Tag Archives: learning

Why ‘Learning Styles’ Theories Should not be applied in the classroom

Educational practice is littered with myths that have permeated over the years and have not gone away. A particular example that is evident in most countries is the habit of wrongly identifying the differences between students- ‘right-brained’ or left-brained; ‘global’ or ‘holistic’; ‘visual’-, ‘auditory’- or ‘kinaesthetic’-learners. The latter is what this article will focus on as it has been found that there is a poor application of this Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic learning styles (VAK) theory, particularly in the UK. The Times Educational Supplement (2005) found that the UK’s Department of Education over-emphasise the importance of the VAK model in classrooms and that schools need to provide evidence of using a multitude of ways of teaching to accommodate students’ learning styles.


The idea that individuals are either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners is probably familiar to most educators and students. This theory suggests that despite our ability to be able to receive information through different senses, we have a preference, i.e. some people prefer seeing, some like hearing, while some prefer kinaesthesia (the sensation that tells us where our bodies are). When learning anything new, visual learners prefer diagrams, drawings or printed words. Auditory learners prefer to hear songs or descriptions or anything they can listen to. Kinaesthetic learners on the other hand like to hold and use objects and/ or move their bodies.


It has long been established that people differ in their visual and auditory memory abilities. Our brains can store what something looks like and what they sound like. When asked to describe the physical properties of our sofa or bed, we tend to use our visual memory to recall what they look like and what they are made of. But when asked who the better singer is between Bruno Mars or John legend, we tend to use our auditory memory to recall how each of them sings. The difference between one person to the next is the amount of detail each of their memories are able to hold. Some people’s brains are able to store detailed and vivid visual and/ or auditory information, while some cannot.

I should also point out that our memories are not solely visual and auditory. We also remember meanings. Just recall the recent story you have read or heard. You may not remember it word for word, but I am certain that you will remember its meaning. In other words, meaning has a ‘life’ of its own.


The whole of learning styles studies and practice (not just VAK) lack theoretical underpinning which can reliably explain the whole discipline and its claims (Hay & Kinchin, 2006). While the differences between people’s auditory and visual memory abilities and capacities are very well supported in academic literature, they do not support the VAK theory. I must remind you that the theory’s key assumption is that individuals will learn better when the instruction and/ or information is presented in a way that matches their cognitive style. For instance, imagine two fictitious students Bob and Sam. Let us pretend that Bob is a visual learner and Sam is an auditory learner. Imagine also that I gave both of them two sets of new words and their corresponding definitions to learn- one presented as a written list whilst the other was a presented through a voice recorder that the students have to listen to. The theory suggests that Bob would learn the first list better than Sam and that the opposite would be true for the second list.

Hundreds of similar studies have been conducted and have found what the theory predicted, which is that students like Bob learned the first list better than students like Sam. However, I would claim that tests (and results) such as the one described do not support the theory simply because they do not test auditory and visual memories. One should note that even though the information is presented through auditory and visual media, what’s being tested is the meaning of the words. Using visual and auditory memories purely will not help anyone to recall meanings of words.

I must acknowledge that there are some lessons and topics wherein students must depend on either visual or auditory memories. For instance, visual memory is used to memorise how shapes look like while auditory memory is used to store and recall what a guitar sounds like. However, the vast majority of learning relies on students’ ability to learn, store and recall meaning, as well as sights, feelings and sounds.

ASSESSMENTS- another big problem

While it is all very well (to some extent) that schools encourage teachers to teach students in a variety of ways based on their learning styles or memory use, they are still assessed in the same old way. Everybody gets assessed in the same way. In most cases, students are given the exact same test papers or practicals.


NO. We must acknowledge that proponents of the VAK theory claim that the same material should be presented in different ways to ensure that each student’s preferred style is matched. For instance, when learning about a country’s map, teachers should present visual learners with a printed map and written descriptions of it, while the auditory learners should listen to an audio recording of someone verbally describing the features of the map. Kinaesthetic learners on the other hand could be asked to create a model of the map. While this approach may work when learning a map, I assume (and know from experience) that this would not work in guitar lessons.

