A critical examination of perceptual learning styles in English language teaching

Carol Lethaby 1  and Russell Mayne 2
  • 1 The New School, New York, USA
  • 2 English Language Teaching Unit, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
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.

  • Akbarzadeha, M & H Fatemipour. 2014. Examining the match or mismatch between teaching style preferences and upper intermediate EFL learners’ learning style preferences. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98. 137–142.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Al-Othman, NMA. 2004. The relationship between gender and learning styles in internet-based teaching-a study from Kuwait. Reading 4/1. 38–54. (accessed). http://readingmatrix.com/

  • Arbuthnott, KD & GP Krätzig. 2015. Effective teaching: Sensory learning styles versus general memory processes. Comprehensive Psychology 4. 2.

  • Aziz, K. 2005. Assessment of language learning strategies used by Palestinian EFL learners. Foreign language annals 38/1. 108.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Barbe, WB. 1967. Perceptually handicapped. In EC Frierson & WB Barbe (eds.), Educating children with learning disabilities, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

  • Barbe, WB, RH Swassing & MN Milone. 1979. Teaching through modality strengths: Concepts and practices. Columbus, Ohio: Zaner-Bloser.

  • Barcroft, J & M Sommers. 2014. A theoretical account of the effects of acoustic variability on word learning and speech processing. In V Torrens & L. Escobar (eds.), The processing of lexicon and morphosyntax, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

  • Boyle, RA & R Dunn. 1998. Teaching law students through individual learning styles. Alb. L. Rev 62. 213. http://heinonline.org/ (accessed)

  • Brown, HD. 2007. Principles of language learning and teaching (Fifth edition). White Plains: Pearson Education.

  • Brown, S & J Larson-Hall. 2012. Second language acquisition myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

  • Butcher, KR. 2006. Learning from text with diagrams: Promoting mental model development and inference generation. Journal of Educational Psychology 98. 182–197.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Chavosh, M & M Davoudi. 2016. The relationship between perceptual learning styles and reading comprehension performance of Iranian EFL learners. International Journal of English Linguistics 6/3. 61–69.

  • Clark, RC. 2014. Evidence-based Training Methods. 2nd edn. Alexandria: ATD.

  • Coffield, F. 2012. Learning styles: Unreliable invalid and impractical and yet still widely used. In P Adey & J Dillon (eds.), Bad Education, Berkshire: Open University Press. 215–230.

  • Coffield, F, D Moseley, E Hall & K Ecclestone. 2004. Learning Styles and Pedagogy in Post-16 Learning. A Systematic and Critical Review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.

  • Dekker, S, NC Lee, P Howard-Jones & J Jolles. 2012. Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology 3/429. 1–8.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Dörnyei, Z. 2005. The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

  • Dörnyei, Z & S Ryan. 2015. The psychology of the language learner revisited. New York: Routledge.

  • Dudley-Evans, T & MJ St John. 1998. Developments in English for specific purposes: A multi-disciplinary approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Dunlosky, J, KA Rawson, EJ Marsh, MJ Nathan & DT Willingham. 2013. Improving students learning with effective learning techniques promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14/1. 4–58.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Dunn, K & R Dunn. 1987. Dispelling outmoded beliefs about student learning. Educational Leadership 44/6. 55–63. http://www.ascd.com/ (accessed)

  • Dunn, R. 1996. How To Implement and Supervise a Learning Style Program. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Alexandria.

  • Dunn, R & K Dunn. 1972. Practical approaches to individualizing instruction: Contracts and other effective teaching strategies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Parker Publishing Company.

  • Dunn, R & K Dunn. 1975. Educators self-teaching guide to individualizing instructional programs. West Nyack, NY: Parker Publishing Company.

  • Dunn, R & K Dunn. 1978. Teaching students through their individual learning styles: A practical approach. Reston, VA: Prentice Hall.

