Science / Fiction Notes - Sources — Carol Black

Notes and Sources

for "Science / Fiction"


For convenience, I've grouped the scientific sources here according to whether they argue in favor of learning styles or against them. A separate section has posts and essays by education professionals on the uses of learning style concepts which do not involve the "meshing hypothesis," and another section has sources on modes of learning in non-"WEIRD" cultures..


1. PRO: Academic & research books & articles on learning styles

The Value of Intellectual Styles, Li-Fang Zhang, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Psychology, Daniel Reisberg, ed., Oxford University Press, 2013.

Handbook of Intellectual Styles: Preferences in Cognition, Learning, & Thinking, Li-Fang Zhang, Robert J. Sternberg, Stephen Rayner, eds., Springer, 2012.

Cognitive Style as Environmentally Sensitive Individual Differences in Cognition: A Modern Synthesis and Applications in Education, Business, and Management, Maria Kozhevnikov, Carol Evans, Stephen Kosslyn

The Neural Correlates of Visual and Verbal Cognitive Styles, David J.M. Kraemer, Lauren M. Rosenberg, and Sharon L. Thompson-Schill, The Journal of Neuroscience, 25 March 2009. 

A Threefold Model of Intellectual Styles, Li-fang Zhang and Robert J. Sternberg, Educational Psychology Review, 17(1), 1–53, 2005.

“Jack loves to come up with his own ways of doing things. He prefers unstructured assignments and to come up with his own essay and project topics rather than being told what to do. Jill prefers to be given fairly explicit directions regarding how to do things. She prefers more structure in assignments and to be given an essay or project topic, or at least a choice of topics. Jack and Jill have different intellectual styles…
“In this article, intellectual style is used as a general term that encompasses the meanings of all major "style" constructs postulated in the past few decades, such as cognitive style, conceptual tempo, decision making and problem-solving style, learning style, mind style, perceptual style, and thinking style. An intellectual style refers to one's preferred way of processing information and dealing with tasks. To varying degrees, an intellectual style is cognitive, affective, physiological, psychological, and sociological. It is cognitive because whatever styles one uses to process information, one must be engaged in some kind of cognitive process. It is affective because one's way of processing informtion and of dealing with a task (i.e., employing an intellectual style) is partially determined by how one feels about the task... It is partially physiological because the use of a style is partially influenced by the way our senses (e.g., vision, hearing, and touch) take in the information provided to us. It is psychological because the use of a particular style is partially contingent upon how one's personality interacts with one's environment. Finally, it is sociological because the use of a style is affected by the preferences of the society in which one lives for various ways of thinking.”

The Effects of Personality Type on Engineering Student Performance and Attitudes, R.M. Felder, G.N. Felder, E.J. Dietz, Journal of Engineering Education, 91(1), 3–17 (2002).

The view from the signpost: learning styles, Sue Gerard, Logical Incrementalism, Oct. 2015.

This interesting blog post from an educator with a background in science gives a good way to look at the research process as it applies to the theory of learning styles. 

Uncertainty is an inevitable part of the scientific process as a theory moves from observation to application. While there may be robust observational evidence (green) for a phenomenon, weaknesses (red) in theoretical conceptualizations, hypotheses, and methods may result in a lack of clear evidence for applications of the theory to education. This situation would indicate that  continued research is worthwhile and may eventually yield meaningful applications once the theories and hypotheses are further refined and clarified.


2. PRO: Professional perspectives on uses of learning styles that DO NOT involve the "meshing hypothesis."


Are Learning Styles Invalid? Hint: NO!  R.M Felder, On-Course Newsletter, September 27, 2010. 

Every two years or so, some academic psychologists conduct a literature review and conclude that no research supports the use of learning styles in teaching, and journal reviewers and editors treat this conclusion as a new revelation that once and for all debunks learning styles…
Most learning styles debunkers base their arguments on the meshing hypothesis. They claim they have found no credible evidence that matching teaching to students’ learning style preferences leads to improved learning, so there is no reason to take learning styles into account when designing instruction…
This does not mean that learning styles have no place in instructional design, however: there is another view of their utility that the debunkers have chosen to ignore. The point is not to match teaching style to learning style but rather to achieve balance, making sure that each style preference is addressed to a reasonable extent during instruction. From this viewpoint, instruction is ineffective if it heavily favors one set of learning preferences (and hence one set of students) over another.

