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Are "Learning Styles" Backed By Scientific Evidence?

When I was in sixth grade, a psychologist came into my English class and gave us a "learning styles" test. I was going to a magnet school at the time, a school that might today be lumped in the TAG category. I don't remember the specifics of the test, but I distinctly remember the outcome. As the psychologist stood in front of our class before the test, she said, roughly: "Most of you will be visual learners; the rest will be auditory. [Explanation of those learning styles, and how smart people can use them while studying and such.] Oh, and kinesthetic learners are good with their hands, so they're usually mechanics. None of you will fall into that category." Guess who the only kinesthetic learner in the class was? Yup, me! I was a very quiet, non-kinesthetic kid, so I was baffled (though I was a fairly good pianist). When I asked what I could do with this new learning style information, the psychologist shrugged and said, "Learn to type?" So I did.

In the years since, I often wondered about learning styles and whether I was an odd duck, being a kinesthetic learner who was also a writer and an extremely verbal person. For example, I would write (or later type) notes in class, but I never, ever went back to read them. There was a time in high school when I would "type" my notes on a nonexistent keyboard on my desk, since there was no way I could afford a laptop, and I wouldn't read the notes later anyway. It looked weird, but it worked. In college, when I finally had a laptop, I took notes using my blindingly fast typing ability (and was paid for this -- the university gave me a stipend for taking notes to be given to other students who could not take their own), but I never reviewed my own notes, since it didn't seem to matter; I either knew the material or I didn't. And typically, sitting through a class, I knew it. So perhaps there was something to the notion that the "kinesthetic" activity of typing the notes was what made me learn them. Or was it simply that I had convinced myself that this was the case, because at a formative moment, someone told me how my mind worked?

NPR has a good article (and audio piece) on the topic. It seems that some recent studies and surveys of existing studies apparently disprove the notion that learning styles are actually significant in terms of classroom teaching -- this doesn't mean that the learning styles don't exist (though there is apparently a lack of super-solid science on that too), but it may mean that tailoring lessons to a particular, single style may be a mistake. Here's a snippet:

We've all heard the theory that some students are visual learners, while others are auditory learners. And still other kids learn best when lessons involve movement.

But should teachers target instruction based on perceptions of students' strengths? Several psychologists say education could use some "evidence-based" teaching techniques, not unlike the way doctors try to use "evidence-based medicine."

Psychologist Dan Willingham at the University of Virginia, who studies how our brains learn, says teachers should not tailor instruction to different kinds of learners. He says we're on more equal footing than we may think when it comes to how our brains learn. And it's a mistake to assume students will respond and remember information better depending on how it's presented.

Read the rest and be sure to listen to the audio piece -- it's fascinating stuff, and sure to rile the many people who have based careers on learning style theories.

What Do You Think?

Are you a teacher, learner, or other person with an interest in learning styles? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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