Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

The obligatory Learning Styles post

I’ve been feeling a bit left out, a bit behind the times. I couldn’t think why. Is it because I’ve babied more than blogged this year?


It’s because I’ve never written a post about Learning Styles and such a post is all the rage. Or was a while ago but surely I can restart it. It’s like the course book debate. There’s no end to how many times the same debate can be had, be it on blogs, Twitter or even at conferences. If there’d been blogging around the time of Flat Earth theory, no doubt it would have gone on just as long. I suppose EFL, an industry with such a fast revolving door on workers because of the low pay, bad conditions and lack of prospects, will inevitably have the same navel-gazing conversations ad nauseum because that wheel actually looks new if you’re new to EFL.

As is my wont, I’ll not bother referring to research on the topic, as plenty of people have done that better than I could be bothered to, so I’ll just blather on with my 2 cents anyway. This is the best thing about talking about Learner Styles — you can get away with just saying ‘Sorry, this is my belief so you can’t say I’m wrong’.

Brilliant! Everything I am about to say is automatically irrefutable!

Just like with Bertrand Russell’s Earth-orbiting teapot, the onus is on the Learning Styles Unbeliever to prove LS don’t exist. Therefore, if I believe they don’t exist, I have to prove it. If you don’t believe they don’t exist, I have to prove it too. If you believe that not believing in them doesn’t mean they don’t exist, I have to prove they don’t exist. And by the time I have confused you for a bit longer with my gobbledegook about beliefs, one of us will have left the conversation with all beliefs intact, undented by any rational argument using that evidence nonsense.

All this reminds me of the time, three years ago, when I arrived in Madrid and my shared flat was robbed, twice. The first time, all but one of us was asleep so they only got that one girl’s stuff. The second time, they’d waited for everyone to be away for Semana Santa and cleaned us out. I lost money and a really crap MP3 player and another guy lost all his DJ and photography equipment. The landlady decided not only that I was the culprit, but that I was living in Spain under a double identity and was actually a man. The whole thing was so preposterous, and she purported to be in such absolutely certainty that it was true, that I couldn’t prove it wasn’t. If I listed any of the reasons it was rubbish, she just asked me why I was lying. If I said I wasn’t lying, it proved for her I was lying.

You can’t argue with someone’s belief using facts if they don’t think facts are relevant. I think the root of it is that beliefs are about facts. Whether I am a man or not (!) and whether Learning Styles exist are facts. I either am or am not, they either do or do not. But you are free to believe whatever you want about these facts as long as you hold the facts themselves in lower esteem than the beliefs.

I always used to revise for exams by memorising sheets of notes and then recalling the notes themselves visually during the exam. Not knowing any better, I would have called myself a visual learner. Except … I wouldn’t have been able to recall those notes by the day after the exam so I didn’t really learn anything. I used a visual technique to memorise something I had in a visual form i.e. written notes.

Well, why didn’t you make a recording and learn them in an auditory way? Because you’re not an auditory learner!

It’s true I don’t concentrate well when listening to audio books and tend to drift off.

Aha! You see!

Ahhh, but like most people I effortlessly learn song lyrics just from hearing the songs. In fact, even if I read the lyrics and memorised them, I would do a worse job at recalling the song than if I’d heard it a few times. I used an auditory method to learn an audible thing.

Aha! But I bet you sang along while you were listening. You’re a kinaesthetic learner! You had to do something while learning. 

Now you mention it, I can’t learn exercise routines just from watching a video, I have to follow the routine physically to get it. Or, in other words, I learn a physical thing best by learning it physically. But I never do it very well because I have no co-ordination. Actually maybe the key element is watching someone else and copying them while I’m doing it.

Yes, we said you’re a visual learner at the beginning!

OK, then. What about this? I have a terrible problem getting left and right correct so have to click the appropriate fingers when I’m trying to give people directions. Just visualising it, or God forbid, looking at a map, and I get the directions wrong most of the time.

So am I a visual learner or not?

All the above adds up to nothing but pointless going in circles. It shows nothing more than that different people have different ways of doing some things vs other things. To say these things are the result of my Learning Style is far too shape-shifting to be true. Much more likely is that things lend themselves to certain ways of learning and just because someone does tap ups with a football while they’re thinking, or relates better to photographs than a written description of something, tells you  one thing. Their preferences. It tells you nothing about the way they learn.

You say teapot, I say toss pot. There is no such thing as Learning Styles and just because having lots of different activities in class makes a more interesting lesson is no reason to pretend that you’re catering to Learning Styles as opposed to just offering variety.



3 comments on “The obligatory Learning Styles post

  1. eflnotes
    August 21, 2015

    hi Nicola

    one way to workaround endless debates (especially on social media) and push it into any productive developments may be to kind of automate it

    @thisbyanychance ( attempts to do this on twitter where one can ask the bot via a keyword to tweet a related link

    so for example if you see someone tweet something in support of learning styles u could say @thisbyanychance tell @NicolaPrentis about learning styles and the bot would tweet u a link to a Russ post on this

    if you follow the bot it will add your twitter handle to it’s database and you can use it

    there is a link on the bot profile with current set of keywords, all suggestions for more welcome


  2. teachingbattleground
    September 1, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  3. jmcthefirst
    September 24, 2015

    I found that quite amusing. Teapot v toss pot. (inward chuckle)
    Thank you.

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2015 by in Teaching English, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , .
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