What’s the Story on Learning Styles? Maryellen Weimer, Faculty Focus, April 30, 2014.

“We have this tendency in higher education to throw babies out with bath water. It derives from dualistic thinking. Either something is right or wrong, it’s in or out, up or down. As mature thinkers, we disavow these dichotomous perspectives, but then find their simplicity hard to resist. They make complicated things easy.”

In defense of learning styles (sort of): Re-framing the critique, Robin Mueller, March 2017

This brings me to the thing that will not allow me to wholeheartedly dismiss learning styles in the way that is suggested by current critics: my own experience with learning styles in the teaching and learning domain.  I have had students who, when engaged in classroom dialogue about their educational experiences in conjunction with learning styles theory, personally attested to the power of the sense-making that this enabled—in addition to a heightened sense of self-efficacy and persistence with academic work they found challenging.  Many of these same students then went on to use their personal understandings of learning styles as a tool (amongst many) to develop broader metacognitive strategies for success in university.  I have even had a parent of a student contact me with effusive thanks, explaining that their child, who had typically felt at odds with educational systems, was pro-actively considering how to leverage their cognitive strengths in their undergraduate education as a result of engaging in a critical exploration of learning style and what it meant for learning in university.

What I learned from my learning styles research project back in the day, Tenpencemore, Nov 2016.

The interesting thing about this blog is that the author is embarrassed to admit that she found working with learning styles to be incredibly useful –- quite possibly a result of the climate of scorn that has been created.

My students had been given an opportunity to think about the reasons why they found certain things interesting and other things difficult and had been pushed to think of ways to make things work better for themselves. The language had changed from “the teacher doesn’t teach in an interesting way” or “the subject is boring” or “I am not good at x” to thinking about what they needed to learn and how they could ensure that this learning stuck, allowing them to engage, encouraging greater depth and progress. One student found taking notes while listening virtually impossible. She opted instead to record the lessons and then make notes later at home when she was under less pressure. It freed her up to engage in discussion, ask questions and be fully present in lessons, knowing she had the rest recorded to refer back to. Another student found the skill of asking for further explanation, after years of pretending he knew what was going on because he was too embarrassed to appear slow. We had created a culture whereby there was no standard one-size fits all learner and different needs were acceptable. A huge part of real learning is ownership. It is thinking about thinking and knowing about knowing. It is knowing about yourself as a learner and owning that.

The Bunk of Debunking Learning Styles, Heather Wolpert, Education Week Teacher, Feb 2010.

3. Modes of learning in other cultures

Learning Styles of American Indian/Alaska Native Students: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Practice, Cornel Pewewardy, Journal of American Indian Education, Vol. 41 No. 3, 2002

The Weirdest People in the World?   Joseph Henrich, Stephen J. Heine, Ara Norenzayan, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2010.  

Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation.  Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, 2014.

Indigenous Knowledge: Foundations for First Nations.  Marie Battiste, World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium Journal, 2005.  

Indigenous Knowledge Systems / Alaska Native Ways of Knowing.  Barnhardt, R., & Kawagley, A. O., Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 2005.

Indigenising Curriculum: Questions posed by Baiga vidya.  Padma M. Sarangapani, Comparative Education, 2003.

Open Attention as a Tool for Observational Learning.  Suzanne Gaskins. Presented at Learning In and Out of School: Education Across the Globe, conference hosted at University of Notre Dame, 2012.

The Cultural Nature of Human Development, Barbara Rogoff, Oxford University Press, 2003

The Anthropology of Learning in Childhood, David Lancy, John Bock, Suzanne Gaskins, eds.  Altamira Press, 2011.

Evolutionary Perspectives on Child Development and Education, David Geary & Daniel Berch, eds., Springer, 2016

Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods: Evolutionary, Developmental, & Cultural Perspectives,  Edited by Barry S. Hewlett and Michael e. Lamb, Transaction Publishers, 2005.

Schooling the Symbolic Animal. Edited by Bradley A.U. Levinson, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2000.

Why do children in America stop wanting to "help" as they get older? Dr. Barbara Rogoff discusses her work research on the collaborative nature of children in Central America and the United States. Hint: adults here must do better at viewing and accepting children as true contributors and collaborators.