I agree with Coffield et al. (2009) when they condemned champions of ‘learning styles’ theories for pigeon-holing students unnecessarily using unreliable and poorly validated tests. I have witnessed experienced teachers administer VAK questionnaires to unsuspecting secondary and primary-school students and then labelled them using the results they have collated. I am also aware that some schools send teachers on a one-off ‘learning-styles’ training day. This is problematic as one-day trainings are insufficient to learn and critique any theory. Also, some of them are forced to apply these poorly tested theories by their head teachers despite their reluctance to do so.


Most teachers and educational professionals believe that this theory is correct and here’s why I think that is:

  • It has become common wisdom– i.e. everybody believes it, therefore it must be true.
  • It is true that we all differ in visual and auditory memories. One may suggest that the child who is able to draw a building accurately after seeing it only a few times is a visual learner, whereas in fact, she has a better-than-average visual memory. Having a great visual memory is NOT the same as being a visual learner.
  • Confirmation bias– we unconsciously interpret situations as being consistent with our beliefs.


Hodgkinson and Saddler-Smith (2003) have shown through research that it is possible for the same students to use different learning styles in different situations and lessons. They have also shown that it is possible for students to learn and strengthen their use of their non-preferred learning style in order to counter-balance their preferences.


I believe that the way forward is to abandon most people’s unsupported beliefs about learning styles. The theories have not been supported by research and practical applications. However, I would still urge teachers to be creative and present information in different modalities- not to suit anybody’s learning styles, but in order to promote attention and engagement. We should know that any change in routine will catch us out. If a teacher has been talking for 25 minutes, chances are that most of the students in the class will get bored and lose their concentration. Putting on a video or getting them to do an activity that requires kinaesthesia would be a welcome change. Also, instead of individualising the required mental processes for each student, I urge teachers to let all of your students to practise learning and retaining information using different modalities or ‘styles’.

Lastly, although this point is almost out of teachers’ hands, students’ attainment should come from a multitude of assessment techniques and not only pen and paper ones. I must admit that this has been happening for a good few years now but I feel that more should be done.


In my opinion, the learning styles myth and the way it has spread highlights the growing concern in teachers’ knowledge of up-to-date research findings. Fresh graduates are often well equipped with the latest research findings and new exciting ways of teaching. But some (including Coffield, 2014 and I) have observed that the longer some teachers have been in their profession, the lesser they know about recent publications. It is important to keep up with the research in order to refresh one’s approach. It is also likely that what we know now may not be supported by research that will be conducted in the future. I would also add that it is not enough to read textbooks as most of what is written in one will be about 2 years old. Peer-reviewed journal articles are always the best source of information. In contrast to books, published peer-reviewed journals are carefully scrutinized and approved by a group academics and researchers.


First Sight


Whether a person, a pet, an object or a place, write about something or someone you connected with from the very first second

The Daily Post

“There may be no other relationship that affects us more profoundly, and that is harder, sweeter, sadder, more filled with joy or fraught with woe than our relationship with our brothers and sisters.”

Jeff Kluger

I was 10 when my life changed for the better. My sister was born. I thought to myself, ‘wow, now I have to get my act together because this little person will be looking up to me’. I suddenly had a responsibility. I suddenly became a role-model. Most of all, I suddenly have someone to love unconditionally, take care of, and mold to become better than me.

My sister’s birth coincided with the time when I finally started to mature emotionally and mentally. Although I was only 10 years old at that time, I began to seek independence in my own little ways. I also began to take on a little bit of a responsibility at home. This is probably why I felt like I have to be an even more responsible human being when my sister was born, despite having both of our parents’ love, support and guidance.

Through the years, my sister and I grew closer and closer to each other. We compete against each other- especially in academics (she’s shattering my family records at the moment, to my annoyance), we argue, laugh and cry. We stand up for each other and try our hardest to become a better person each day by following each other’s example. I am also proud to say that despite our differences and the trials that life has thrown at us, we have never fought each other. I do not recall having fallen out with her.

It is such a great feeling to know that someone is always going to be there for me, as much as I will be there for her. I have taught her a few things over the years (which include crossing the road), but she has taught me how to be responsible. She gave me my first opportunity to prove to myself  and others that I can be better, and that I can teach explicitly and implicitly through my actions. This gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams and to stand up  each day in front of students in the classroom.

I am grateful to my little sister for everything that she has done for me.




