The Neuromyth of Learning Styles; What Librarians Should Know

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

September 28, 2021

I typically focus on what does work in education. However, it can be equally important to be aware of what does not work. 

Unfortunately, there are a number of myths about how individuals learn that are prevalent in classrooms and training sessions. One of the most common myths is learning styles. 

When you think of learning styles, you likely think of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. There may even have been a time when you were asked to take a test to determine your learning style, and then, based on the results, it was suggested that you focus on learning using images, by listening, or by doing. Many educators are still taught to use learning styles in their own instructional design. 

Research, though, does not support the existence of learning styles, and their use may actually be detrimental to learners. 

As librarians, it is our job to use reputable sources and use research-based practices. This means that in our instructional work, whether that be in-person training, online tutorials, or working with someone at the reference desk, we should not use learning styles to develop instructional methods. We should also not encourage others to use a preferred way of learning that is grounded in the idea of learning styles. 

Of course, when appropriate, we should still use visual elements, auditory explanations, and kinesthetic hands-on activities. When choosing to use a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning tool we should focus on the content and align the appropriate tool to it. For example, it would be challenging to teach new hires to use a database without showing them the database. It would also be challenging to teach new hires about a database without providing an auditory (or written) explanation of why the database is important. 

There are many research-based instructional practices (see my previous posts about interleaving, the spacing effect, and retrieval practice). I encourage you to explore the research on how the brain learns. 

Recommended resources

Chick, N. (2010). Learning styles. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Khazan, O. (2018). Are ‘learning styles’ real? The Atlantic.

Newton, P. M., & Salvi, A. (2020, December). How common is belief in the learning styles neuromyth, and does it matter? A pragmatic systematic review. In Frontiers in Education (Vol. 5, p. 270). Frontiers.

Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The myth of learning styles. Change: The magazine of higher learning, 42(5), 32-35.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets. 

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