one optimum way of learning and thinking, it may discourage them from developing new skills that they are more than capable of achieving, as they may think that these are outside their ‘style’.

And many schools have invested time and money in either training their staff to use these styles or hiring external ‘experts’ to demonstrate how they can be used in the classroom – even though they likely offer no real benefit.

You may well have a method that you prefer using – for example, when you’re revising you may draw diagrams, or use different coloured pens, or write out your notes over and over again. However, studies show that a preference does not necessarily mean that’s the only or even the best way that you might learn, and it may even be good for you to use a variety of methods.

Lead image:

Tim Regan/Flickr CC BY


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Inside the Brain’ in November 2017.

Inside the Brain
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development