Learning Style Tests

Maya Colchamiro, Staff Writer

Many have heard of or even experienced the learning style classification system. In this system, a short test concludes an individual’s “primary learning style.” This is typically determined by five to seven categories, although this can range, as different learning style tests have different classifications. According to Neumann University,  “[The categories include] the verbal learner, who loves to read and write, and express themself both verbally and in writing, the spatial-visual learner, who likes to use pictures when they learn, the aural (auditory-musical) learner, who likes working with sound and music, the kinesthetic/physical learner, who likes to move around, and use their hands/sense of touch, the logical (mathematical) learner, who likes to use reasoning. [Between these groups] there are social interpersonal learners, who like to work in groups and communicate well, and solitary interpersonal learners, who prefer to work and study alone.” These categories are not concrete, as the VARK determines by four simple categories: visual, auditory, read/write, or kinesthetic. Similarly, The Biomedical Center for Medical Education (BMC) explained that “Learners can be classified as unimodal if they show predominantly one learning preference, or multimodal if preference is shared between two or more learning styles.” The BMC tested the prevalence of multimodal learners, as well as the specific types of learning styles. The study found that “The majority (69.9%) of first year students had multimodal learning styles. Among the unimodal learners (30.1%), the clear majority were auditory learners (50%). Among multimodal learners, 30.1% were bimodal learners with auditory-reading (50%) and auditory-kinesthetic (31.8%) types predominating.” While there are clear majorities in this data, there is still great variety.

There is also controversy over the reliability of certain learning style tests. Programs like the VARK and ASSIST questionaries are commonly used in medical studies, and the VARK Learning FAQ page  explains that “The VARK questionnaire is difficult to use with current statistical methods of validation because of its structure and the fact that it allows multiple answers to each question. VARK replicates how real decisions are made using many preferences so the multiple answers for each question make statistical analysis very difficult.” With the challenge of testing this data, many still hold suspicions about learning styles. Senior Pranav Vulisetti states, “I do not know if I completely believe in learning styles, just because of the lack of research/data.” Additionally, many are questioning if learning style tests should be implemented as a required assessment in schools, like Issaquah’s “Xello lesson” system.  Freshman Carenna Rutledge says, “Administering learning style tests in schools could be useful, but sometimes students cannot be classified to just one or two learning styles.”

Furthermore, teachers find it challenging to develop the best way of testing a student’s knowledge on a given subject. Tests, projects, quizzes, and labs can often be overwhelming for students, but alternatives to these frequently lack the “requirements” teachers set to identify learning. Junior Brooklyn D’Souza explains,“The best measure of learning is probably projects, with those types of tests, more time tends to be given to students. There is less stress/anxiety associated with them, and they provide students with a way to apply their learning to the real world.” These ideas appear to be quite common, as Rutledge states, “Even though I typically do not like projects, I still feel like they test knowledge well. With a project, a student has time to comprehend the material, and even if they do not have information perfectly memorized, they get an opportunity to research and learn more.” Ultimately, assessments are designed to help students learn, and should vary to help students comprehend the most information possible.

Similarly, classwork can be altered to fit learning. D’Souza explains, “Labs are really helpful for me personally, as I like to see the concepts I am learning about in real time, as well as the application of certain ideas/principles.” Many others enjoy labs. Sophomore Silas Sneath states, “Since I typically learn best by doing things with my hands, I feel like science classes are my best subject. Especially in a class like sports medicine, I can really visualize every bone by using physical models like skeletons.” He further explains, “I also think no-count quizzes help me learn, as they test my knowledge without penalizing me. I also like that they prepare me for actual tests.”  This is a prime example of how learning styles can be implemented in education, but altering curriculums can be extremely challenging, as there are a wide range of learning styles. Vulisetti states, “It would be challenging for teachers to cater to every student’s needs.” Similarly, Rutledge explains, “I feel like Issaquah is doing a pretty good job of catering to my learning style.”

Ultimately, learning styles can help students succeed in schools, but individuals must not treat these as concrete evidence. Reliability is challenging to test, and the majority of students have a wide range of learning preferences. Learning preferences should be applied to education to best suit the needs of students.