Learning Styles, Instructional Strategies, and the Question of Matching: A Literature Review

By Wilson, Mary L. | International Journal of Education, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Learning Styles, Instructional Strategies, and the Question of Matching: A Literature Review


Wilson, Mary L., International Journal of Education


Abstract

The study of learning styles is one of interest and debate in current educational circles. The diversity of the field arises from various theoretical foundations and definitions and, therefore, presents some challenges to understanding and implementation. Despite these issues, however, learning styles do appear to have a definite influence on the educational process. Teachers' training and perceptions concerning learning styles play a role in their application of learning style concepts to both instruction and assessment. Students also are influenced by learning styles, having unique perceptions of their abilities and preferences for learning that may affect their motivation and lifelong learning patterns as well as academic performance levels. Significant questions remain about the issue of matching learning and teaching styles, with arguments supporting a range of approaches including unmatched, tailored, and varied instruction. Further, there is a methodological debate concerning the most appropriate and effective methods for conducting research and gaining accurate information applicable to authentic educational environments.Additional research is necessary to address the identified issues and areas of contention in the field of learning styles and to provide further information and support for implementation of effective teaching practices in the classroom.

Keywords: learning styles, instructional strategies

The study of learning styles has received significant attention in recent years, and in a time when academic achievement is under scrutiny, it is vital that educators know and utilize the best possible methods for helping students learn successfully. When Koch (2007) questioned renowned learning styles expert, Rita Dunn, about the No Child LeftBehind Act (2001), she responded by stating that no research has indicated that increased testing leads to increased achievement. Although she acknowledged that testing is an important aspect, she declared that only changes in instruction would produce higher levels of achievement. Fortunately, the educational world is opening up to the importance of understanding the various ways students learn and recognizing the vital role this plays in attaining widespread academic success (Collinson, 2000). In fact, results of a recent study indicated teachers benefit from developing an understanding of how they and others learn as well as the effect this has on their teaching (Evans & Waring, 2006).

This does not mean, however, that all educators have come to an agreement on the definition, descriptions, or implications of learning styles.Instead, there are an ever-increasing number of theories and models being developed to address this issue. Potentially causing further confusion is the fact that many of these models have a similar theoretical base and share foundational components while they maintain significant variations. According to Collinson (2000), researchers building upon previous ideas and methodologies develop unique terms and definitions, expand (or contract) the base of included factors, and broaden (or narrow) the horizons of instructional approaches, all of which collectively conceal the overlapping qualities of their work. Perhaps one factor underlying this issue is the increasingly common view that learning styles are a combination of cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that merge to define each student's unique approach to effective learning (Collinson, 2000). Often, different researchers have chosen to focus exclusively on a certain set of factors, leaving educators with the need to study multiple theories and models in order to understand the needs and preferences of all the students they encounter in their classes.

An additional concern is that, while research and classroom experience confirms the existence of different learning styles, visits to schools throughout the world might convince one otherwise. Although Guild (2001) asserted that educators are cognizant of the diversity of the learners who populate their classrooms, he acknowledged that, regrettably, they typically maintain a singular approach to teaching. …

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