Learner Profiles: Stop Using Learning Styles, Start Using the Learning Sciences

We are embarking on an era of transformational change in education where we have a vision of creating learner-centered environments where learners can pursue their passions and interests and where they develop agency with skills, tools and practices so they are future ready for careers yet to be imagined. The question is:

Why are we still using the traditional approach of learning styles to develop learner profiles?

Let’s take at the research and what it says about learning styles.


Stop Using Learning Styles?

As we are transforming education from the traditional teacher-centered environments to a personalized, learner-centered environment we need to reconsider the learning styles approach that has no basis in research. Classroom teachers and academics have been using learning styles for over four decades to understand learners. During this time the notion that teaching methods should match a learner’s particular learning style has had a powerful influence in education, however, a study published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest challenged the concept of learning styles and their affect on performance.

Despite the preponderance of the learning styles concept “from kindergarten to graduate school,” and a “thriving industry” devoted to such guidebooks for teachers, Pashler found there wasn’t rigorous evidence for the concept. He wrote:

Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice.

The four prominent cognitive psychologists in this study found no evidence for validating educational applications of learning styles into general education practice. This was their conclusion:

Research conducted over 40 years has failed to show that individual attributes can be used to guide effective teaching practice. Rather than being a harmless fad, learning styles often perpetuates stereotyping and harmful teaching practices it is suppose to fight.” (Pashler et al, 2009).

So as schools move from a traditional system to a personalized, competency-based system, we need to evaluate the traditional tools we have used around learners and learning and teachers and teaching, and understand how a learning science can be used to nurture and build a culture of learning.


Start Using the Learning Sciences and the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™

UDL Lens of access engage and expressWe need to stop using learning styles and start using Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a research-based set of principles based on the learning sciences to guide the design of learning environments and innovative sustainable systems that are accessible and effective for all learners. UDL tells us that there is variability in the way each learner learns: their strengths, challenges, preferences and needs.

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ is designed so that we see the learner in every child. It offers key information about the learner’s strengths and challenges in how they access and process information, how they engage with content and how they express what they know and understand. The terms Access, Engage and Express also serves as the “common language” between teacher and learner where daily conversations can take place about learning with a process to identify the tools and skills that could support a challenge or enhance a strength in their Personal Learning Backpack™ (PLB). This leads to a Personal Learning Plan™ (PLP) where each learner can set goals to acquire the necessary skills to become an independent and self-directed learner, a learner with agency that has ownership to their learning.


Ownership to learning requires the learner to understand how they learn.


Empower the Learner with the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express

This year have every learner create an “Empower the Learner” Profile. The first step is for learners to share Who I Am that include words that describe me, what is special about me, my cultural background and how I can make a difference.  From the learner’s perspective, the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ would give each child an opportunity to tell their story about How I Learn by sharing their strengths, challenges, preference and needs in how they access and process information, engage with content and concepts, and express what they know and understand. The last step is What I Aspire to Be so that each child can share their interests, talents, aspirations and passions so that one day hopes and dreams can be realized.

Let’s take a closer look at the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ and how a learner can share How I Learn by using an “Empower the Learner” Profile (LP)

How I Learn Table

The information in the “Empower the Learner” Profile™ helps each learner tell their story and how they learn with their teacher, parent or mentor. This is the foundation from which conversations, relationships and partnerships in learning are built. What are the possible messages and outcomes from a learner using the “Empower the Learner” Profile™?

  • It helps validate the learner and how they learn.
  • It tells the learner that you care about who they are.
  • It creates a community of learners based on trust and respect.

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” – Dr. James Comer


Subscribe to our weekly tips and enroll for our FREE “Empower the Learner” Masterclass on January 11, 2021 to learn how to empower your kids with the skills, tools and practices to support their learning!

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3 stepprocess to develop agencyTo learn more about the 3-Step “Empower the Learner” process: the “Empower the Learner” Profile™, Personal Learning Backpack™ and Personal Learning Plan™, refer to the FAQ’s on this site or in Chapter 4 of How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper by Bray and McClaskey (2016).

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, “Empower the Learner” Profile (LP), Personal Learning Backpack (PLB) and Personal Learning Plan (PLP) are trademarks of Kathleen McClaskey.

Reference: Paschler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., and Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.  https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf

Edited from the original post Learner Profile™: Stop Using Learning Styles, Start Using the Learning Sciences


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