Other First Sights:

Sue’s Triffles

Chronicles of an Anglo-Swiss

Prairie’s Views

The girl who thinks an awful lot

From hiding to blogging

Nana’s got a blog

Thoughts, imaginations and words

The zombies ate my brain

Easter Ellen

Dieting sucks blog

Owl and Scribe

Meandered Wanderings


Developing an Excellent Parent-Teacher Relationship


We usually think of schools as places for young people to learn through lessons taught by their teachers and through their interactions with peers. We often forget one of the most important factors in children’s learning: the relationship between parents and teachers. Having an effective relationship between these two groups of people can help learners achieve more. However, this is not often the case in the real world. Tension can often rise between home and school especially when parents feel that their kids are failing, not improving, being bullied or being ignored. Teachers sometimes feel that parents are not doing enough to help with their students academically, or that they just simply are not on the same page.

How can these issues be solved?

Setting the same goals

It is important for both sides to make each other realise that they have the children’s welfare and success in mind. There may be times when they disagree on certain issues such as disciplinary sanctions or grades/ marks, but it is important to keep in mind that they are both trying to reach the same goal.

Parents should be made aware of the school’s behaviour policies and academic expectations of the schools. In the case of students with Special Educational Needs, parents should be included in planning, implementing and monitoring of any interventions that would affect their children.


Schools should have an Open-Door Policy, wherein parents are allowed to contact the school if they have any querries or concerns regarding their children’s social and/ or academic welfare. Both teachers and parents should be open to suggestions and criticism
. Having effective and frequent communication can help bridge the gap between home and school, as learning occurs and should continue in both settings.

Communication can also help schools understand the background of the students. Factors such as family, socioeconomic status, cultural expectations and peers can all impact on students’ learning, and having a better knowledge of these can help put things into a different perspective. Let me elaborate. Students who are misbehaving or underachieving are often labelled as naughty, lazy or just plain bad. Knowing students’ circumstances (e.g. if their parents have recently been separated or they have recently experienced bereavement, etc.), could change their teachers’ perspectives of them, which could eventually result in a better plan for helping them.

On the other hand, parents would be able to know how their kids behave (good or bad) in school if they are in contact with the teachers regularly. They would be able to monitor progress or decline in both behaviour and academics, and would be able to offer (and receive) help and advise to the school.

Have an Open Mind

Communication and goal setting would only work if both parties set their egos aside and develop an open mind. I know this is easier said that done, but unless you are prepared to see the students suffer, try and accept the other person’s points of view.


Both parties must trust each other’s judgements and opinions. Teachers are trained professionals whilst parents are the experts with regards to their kids. They will disagree with one another but respect should be exercises throughout. When you’re getting wound up, bite your toungue!

Interventions and teaching styles will not always work perfectly, therefore both parties should be open to changing their ways.

Teaching and Learning with LEGO

lego1Parents and teachers of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) including myself, are always looking for different ways and materials to teach many different skills. We want their learning to be as exciting as it is informative to them. In all of my years of working with pupils with ASD, there hasn’t been an equipment/tool most effective than Lego. First and foremost, there are very, very few kids who do not like playing with, or even looking at Lego. They are brightly coloured blocks which is usually associated with FUN and PLAY; not school/ learning. Its association with fun is the most important thing to remember, especially (but not exclusively) when the children are really young, since the lessons can be disguised as play (remember this when your students aren’t cooperating in structured lessons).

So what lessons can we teach them through Lego?


Through Lego, we can teach kids with ASD different ways of sorting and grouping things. Lego can help reinforce the lessons they have learned in school. They can sort the pieces by colour, sizes and shapes. Of course, we could extend this by giving them say, 5 pieces and asking them which one is the ‘odd one out’.
lego people

We can also use the Lego men and women to teach gender. A lot of young individuals with Autism that I have worked with initially struggled with identifying the gender of their peers, and having them inspect the (potentially) non-threatening plastic faces of the Lego characters have helped them greatly with this issue. Identifying a Lego figure’s gender is of course very different to identifying a real person’s, but learning through these plastic figures is a major step that needs to be taken forward.




Learning to count is always easier when you’re counting something you like. Having children count the pieces that they have or counting with them can help reinforce numeracy skills. Asking questions such as ‘how many wheels does that car in your hand have?’ or how many trees do I have in my hands?’ can be a lot easier for them to answer compared to worksheets. Also, They can put Lego pieces together to build the numbers (see picture on the left).

