Blindsight: What would you conclude about visual perception from the phenomenon of blindsight? ? When the patient known as ‘TN’ navigates around obstacles in spite of being blind, is h


Blindsight: What would you conclude about visual perception from the phenomenon of blindsight?   When the patient known as “TN” navigates around obstacles in spite of being blind, is he experiencing perception?  Sensation?  Neither?   How does blindsight relate to the normal processes of sensation and perception?


Illusions:  Is there any connection between the phenomenon of “change blindness” and the techniques that magicians use to create their illusions?  What do you think you have learned about the human perceptual system from examining these and similar phenomena?


Mr. Subliminal: Are you worried about being influenced by subliminal stimuli?  Why or why not?  Feel free to bring in other sources of information besides those in the lecture or textbook, but make sure you identify the source and critically evaluate how reliable and objective it seems to be.


First, read the following case study about evaluating evidence from published research: Learning Styles. Be sure to look at the meta-analysis that is linked there (read at least some of it), and read the whole summary article that is also linked there.

Then go to the DePaul Library website and do a search for “learning styles” in the “APA PsycInfo” database in the “A-Z Databases” section.  Read the titles of the first two dozen or so articles that are returned for this search.  The Learning Styles hypothesis is the idea that learning is better when the teaching method matches the learner’s preferred learning style.  It turned out to be false.  Do you think from reading these articles you would be able to tell that the Learning Styles hypothesis is actually false?  Why or why not?  What are some steps you would need to take to maximize your chances of coming to the right conclusion?



Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence

Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork

Introduction106 An Overview of Learning Styles: Doctrines and Industry106 How Did the Learning-Styles Approach Become So Widespread and Appealing?107

Origin and Popularity

Interactions of Individual Differences and Instructional Methods

What Evidence Is Necessary to Validate Interventions Based on Learning Styles?108 Existence of Study Preferences

The Learning-Styles Hypothesis

Interactions as the Key Test of the Learning-Styles Hypothesis

Primary Mental Abilities: Relation to Learning Styles

Evaluation of Learning-Styles Literature111 Style-by-Treatment Interactions: The Core Evidence Is Missing

Learning-Styles Studies With Appropriate Methods and Negative Results

Related Literatures With Appropriate Methodologies113 Aptitude-by-Treatment Interactions

Personality-by-Treatment Interactions

Conclusions and Recommendations116 Points of Clarification

Costs and Benefits of Educational Interventions

Beliefs Versus Evidence as a Foundation for Educational Practices and Policies

Everybody’s Potential to Learn


Science in the


CONTENTS Volume 9 Number 3 � December 2008


About the Authors

Harold Pashler is Professor of Psychology and a faculty member of the Cognitive Science Program at the University of

California, San Diego. His main areas of interest are human learning and the psychology of attention. Pashler’s learning

research focuses on methods for optimizing acquisition and retention of knowledge and skills. In the field of attention,

Pashler’s work has illuminated basic attentional bottlenecks as well as the nature of visual awareness. Pashler is the author

ofThePsychologyofAttention (MIT Press, 1998) and the editor of Stevens’HandbookofExperimentalPsychology (Wiley,

2001). He received the Troland Prize from the National Academy of Sciences for his studies of human attention, and was

elected to membership in the Society of Experimental Psychologists.

Mark McDaniel is Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, with a joint appointment in Education.

He received his PhD from the University of Colorado in 1980. His research is in the general area of human learning and

memory, with an emphasis on prospective memory, encoding and retrieval processes in episodic memory, learning of

complex concepts, and applications to educational contexts and to aging. His educationally relevant research includes

work being conducted in actual college and middle-school classrooms. This research is being sponsored by the Institute of

Educational Sciences and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, and his work is also supported by the National Institutes of

Health. McDaniel has served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and Cognitive Psychology and as President of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association, and he is a

fellow of Divisions 3 and 20 of the American Psychological Association. He has published over 200 journal articles, book

chapters, and edited books on human learning and memory, and is the coauthor, with Gilles Einstein, of two recent books:

MemoryFitness:AGuidefor SuccessfulAging (Yale University Press, 2004) and ProspectiveMemory:AnOverviewand SynthesisofanEmergingField (Sage, 2007).

Doug Rohrer is Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida. He received his doctoral degree in Psychology

fromtheUniversity of California, SanDiego, and hewas a faculty memberat George Washington University before moving to

the University of South Florida. Before attending graduate school, he taught high-school mathematics for several years.

Most of his research concerns learning and memory, with a recent emphasis on learning strategies.

