Learning styles


Teach and/or support learning

How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)

Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities

What can I do?


Focus less on 'tailoring' your learning; use evidence-based strategies that work for everyone

  • Do not spend time 'tailoring' your lessons to different learning styles
  • Regardless of 'style' of learner, provide meaningful images, wherever possible
  • Regardless of 'style' of learner, provide opportunities for hands-on, active skills practice

What is this about?

The idea of learning styles suggests that people have preferred ways of learning and that they are more successful when they receive information in a way that is consistent with their preferred learning style. According to the idea of learning styles, there are a variety of different learning styles that people may have, such as visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic. Some people may prefer to learn through visual means, such as by looking at diagrams or charts. Others may prefer to learn through auditory means, such as by listening to lectures or discussions. Still others may prefer to learn through kinaesthetic means, such as by actively participating in hands-on activities or experiments.

What's the evidence say?

Many people think we need to change our teaching for 'visual' or 'kinaesthetic' learners; this is not true.

Some argue that there are different student 'learning styles' (e.g., VARK: visual, auditory, reading / writing, kinaesthetic). They argue effective teachers should match their teaching to those styles. Around 90% of school teachers and 33% of academics use learning styles. Evidence does not support this 'neuromyth'.

Fortunately, this number drops by almost half once teachers are shown the lack of evidence for learning styles. That evidence suggests good teachers do not 'match' the teaching to the learner. Instead, use a range of evidence-based strategies that leverage all presentation modalities, not because they 'fit learners', but because they fit the task and work better for all learners:

Visual learning strategies that help all learners

  • Modality and multimedia
  • Concept Maps
  • Signalling

Spoken learning strategies that help all learners

  • Contiguity
  • Spoken Language
  • Group Collaboration

Reading and writing learning strategies that help all learners

  • Quizzes
  • Feedback
  • Simulation

Why the myth persists

Good teachers use different modalities, as described above. This observation may have been confused for 'tailoring' to learner 'styles' or 'preferences.' Also, as described in the video above, some tasks are better learned using different modalities. For example, visual maps are critical for learning geography, and doing is important for taking blood pressure. This is true for all learners, and is not delineated based on learning style.

What's the underlying theory?

The idea of teaching to students' preferred learning styles suggests that instructors take into account the learning styles of their students and present material in a way that is consistent with those styles. For example, an instructor who has students with a visual learning style might use visual aids such as slides or videos to present material, while an instructor who has students with an auditory learning style might use verbal explanations or discussions. By tailoring instruction to the learning styles of their students, instructors can help to increase motivation and engagement in learning.

Where does the evidence come from?

Randomised trials in this space have been conducted but seldom show benefits. Reviews have not used high-quality, quantitative methods.

  • The evidence in this space is weak (➖; lowest possible score)
  • It's a systematic review but trials are seldom randomised ➕➕ (studies may be unreliable)
  • They did not assess risk of bias ➖➖
  • They did not calculate meta-analytic effect sizes ➖
  • They did not calculate heterogeneity ➖
  • They did not assess publication bias ➖

E.g. Visual demonstration is important for taking blood pressure. This is true for all learners, and is not delineated based on learning style.


Systematic Reviews of Effectiveness

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: a systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre.

Systematic Reviews of Belief

Newton, P. M., & Salvi, A. (2020). How Common Is Belief in the Learning Styles Neuromyth, and Does It Matter? A Pragmatic Systematic Review. Frontiers in Education, 5, 270. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2020.602451

Non-systematic Reviews of Effectiveness

Cuevas, J. (2015). Is learning styles-based instruction effective? A comprehensive analysis of recent research on learning styles. Educational Research and Evaluation: An International Journal on Theory and Practice, 13(3), 308–333. https://doi.org/10.1177/1477878515606621

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest: A Journal of the American Psychological Society, 9(3), 105–119. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

Additional Resources