In the early 1990s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to solve a problem he was confused when he supervised the classroom as a school inspector. After watching 9,000 different courses, he realized that only a few teachers could reach every one of his students. What did they do differently?
He suggested that people have different "learning styles" (early theories include "VAK" without reading and things involving "convergence" and "assimilation"), but VARK has become one of the most prominent models.
Experts are not sure how this concept spread, but it may be related to the self-esteem movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Everyone is special, so everyone must have a special way of learning, people concluded. Teachers told students about various learning styles as early as in elementary school.
Teachers like to think that they can reach all students, even struggling students, and just personalize their teaching according to each student's preferred learning style, according to Dr. Ebinol, a student at Central Michigan University studying learning styles. At the same time, students like to attribute their academic failure to the teacher's failure to align to the student’s own learning style.
Much evidence shows that people are not really any kind of learner. In a study published in the journal Anatomical Science Education, Polly Husmann and her colleagues asked hundreds of students to answer a VARK questionnaire to determine what kind of learner they should be. Then the survey provided them with some learning strategies that seemed to be related to this way of learning. Husmann found that not only did students' learning styles not seem to reflect their learning styles, but also those who adjusted their studies to their own styles did not perform better on tests.
Husmann believes that students have developed certain learning habits, and once formed, they are difficult to break. Students seem to be interested in your learning style, but it is not enough to change learning behavior accordingly. Even if they are aware of a learning style, it doesn't matter.
Husmann said that for anyone who wants to learn new things, the most important thing is to really focus on the material; this is what the most successful students in his research did, rather than putting some flashcards on the table while watching a football game. Learning styles may help you understand yourself, but it may not help you actually learn!