Robert A. Bjork is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His

research focuses on human learning and memory and on the implications of the science of learning for instruction and

training. He has served as Editor of Memory &Cognition and PsychologicalReview (1995–2000), Coeditor of Psycholo- gicalScienceinthePublicInterest (1998–2004), and Chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on Techniques

for the Enhancement of Human Performance. He is a past president or chair of the Association for Psychological Science

(APS), the Western Psychological Association, the Psychonomic Society, the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the

Council of Editors of the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Council of Graduate Departments of

Psychology. He is a recipient of UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the American Psychological Association’s

Distinguished Scientist Lecturer and Distinguished Service to Psychological Science Awards, and the American

Physiological Society’s Claude Bernard Distinguished Lecturership Award.

Learning Styles Concepts and Evidence Harold Pashler,1 Mark McDaniel,2 Doug Rohrer,3 and Robert Bjork4

1University of California, San Diego, 2Washington University in St. Louis, 3University of South Florida, and 4University of

California, Los Angeles

SUMMARY—The term ‘‘learning styles’’ refers to the concept

that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruc-

tion or study is most effective for them. Proponents of

learning-style assessment contend that optimal instruction

requires diagnosing individuals’ learning style and tai-

loring instruction accordingly. Assessments of learning

style typically ask people to evaluate what sort of infor-

mation presentation they prefer (e.g., words versus pic-

tures versus speech) and/or what kind of mental activity

they find most engaging or congenial (e.g., analysis versus

listening), although assessment instruments are extremely

diverse. The most common—but not the only—hypothesis

about the instructional relevance of learning styles is the

meshing hypothesis, according to which instruction is best

provided in a format that matches the preferences of the

learner (e.g., for a ‘‘visual learner,’’ emphasizing visual

presentation of information).

The learning-styles view has acquired great influence

within the education field, and is frequently encountered

at levels ranging from kindergarten to graduate school.

There is a thriving industry devoted to publishing learn-

ing-styles tests and guidebooks for teachers, and many

organizations offer professional development workshops

for teachers and educators built around the concept of

learning styles.

The authors of the present review were charged with

determining whether these practices are supported by

scientific evidence. We concluded that any credible vali-

dation of learning-styles-based instruction requires robust

documentation of a very particular type of experimental

finding with several necessary criteria. First, students

must be divided into groups on the basis of their learning

styles, and then students from each group must be ran-

domly assigned to receive one of multiple instructional

methods. Next, students must then sit for a final test that is

the same for all students. Finally, in order to demonstrate

that optimal learning requires that students receive in-

struction tailored to their putative learning style, the

experiment must reveal a specific type of interaction be-

tween learning style and instructional method: Students

with one learning style achieve the best educational

outcome when given an instructional method that differs

from the instructional method producing the best out-

come for students with a different learning style. In

other words, the instructional method that proves most

effective for students with one learning style is not the most

effective method for students with a different learning


Our review of the literature disclosed ample evidence

that children and adults will, if asked, express preferences

about how they prefer information to be presented to them.

There is also plentiful evidence arguing that people differ

in the degree to which they have some fairly specific apti-

tudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing

different types of information. However, we found virtu-

ally no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned

above, which was judged to be a precondition for vali-

dating the educational applications of learning styles. Al-

though 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 ad-

equate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-

styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus,

limited education resources would better be devoted to

adopting other educational practices that have a strong

evidence base, of which there are an increasing number.

However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies

of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all

possible versions of learning styles have been tested and

found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all.

Address correspondence to Harold Pashler, Department of Psychol- ogy 0109, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093; e-mail: [email protected].


Volume 9—Number 3 105Copyright r 2009 Association for Psychological Science

Further research on the use of learning-styles assessment

in instruction may in some cases be warranted, but such

research needs to be performed appropriately.


The term learning styles refers to the view that different people

learn information in different ways. In recent decades, the

concept of learning styles has steadily gained influence. In this

article, we describe the intense interest and discussion that the

concept of learning styles has elicited among professional ed-

ucators at all levels of the educational system. Moreover, the

learning-styles concept appears to have wide acceptance not

only among educators but also among parents and the general

public. This acceptance is perhaps not surprising because the

learning-styles idea is actively promoted by vendors offering

many different tests, assessment devices, and online technolo-

gies to help educators identify their students’ learning styles and

adapt their instructional approaches accordingly (examples are

cited later).

We are cognitive psychologists with an interest both in the

basic science of learning and memory and in the ways that

science can be developed to be more helpful to teachers and

students. We were commissioned by Psychological Science in the

Public Interest to assess, as dispassionately as we could, the

scientific evidence underlying practical application of learning-

style assessment in school contexts. This task involved two

steps: (a) analyzing the concept of learning styles to determine

what forms of evidence would be needed to justify basing ped-

agogical choices on assessments of students’ learning styles and

(b) reviewing the literature to see whether this evidence exists.

