Do All Students Share a Universal Learning Style?

Since 2008, researchers have been conducting studies which have challenged the idea that students have different learning styles, according to Annie Murphy Paul in the article “Do Students Really Have Different Learning Styles?” Studies have shown that students do have preferred ways of learning, but that the mode in which information is presented — whether using kinesthetic, auditory, or visual lessons — has no effect on their ability to “absorb information”.   What is useful, and where I differ from the research Paul’s references, is the critical area of learning styles and self knowledge:  to make a better commitment to study to how you learn, to link learning to careers and fields which match your abilities, and to manage both learning strengths and weaknesses.

The change, however, seems to be based in semantics rather than teaching pedagogy. As described above, students have learning “preferences,” implying that different minds are engaged and challenged by different ways materials are presented. Research suggests we can view learning in a more accurate way by viewing all students as having a “universal learning style” that share two common traits, says Paul:

  1. Information is most effective when it is presented in multiple forms. Combining words and images is more effective than using only words.
  2. Novelty and variety engages a student audience and can help them learn better. Turning a math lesson into a rap is one example of how an educator can make a math lesson into a memorable one.

Beyond what students share in common, they are not motivated or compelled to be interested in where their gifts and talents can take them if they don’t connect what is unique within them to what the world might offer the enterprising, aspiring, and self-aware student. Both the “universal learning” and the specific learning can provide a specific lens to what that student can do with his education, intelligence, gifts, talents, and wherewithal. Referencing John Gardner’s (Harvard School of Education) theory of multiple intelligence has been enormously effective in my fifteen plus years of working with these assessments and college students.

With the unemployment rate among graduates at a sixty year high and the cost of college exorbitant, educators owe undergrads guidance on how they can study to how they learn, how they can pursue careers that are linked to their abilities, and emphasize the role that experience in the real world has in augmenting school and book learning. As Dr. Robert Sternberg holds:  the world needs students who are “successfully intelligent” because they have developed their practical, creative, and analytical skills. Knowledge of learning styles is one step on this important adult path of self-awareness.

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