Did you know that learning styles are considered a neuromyth?

What? Really?  I suspect a good many of you have heard about learning styles. Probably from your days as a student. I even bet some of you know what your "learning style" is. Visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. I am totally there with you. Many years ago, during my undergraduate training in education and teaching, I was taught about learning styles. They made sense, and I wore my "visual" learning style proudly. You may have even heard some of your students say, "Oh, I can't sit still. I'm a kinesthetic learner."

Well, here's the thing. The reality is, there is little to no evidence to support the theories of learning styles (Rohrer & Pashler, 2012; Riener & Willingham, 2010; Willingham, Hughes & Dobolyi, 2016). Thus, learning styles are neuromyths. A neuromyth is a "misconception, misunderstanding, or misuse of information about the brain, which leads to false conclusions" (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2011, p.186). There has been a lot of that going around recently with the advances in neurobiology and its application to learning. The basic premise behind the theory of learning styles is that people learn in different ways, and they learn best when instruction is tailored to their learning style (Willingham, Hughes & Dobolyi, 2016).  Although the first part of the previous sentence is correct –  people do learn in different ways; it is the second part of that sentence that lacks evidence. I would suspect many of you have heard something like this directly from your students – “I can’t learn from that teacher. They don’t teach to my learning style.”

After discovering the new field of mind, brain, education during my doctoral study, I adopted a new approach with students. The more I learned about what we do know from science and evidence about how the brain learns, the more I shifted my perspective. I also ventured to shift that of my students as well. During orientation, I would ask how many of them had heard about learning styles and how many knew their “style.” A good portion of the class would raise their hands. Then I would tell them that while we all do learn and process information in our own ways and we have preferences for how we like information to be presented, the reality is there is no evidence to support that students learn better when taught to their style of learning. So, no one could use the excuse they couldn’t learn because the teacher didn’t teach to their style of learning. The goal was for them to become adaptive and flexible learners because this would serve them well in the future. I encouraged them to explore, and when they hit a learning block due to a perceived “style-instruction” mismatch, I invited them to remember that learning styles were actually preferences and to work with their classmates and teachers for ideas and ways to learn differently. The benefit of this is that they would be able to learn regardless of how the information was presented. Although our primary focus is to educate our students about medicine and the role and responsibilities of a physician assistant, as a teacher, I am also committed to helping students become better learners.  


Kelleher, I., &  Whitman, G. (2020). Every educator needs to know how the brain learns. Unlocking the Secrets of the Learning Brain, ASCD Express, 15(18). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol15/num18/every-educator-needs-to-know-how-the-brain-learns.aspx

Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The myth of learning styles. Change, September/October 33-35. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Cedar_Riener/publication/249039450_ The_Myth_of_Learning_Styles/links/0046353c694205e957000000.pdf

Rohrer, D., & Pashler, H. (2012). Learning styles: Where’s the evidence? Medical Education, 46, 630-635. Retrieve from http://uweb.cas.usf.edu/~drohrer/pdfs/Rohrer&Pashler2012MedEd.pdf

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2011). Mind, brain, and education science: A comprehensive guide to the new brain-based teaching. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Toppo, G. (2019). Neuromyths or helpful model? Insider Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/01/09/learning-styles-debate-its-instructors-vs-psychologists

Willingham, D.T., Hughes, E. M., & Dobolyi, D. G. (2015). The scientific status of learning styles theories. Teaching in Psychology, 42(3), 266-271. Retrieved from https://career.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra 2771/f/Article%20UCSF%20SEJC%20January%202017.pdf


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