Our team began this undertaking with differing—but not pas-

sionately held—opinions on learning styles as well as a shared

desire to let the empirical evidence lead us where it would.

We start by offering the reader a brief overview of the learning-

styles concept, including some of the publications and entre-

preneurial ventures that have been developed around the idea.

Next, we analyze the learning-styles concept from a more ab-

stract point of view. Here, we grapple with some potentially

confusing issues of definition and logic that in our opinion re-

quire more careful consideration in connection with learning

styles than they have so far received. We argue that this analysis

is a useful, and essential, prerequisite to organizing and ap-

praising the evidence on learning styles. Finally, we describe the

results of our search of published literature, draw some con-

clusions, and suggest lines of future research. We should em-

phasize, however, that the present article is not a review of the

literature of learning styles; indeed, several such reviews have

appeared recently (e.g., Coffield, Moseley, Hall, & Ecclestone,

2004; Kozhevnikov, 2007; Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Zhang,

2008). In brief, we sought to determine what kinds of findings

would provide sufficient evidence for the learning-styles con-

cept, as detailed in the following sections, and then we searched

for evidence that satisfied this minimal criterion.



As described earlier, the concept of learning styles encompasses

not only a large body of written materials but also what seems to

be a thriving set of commercial activities. The writings that touch

on the learning-styles concept in its broadest sense include

several thousand articles and dozens of books. These figures may

seem surprisingly large, but one should keep in mind the sheer

number of different schemes or models of learning styles that

have been proposed over the years. For example, in a relatively

comprehensive review, Coffield et al. (2004) described 71

different schemes, and they did not claim that their list was


The commercial activity related to learning styles is largely

centered around the publishing and selling of measurement

devices to help teachers assess individual learning styles; typ-

ically, although not always, these devices classify the learner

into different style categories. Testing has been recommended

by organizations at all levels of education that might be pre-

sumed to base their recommendations on evidence. For exam-

ple, the National Association of Secondary School principles

commissioned the construction of a learning-styles test that it

distributed widely (Keefe, 1988). Similarly, the Yale Graduate

School of Arts and Sciences (2009) currently maintains a Web

site that offers advice for Yale instructors; the site informs vis-

itors that ‘‘college students enter our classrooms with a wide

variety of learning styles.’’ The site goes on to recommend that

instructors determine their own ‘‘modality of learning’’ as well as

assess their students’ learning styles and make their instruc-

tional choices accordingly.

Furthermore, the learning-styles concept is embraced in a

number of current educational psychology textbooks. For in-

stance, Omrod (2008) wrote, ‘‘Some cognitive styles and dis-

positions do seem to influence how and what students learn. . . .

Some students seem to learn better when information is pre-

sented through words (verbal learners), whereas others seem to

learn better when it’s presented through pictures (visual learn-

ers)’’ (p. 160, italics in original). Thus, educational psychology

students and aspiring teachers are being taught that students

have particular learning styles and that these styles should be

accommodated by instruction tailored to those learning styles.

Some of the most popular learning-style schemes include the

Dunn and Dunn learning-styles model (e.g., Dunn, 1990), Kolb’s

(1984, 1985) Learning Styles Inventory, and Honey and Mum-

ford’s (1992) Learning Styles Questionnaire. The assessment

devices that have been developed in relation to the model

of Dunn and Dunn are particularly popular and extensive.

106 Volume 9—Number 3

Learning Styles

Customers visiting the Web site of the International Learning

Styles Network ( are advised that

Learning style is the way in which each learner begins to con-

centrate on, process, absorb, and retain new and difficult infor-

mation (Dunn and Dunn, 1992; 1993; 1999). The interaction of

these elements occurs differently in everyone. Therefore, it is

necessary to determine what is most likely to trigger each student’s

concentration, how to maintain it, and how to respond to his or her

natural processing style to produce long term memory and reten-

tion. To reveal these natural tendencies and styles, it is important to

use a comprehensive model of learning style that identifies each

individual’s strengths and preferences across the full spectrum of

physiological, sociological, psychological, emotional, and envi-

ronmental elements. (International Learning Styles Network, 2008)