3. CON: Academic & research articles on learning styles

Do Learners Really Know Best? Urban Legends in Education, Paul A. Kirschner and Jeroen J. G. van Merriënboer, Educational Psychologist, 48(3), 169–183, 2013.

The Myth of Learning Styles, Cedar Riener & Daniel Willingham,, 2010.

The Scientific Status of Learning Style Theories, Daniel Willingham, Elizabeth Hughes, David Dobolyi, 2015.

Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review, Frank Coffield, David Moseley, Elaine Hall, Kathryn Ecclestone, Learning and Skills Research Centre, 2004.

Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence, Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Volume 9 Number 3, December 2008.  

Pashler et al., like Kirschner and Merriënboer, are not shy about revealing their contempt for the preferences of learners:

“Having noted the reality of these preferences, we emphasize that the implications of such preferences for educational practices and policies are minimal. The existence of preferences says nothing about what these preferences might mean or imply for anything else, much less whether it is sensible for educators to take account of these preferences.”

4. CON: Popular media and blogs on learning styles

The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest neuroscience myths, Olivia Goldhill, Quartz, January 3, 2016.

One Reason the ‘Learning Styles’ Myth Persists, Jesse Singal, New York Magazine, December 28, 2015.

All You Need to Know About the ‘Learning Styles’ Myth, in Two Minutes, Christian Jarrett, Wired, January 5, 2015.

Learning Styles FAQ, Daniel Willingham,

Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction?  Daniel Willingham, American Educator, Summer 2005.

Learning Styles Don’t Exist, Daniel Willingham, YouTube video, uploaded August 21, 2008.  Take heed, visual learners: you will not be able to improve your French accent using your eyes!

Learning styles & the importance of critical self-reflection, Tesia Marshik, TEDxUWLaCrosse. Dr. Marshik explains the cognitive biases that cause us to believe that learning styles exist.

5. Other Sources

Babes In the Woods: Wanderings of the National Reading Panel, Joanne Yatvin, Phi Beta Kappan, Jan, 2002.

Social Control and Knowledge in Democratic Societies, Reiner Grundmann & Nico Stehr, Science & Public Policy, June 2003.

Power relations in educational scientific communication—a critical analysis of discourse on learning stylesWouter Smets, Katrien Struyven, Cogent Education, May 2017


What Works May Hurt: Side Effects in Education, Yong Zhao, Journal of Educational Change, Springer Science, February 2017.

The Double-edged Sword of Pedagogy: Modeling the Effect of Pedagogical Contexts on Preschoolers’ Exploratory Play, Elizabeth Bonawitz, Patrick Shafto, Hyowon Gweon, Isabel Chang, Sydney Katz, & Laura Schulz, Cognition, 2011.

Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, by David F. Barsky, ECW Press, Toronto 1996. p. 141

The Case for Teaching Ignorance, Jamie Holmes, New York Times, August 24, 2015.  

Bonini’s Paradox:

Bonini's Paradox proves that you can't make a useful AND accurate model, Esther Inglis-Arkell, io9, October 18, 2013

The Fallacies of Models, Institute of Physics website,

The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology, Richard Levins, American Scientist, Vol. 54, No. 4, December 1966.

Thoughts on the RCT debate, Marc F. Bellemare, May 2011

The Book of Learning and Forgetting, Frank Smith. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1999.  

Punished By Rewards, Alfie Kohn.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993/1999.

Chimps With Everything: Jane Goodall's 50 Years in the Jungle, Robin McKee, The Guardian, June 2010.

Animals Think and Feel: Here’s How We Know, Simon Worrall, National Geographic, July 15, 2015.

Are We in Anthropodenial?  Frans de Waal, Discover, July 7, 1997.

The Long Life of Early Pain, Scott Edwards, Harvard Medical School News, April 2011

Everybody Learns Differently, Ira Socol, June 2017

How Will You Redesign Your School Over the Next Six Months? Ira Socol, May, 2017

You Must See Your School as a Home of Opportunity, Ira Socol, Dec. 2016.

The End of Average, Todd Rose. Harper Collins, 2016.

Steven Singer: The Sordid, Racist History of Standardized Testing, Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch's blog, April 5, 2016.

Why the Academic Achievement Gap is a Racist Idea, Ibram X. Kendi, Black Perspectives, Oct 2016.

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Renni Eddo-Lodge, The Guardian, May, 2107.