Research conducted in 2014 questioned if school pupils absorb information better when they’re taught under specific learning styles and techniques. In 2019, perhaps surprisingly, this topic of which method is best remains a hotbed for contention and controversy.
It’s well known that pupils can excel in certain subjects and may struggle to master others, and of course there’s no shame in finding anything difficult. It has rightly remained the principle of education in good schools to nurture a child’s desire to learn, rather than to relentlessly push them into acquiring top-end grades to the detriment of their wellbeing. Learning is an organic and diverse process and it suffers when enforced under superficial measures.
This said, an array of questions come into play here; can pupils decipher the information they need from blocks of text, or are more practical study methods their forte? Will they improve from class group work, or can they thrive using an online course at home? Do they need images to tackle a subject, or a teacher issuing instructions at every step?
Each learning method in the VAK model aims to ensure that every child has an access point into learning, breaking down the barriers that prevent them from fully understanding any given topic. A child who prefers visual means can, theoretically, stick to the books and videos while avoiding any physical or listening-based activity. But does it make sense to make the act of learning so linear?
Complications arise when it comes to taking each method and making them applicable to every subject. Can a visual learner use images to really understand playing sport in physical education? Can an auditory learner excel in a silent reading period of an English class? Will their future workplace cater to that singular method alone? When a pupil is confined to a singular way of learning, it may have the potential to create a paradoxical classroom culture and restrict the kinds of information they can absorb in the future too.
Moreover, a research paper in 2004 recorded as many as 71 different learning styles, but the scholars themselves cited that their endeavours were “extensive, opaque, contradictory and controversial” after accumulating their data. Again, this state of argument appears to have changed little to date. While some children did indeed find their studies to be worthwhile under a personally tailored regimen, others criticised the lack of diversity. Do we ignore the things we’re not good at, or do we work to hone our skills?
Children need to know that learning is undoubtedly for them. When it comes to getting started or exam revision, something like VAK is undoubtedly a plus. It’s okay to have favoured ways of doing things, but then again, school is about being flexible and engaging with a never-ending canvas of ideas. There should be a constant circulation of learning styles for children to acquaint themselves with – not only so they can play to their strengths, but also to improve on methods of learning that they’re not so well versed in as well.
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