Visual, communicative, auditory, haptic: the theory of learner types is a myth

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Do you memorize relationships well after you’ve heard them? Then you learn auditory. Do you tend to keep content in the oral exchange? You are a communicative learner. Do you mostly stick with the mind map of the material? You learn visually. If, on the other hand, you internalize content best by touching and moving, that’s haptic learning.

In truth there is never just one. The learner types – they just don’t exist, that can be scientifically proven. Nevertheless, the theory of the four types of learning by biochemist Frederik Vester as the most well-known of over 70 learning theories is very persistent.

But it could not only be wrong – it could also be harmful if teachers align their lessons with it. This was recently discovered by the British neuroscientist Phil Newton from Swansea University Medical School.

Belief in learner types promotes disadvantage – and demotivates

Newton and student Atharva Salvi reviewed relevant studies on teaching methods around the world. According to this, almost 90 percent of the teachers surveyed believe in the theory of learner types and actively use it. A practical effect is absolutely not demonstrable, write Newton and Salvi in ​​the specialist magazine “Frontiers in Education”.

Newton therefore considers it wrong to assign people to a certain type of learner. On the contrary: it disadvantages students and reinforces the pigeonhole thinking. “Anyone who is considered an auditory learner by teachers, for example, could question subjects with visual or written components such as art or journalism for themselves,” says Phil Newton. “That demotivates.”

“The Learning type theory wastes time and resources “

Belief in learner types leads to unrealistic expectations. “Those who get bad grades, don’t enjoy learning or are not taught according to their own learner type, could relate the negative experiences to themselves and their learning,” says Phil Newton. “Even for a long time. So assigning learners to a certain type of learner wastes time and resources. “

Even so, belief in them persists. “Many teachers have been rated according to their own careers, and that shapes them,” says Newton. He has a better tip: “Learning methods such as subdividing the subject matter – or more frequent tests are effective and simple.” The teacher training should be adapted accordingly.


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