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A critical examination of perceptual learning styles in English language teaching

Carol Lethaby and Russell Mayne

Abstract

This article critically reviews the concept of learning styles, particularly the notion of perceptual, that is, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK), styles. We look at problems with the definition and terminology used to describe VAK learning styles, arguing that they have yet to be shown to be consistent and measurable attributes. We review the history of VAK, present literature on the topic in language teaching and other educational fields and scrutinize the scientific, psychological and educational concerns with the use of VAK learning styles in the classroom, asserting that much of the popularity assigned to the notion of VAK learning styles is based on the false assumption that teaching to a learner’s sensory learning preference will enhance achievement. We conclude with some brief suggestions for alternative pedagogical interventions in language teaching which do have strong empirical backing as well as a call to the language teaching profession to look to other fields, such as neuroscience and cognitive science to guard against classroom practices that have no scientific basis.

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Published Online: 2020-06-02
Published in Print: 2020-06-25

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