If you’re in education or have spent any amount of time in higher education classes, then you’ve no doubt heard of learning styles. Basically, it groups common ways people learn into specific ways of teaching. Everyone’s brain is a little different.
Learning styles are thought to be a way of presenting material that is tailored to how an individual will learn best; whether it be visually, verbal, aural, physical, social, etc.
In fact this school of thought is so predominant that it’s taught to almost all teachers and is applied in most curriculums at some point throughout the year.
However, what if learning styles aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be? What if, in fact, this theory was found to be mostly a myth?
What’s the problem with learning styles?
“Five years ago a team of highly respected cognitive psychologists (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2009) published what should have been a bombshell in a rational world. They identified the type of evidence necessary to confirm the learning styles hypothesis and then went about searching for studies that could provide that sort of evidence, ultimately finding none. None.”
Why learning styles do not work
When you tailor a lesson or even a tutoring session to a student who is thought to learn by language better than auditory stimulation, they can get overloaded. Our synapses can only hold so much information. The brain is easily inundated with too much information in one hemisphere and therefore “dumps” important information into temporary or even unnecessary compartments of memory. The area that stores that particular type of input will overflow before it can convert it into long-term memory. Therefore, students retain far less information than they would if the lesson was balanced.
That means no matter what way a person learns best, if any one given area of the brain is overstimulated, information is lost. Even if someone thrives on language, when they’re bombarded with words and powerpoints with even more words as text, their language conduits are overloaded.
As Dr. Cuevas states, “Think about what it would be like if your spouse were to talk to you about dinner while two kids explained their encounter with the neighbor’s puppy as you’re trying to read this. Not so good for processing.”
What is Dual Coding, and Why Is It So Important?
When we can activate both the right (artsy) hemisphere of the brain and the left (logical) side of the brain at the same time, the two hemispheres communicate across the corpus callosum.
Further insight from Dr. Cuevas states, “These results, with all participants performing better in the visual condition and worse in the auditory condition, are exactly what dual coding does predict. When the participants were provided with stimuli that required them to use imagery and activate the visuo-spatial areas of the right cerebral hemisphere, in addition to using the left, they remembered more of what they were exposed to.
The pictures they created in their heads to go along with the word helped them to remember more information than those who just focused on the words and the sound of them.”
In essence, Dual Coding Theory tells us that graphic input and linguistic input are stored in two completely different areas of the brain. The two sets of information are processed there in short term memory. However, we can increase the chances of that information being retained (converted to long-term memory) by building connections between the two.
When we integrate images and text (like in a visual note taking strategy), we help students build a stronger understanding of each concept AND a stronger understanding of the relationships between the terms and ideas!
Visual Triggers: Examples of Graphic Input Combined with Text
The doodle note strategy allows students to interact with their lesson notes using both hemispheres of their brains. Kids can color, draw, doodle, highlight, and embellish the page to get the most of the visual input and interact through embedded student tasks.
For surface area vs. volume, I use a paintbrush and a pool. Students remember that the term "surface area" can be split into two words - one for the handle of the paintbrush and one for the bristles. They keep it straight from volume by knowing that was the one that covers the outside of the shape like painting.
For a three-layer reading strategy, the visual analogy is a cake with layers. Students fill in what to do on each re-read of the text, and then they remember that this particular method requires reading in "layers."
So take a break from trying to meet all learning styles, and offer your students strategies like doodle notes, which fit the research behind visual learning and dual coding theory.
I developed the doodle note teaching strategy to encourage left and right brain communication, blend visual and text input, and offer increased focus and retention of the lesson content.
Learn more about out visual note taking and Dual Coding Theory, then dive in deeper at doodlenotes.org