Academic Articles

Learning Styles in the ESL Classroom.

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Do you incorporate the idea of learning styles in your ESL classroom? First, what is a learning style? Learning styles can be summed up as a preferred method for receiving information (visual, auditory, haptic) that is also implicitly linked with delivery of such material in a method that matches the students’ preference. The idea is that by matching the teacher’s delivery of information to students’ preferred method of delivery and their innate strength (also tied to one of these sensory categories), learning will be more efficient. So, if a student prefers reading to learn, you give her a book.  If she prefers to learn while moving or manipulating objects, you incorporate that element into your lesson plan?  But are learning styles effective?

Learning styles are a very popular concept in the educational world today, but there is no evidence to demonstrate they exist. Because of their popularity with teachers and consultants, cognitive scientists and educational psychologists have tried to understand what link exists between learning styles and learning, but they haven’t found one yet. A 2008 study performed by Pashler et al concluded that research attributed to learning styles was poorly performed, designed or misinterpreted. He and his colleagues recommended that researchers must be mindful of the methods they use to draw conclusions. They went one step further and cited human bias for thinking it makes sense to have a preferred learning style when science has increasingly demonstrated that many intuitive ideas we have about how we learn are often wrong.

So why are learning styles so popular in educational?  Well, people want to believe in intuitive concepts because they are self-validating. When the news broke that learning styles might be a real concept to apply in classrooms it was quickly followed by a crowd of education consultants and companies that could profit from selling tailored content. Also, the idea of learning styles is very closely associated with differentiated learning, but they are different things. Lastly, hardworking teachers are pressed for time and don’t always have the time to fact check the science behind district or school sponsored initiatives, so they take the word of the consultants and their administration as valid.

So, what can you do instead of using learning styles in your classroom? It’s important to recognize that not every subject is taught the same way. In teaching English we have seen that the Grammar Translation Method has its limitations, and after varying approaches to language instruction have come into vogue over the decades, what has emerged is the Communicative Approach. You might use some elements of grammar translation in your classroom but you also use some audio-lingual drills, and roleplays that focus on the authentic use of English to communicate in a business or social scenario. Remember that variety is the spice of life, but adding too much salt to a recipe makes it inedible.  If you add just the right amount of salt for the dish you will achieve best results. Similarly, in teaching English, use the right technique when it is called for, with an evidence based approach to teaching and learning.  Your students will thank you for it.

Learning style is a myth. A popular idea in education in recent years, learning styles offer us an occasion to examine the tenuous relationship between science and education.  To look more closely at the concept of learning styles, the concept needs to be defined for clarity, and then unglued from some closely related assumptions about its place, role and function.








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Posted By: Philip Morris Category: Academic Articles

English Teacher Website

About Philip Morris


Phil Morris specializes in online English teaching for elementary students. He is a graduate student at Concordia University- Portland pursuing an M.Ed. in TESOL. He has studied Virtual Teaching through the UC Irvine Extension Program and TESOL at Arizona State University. In 2014 Phil completed a two year leadership enrichment program with Leadership Eastside which focuses on the Heifetz Model of Adaptive Leadership and Organizational Learning. He has a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the State University of New York at Potsdam. He has experience mentoring employees into leadership positions, creating training programs and manuals, developing SOPS, writing training materials, public speaking and leading volunteers.


Apart from his career, Phil has many fun hobbies and interests which he pursues with gusto. Phil likes to brew beer and make cheddar cheese at home. He enjoys Stephen King and Milan Kundera novels, cooking, baking, learning Spanish, skiing in the backcountry, photography and follows topics like art, architecture, urban planning, economic development and NFL football on the internet.

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