  • Dunn, R, K Dunn & GE Price. 1977. Diagnosing learning styles: A prescription for avoiding malpractice suits. Phi Delta Kappan, 418–420. http://www.jstor.org/ (accessed)

  • Dunn, R & S Griggs. 1988. Learning Styles: Quiet Revolution in American Schools. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.

  • Dunn, R & S Griggs. 1990. Research on the learning style characteristics of selected racial and ethnic groups. Journal of Reading, Writing, and Learning Disabilities International 6/3. 261–280.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Dunn, RS & SA Griggs. 1995. Multiculturalism and learning style: Teaching and counselling adolescents. Westcourt, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

  • Ehrman, M & R Oxford. 1990. Adult language learning styles and strategies in an intensive training setting. Modern Language Journal 74. 311–326.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ehrman, ME, BL Leaver & RL Oxford. 2003. A brief overview of individual differences in second language learning. System 31/3. 313–330.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Eliason, PA. 1995. Difficulties with cross-cultural learning-styles assessment. In J Reid (Ed) Learning styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

  • Ellis, R. 2008. The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Ellis, R & N Shintani. 2014. Exploring language pedagogy through second language acquisition research. New York: Routledge.

  • Folse, KS. 2004. Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

  • Frostig, M. 1967. Education of Children with learning difficulties. In EC Frierson & WB Barbe (eds.), Educating children with learning disabilities. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

  • Gardner, H. 2000. Intelligence Reframed. New York: Basic Books.

  • Garrett, SL. 1992. The effects of perceptual preference and motivation on vocabulary and attitude scores among selected high school students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of La Verne, La Verne, CA.

  • Griggs, S & R Dunn. 1995. Hispanic-American Students and Learning Styles. Emergency librarian 23/2. 11–16. http://files.eric.ed.gov/ (accessed)

  • Harmer, J. 2015. The practice of English language teaching Fifth edition. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

  • Hatami, S. 2013. Learning styles. ELT Journal 67/4. 1–3.

  • Hattie, J. 2009. Visible learning. Oxon: Routledge.

  • Hattie, J & GC Yates. 2013. Visible learning and the science of how we learn. Oxon: Routledge.

  • Honigsfeld, A & R Dunn. 2003. High school male and female learning-style similarities and differences in diverse nations. The Journal of Educational Research 96/4. 195–206.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Howard-Jones, P. 2014. Neuroscience and education: Myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 15. 817–824.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Hyland, K. 1993. Culture and Learning: A study of the learning styles preferences of Japanese students. RELC Journal 24/2. 69–91.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Hyland, K. 1994. The learning styles of Japanese students. JALT Journal 16/1. 55–74.

  • Jarrett, C. 2015. Great Myths of the Brain. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

  • Kinsella, K. 1995. Understanding and empowering diverse learners. In J Reid (Ed) Learning styles in the ESL/EFL classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

  • Kirschner, PA. 2017. Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers and Education 106. 166–171.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Kirschner, PA & JJG Van Merriënboer. 2013. Do learners really know best? Urban legends in education. Educational psychologist 48(3) 169–183.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Krätzig, GP & KD Arbuthnott. 2006. Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of the hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology 98. 238–246.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Lethaby, C & P Harries. 2016. Learning styles and teacher education: Are we perpetuating neuromyths? ELT Journal 70/1. 16–27.

  • Lilienfeld, SO, SJ Lynn, J Ruscio & BL Beyerstein. 2010. Fifty great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Massa, LJ & RE Mayer. 2006. Testing the ATI hypothesis: Should multimedia instruction accommodate verbalizer-visualizer cognitive style?. Learning and Individual Differences 16. 321–336.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Mayer, RE, J Heiser & S Lonn. 2001. Cognitive Constraints on Multimedia Learning: When Presenting More Material Results in Less Understanding. Journal of Educational Psychology 93(1) 187–198.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Nel, C. 2008. Learning styles. In C Griffiths (ed.), The good language learner: A tribute to Joan Rubin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Newton, PM. 2015. The learning styles myth is thriving in higher education. Frontiers in Psychology Dec Vol 6/Article. 1908. 1–5.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Norman, S. 2003. Transforming learning. Safire Press: London.