Fine Motor Skills and Coordination

Many children with Autism have developmental delays in motor skills and coordination. Playing with Lego can help improve these skills. Having them manipulate those blocks by putting one on top of the other and taking them apart can help train their finger and hand muscles to great effect. Also, by using both hands while playing, their coordination could improve. 

Social Skills:

Expressive and Receptive Language

Playing any type of games can help develop children’s language. Expressive and receptive language can be improved by regularly asking questions about the game/ pieces that they have. Also, emplying what Speech and Language Therapists call ‘Sabotage technique’ wherein you withhold something that they want until they say the correct phrase of asking for it (e.g. ‘please may I have the black wheel for my car?’). They can also be explicitly taught to follow instructions while playing.

Sharing sharing

‘What’s mine is mine’ is often one of the biggest problem parents have with their children. Parents can teach their children how to share by playing Lego with them and modelling different ways of sharing and compromise. Explicitly saying ‘it’s your turn to pick a piece’; ‘it’s OK if you have that piece’; ‘I’ll have this piece instead’ or ‘thank you for giving me this piece’ can help build up the children’s vocabulary, whilst learning what sharing means at the same time.

Imagination and Planning

It may be a hard task to teach a child how to imagine something, but giving them a platform to do so will help stimulate their imagination. Asking them to build a blue tower or a green and white house gives them a chance to both imagine what the house or tower would look like and how they will do it. These abilities vary from one child to the next and tailoring each task to an individual’s skill set is definitely necessary.

Why Obedience is Not Always Good


If an authority figure told you to harm another person by administering 450v-shocks, would you do it? I hear you say NO. In the light of the nazi regime and it’s horrifying tales, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram set out to find just how much we obey autority figures. In his now classic experiment, he told 40 male participants that they were conducting a study on learning. Each participant took on the role of a teacher. Individually, they asked a ‘student’ (a confederate of the experimenter), who is in another room, a series of questions. If the student fails to give the correct answer, the teachers must administer electric shocks, which increased in intensity as the study progressed. The participants were not aware that the shocks were fake and that the students were only pretending to be hurt.

The students begged to be released once the 300v mark was reached. When the participants asked if they could stop, the ‘experimenter’ (another confederate, wearing a white lab coat who is standing next to the participants), gave these commands:

  1. Please continue
  2. The experiment requires that you continue
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue
  4. You have no other choice. You must continue.

Milgram’s findings showed that 26 out of 40 administered the maximum shock, whilst 14 stopped before reaching the highest levels. These findings led Milgram to suggest that most of us are likely to obey any orders due to the presence of an authoritative figure.


Mirror Neurons and their roles in language development, learning and Autism

mirror neuron

During the 1990s, a group of Italian researchers discovered that a group of neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys fire (or are activated) not only when they perform an action, but also when they watch other monkeys do the same. However, subsequent studies have found that mirror neuron activation is not correlated with actions but with specific goals. Over the years, research into these ‘Mirror Neurons’ have found that humans also possess the same mechanisms.

Although the function of mirror neurons may seem simple enough, they really have an important function in our daily lives. Mirror neurons allow us to be able to know what another person is thinking or feeling, i.e. it is possible that the development of mirror neurons are a major component of empathy. Indeed, renowned researchers such as Prof. Ramachandran and Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen believe that this is the case. Mirror Neurons have been associated with Autism– a neurological condition which is characterised (amongst other things) by difficulties in understanding other people’s actions, intentions and thoughts.

Albert Bandura (1977) proposed that we learn through observing others performing different tasks (Social Learning Theory). For instance, (most) children copy most of what their parents are doing. It is possible that Mirror Neurons and related circuitry allow for this to happen. This proposal can be extended to the possibility that Mirror Neurons are partly responsible for the development of language and culture. If this is the case, it could explain how humans survive challenging situations. Culture helps us adopt to new environment, know what food to avoid and access better nutrients.

Image source: ScienceDirect.com

More on Autism:

Diagnosing Autism: What you need to know

Vote for Miss Montana 2012, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

DSM-V and Autism

The Autistic Me: BBC Documentary

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Practical tips to make your classroom Autism-Friendly

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?