  • Oxford, R & R Lavine. 1991. Teacher-student style wars in the language classroom: Research insights and suggestions. AFDL Bulletin. [Online] Available: http://www.ade.org/adfl/bulletin/V23N2/232038.htm (January 7, 2010)

  • Oxford, RL. 2003. Language learning styles and strategies: An overview . GALA, 1–25 http://web.ntpu.edu.tw/~language/workshop/read2.pdf

  • Pashler, H, M McDaniel, D Rohrer & R Bjork. 2008. Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9/3. 105–119.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Peacock, M. 2001. Match or mismatch? Learning styles and teaching styles in EFL. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 11/1. 1–20.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Purpura, JE. 2014. Language learning strategies and styles. In M Celce-Murcia, DM Brinton & MA Snow (eds.), Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, 4th edn. Boston: Heinle Cengage Learning.

  • Putintseva, T. 2006. The importance of learning styles in ESL/EFL. The Internet TESL Journal 12/3. www.iteslj.org (accessed).

  • Reid, J. 1984. Perceptual learning style preference questionnaire. Copyrighted by Reid. Available through Joy Reid, Department of English, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82070.

  • Reid, JM. 1987. The learning style preferences of ESL students. TESOL Quarterly 21/1. 87–110.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Reid, JM. 1995. Learning Styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

  • Reid, JM. (ed.), 1998. Understanding learning styles in the second language classroom. Prentice Hall Regents.

  • Richards, JC & TS Rodgers. 2014. Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Riener, C & D Willingham. 2010. The myth of learning styles. Change Sept/ Oct. 32–36. (accessed). www.changemag.org

  • Roediger, HL & MA Pyc. 2012. Inexpensive techniques to improve education. Applying cognitive psychology to enhance educational practice Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 1/4. 242–248.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Rogowsky, BA, BM Calhoun & P Tallal. 2015. Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology 10/1(64).

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Rosenberg, M. 2013. Spotlight on Learning Styles. Peaslake: Delta Publishing.

  • Schellekens, P. 2007. The Oxford ESOL Handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Scrivener, J. 2012. Classroom management techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Stebbins, C. 1995. Culture-specific perceptual learning style preferences of postsecondary students of English as a second language. In J Reid (ed.), Learning Styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom, Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

  • Stobart, G. 2008. Testing times: The uses and abuses of assessment. New York: Routledge.

  • Thornbury, S. 2006. An A to Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

  • Tight, DG. 2010. Perceptual learning style matching and L2 vocabulary acquisition. Language Learning 60. 792–833.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Tomlinson, B. 2011. Materials development in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Van Kesteren, MTR, M Rijpkema, DJ Ruiter, RGM Morris & G Fernandez. 2014. Building on prior knowledge: Schema-dependent encoding processes relate to academic performance. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 26/10. 2250–2261.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Willingham, DT. 2005. Do visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners need visual, auditory, and kinesthetic instruction? American Educator 29/2. 31–35. (accessed). www.readingrockets.org

  • Willingham, DT. 2009. Why don’t students like school?. American Educator, Spring, 4–13.

  • Wintergerst, AC, A DeCapua & RC Itzen. 2001. The construct validity of one learning styles instrument. System 29. 385–403.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Wong, LLC & D Nunan. 2011. The learning styles and strategies of effective language learners. System 39. 144–163.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Wu, SH & S Alrabah. 2009. A cross‐cultural study of Taiwanese and Kuwaiti EFL students learning styles and multiple intelligences. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 46/4. 393–403.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
$42.00
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.


Journal + Issues

IRAL is devoted to problems of general and applied linguistics in their various forms. Its focus of interest lies in areas of research which concern first- and second-language acquisition (including sign language and gestural systems). Contributions cover topics such as naturalistic and instructed language learning, language loss, bilingualism, language contact, language for specific purposes, language technology and mother-tongue education.

Search