As of June 2008, the company sells five different assessment

tools for different age groups—ranging from the Observational

Primary Assessment of Learning Style (OPAL) for ages 3 to 6 to

Building Excellence (BE) for ages 17 and older (at a cost of

approximately $5.00 per student for the classification instru-

ment). The vendor claims these assessments ‘‘measure the pat-

terns through which learning occurs in individual students; they

summarize the environmental, emotional, sociological, physio-

logical, and global/analytic processing preferences that a stu-

dent has for learning’’ (International Learning Styles Network,

2008). A summer certification program is also offered in con-

nection with this approach (the basic certification program costs

$1,225 per trainee, excluding meals and lodging, with a higher

level certification for conducting research on learning styles also

offered for an additional $1,000). The Dunn and Dunn assess-

ment instrument for adults asks respondents to indicate, for

example, whether they learn best when they hear a person talk

about something, whether their desk is typically disorganized

and messy, whether they would say that they normally think in

words as opposed to mental images, and whether they would

characterize themselves as someone who thinks intuitively or

objectively (Rundle & Dunn, 2007).

Kolb’s (1984, 1985) Learning Styles Inventory is another very

popular scheme, particularly within the United States. It con-

ceives of individuals’ learning processes as differing along two

dimensions: preferred mode of perception (concrete to abstract)

and preferred mode of processing (active experimentation to

reflective observations). The Learning Styles Inventory classi-

fies individuals into four types on the basis of their position along

these two dimensions: divergers (concrete, reflective), assimi-

lators (abstract, reflective), convergers (abstract, active), and

accommodators (concrete, active). The self-assessment requires

people to agree or disagree (on a 4-point scale) with, for ex-

ample, the idea that they learn best when they listen and watch

carefully, or that when they learn they like to analyze things and

to break them down into parts.

The Learning Styles Inventory is distributed by the Hay Group

( and sold in packs of 10 booklets for

approximately $100.00 (as of June 2008). The Hay Group also

distributes an informational booklet called ‘‘One Style Doesn’t

Fit All: The Different Ways People Learn and Why It Matters’’

(Hay Group, n.d.). According to the booklet, the practical ben-

efits of classifying individuals’ learning styles include ‘‘placing

them in learning and work situations with people whose learning

strengths are different from their own,’’ ‘‘improving the fit be-

tween their learning style and the kind of learning experience

they face,’’ and ‘‘practicing skills in areas that are the opposite of

their present strengths’’ (Hay Group, n.d., p. 11).

These three examples are merely some of the more popular

and well-advertised products within the learning-styles move-

ment. Readers interested in a more comprehensive view should

consult Coffield et al. (2004).



Origin and Popularity

The popularity and prevalence of the learning-styles approach

may, of course, be a product of its success in fostering learning

and instruction. Assessing the extent to which there is evidence

that the approach does indeed foster learning is the primary goal

of this review. However, there are reasons to suspect that other

factors—in addition to, or instead of, actual effectiveness—may

play a role in the popularity of the learning-styles approach.

Most learning-styles taxonomies are ‘‘type’’ theories: That is,

they classify people into supposedly distinct groups, rather than

assigning people graded scores on different dimensions. One

can trace the lineage of these theories back to the first modern

typological theorizing in the personality field, which was un-

dertaken by the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst C.G. Jung

(1964). Jung’s ideas were explicitly incorporated into a psy-

chological test developed in the United States, the Myers–Briggs

Type Indicator test. This test became very popular starting in the

1940s and remains widely used to this day. The Myers–Briggs

categorizes people into a number of groups, providing infor-

mation that is said to be helpful in making occupational deci-

sions. The assumption that people actually cluster into distinct

groups as measured by this test has received little support from

objective studies (e.g., Druckman & Porter, 1991; Stricker &

Ross, 1964), but this lack of support has done nothing to dampen

its popularity. It seems that the idea of finding out ‘‘what type of

person one is’’ has some eternal and deep appeal, and the suc-

cess of the Myers–Briggs test promoted the development of type-

based learning-style assessments.

Another, very understandable, part of the appeal of the

learning-styles idea may reflect the fact that people are con-

cerned that they, and their children, be seen and treated by

educators as unique individuals. It is also natural and appealing

to think that all people have the potential to learn effectively and

easily if only instruction is tailored to their individual learning

styles. Another related factor that may play a role in the popu-

Volume 9—Number 3 107

H. Pashler et al.

larity of the learning-styles approach has to do with responsi-

bility. If a person or a person’s child is not succeeding or ex-

celling in school, it may be more comfortable for the person to

think that the educational system, not the person or the child

himself or herself, is responsible. That is, rather than attribute

one’s lack of success to any lack of ability or effort on one’s part,

it may be more appealing to think that the fault lies with in-

struction being inadequately tailored to one’s learning style. In

that respect, there may be linkages to the self-esteem movement

that became so influential, internationally, starting in the 1970s

(Twenge, 2006).

Interactions of Individual Differences and

Instructional Methods

As we argue in the next section, credible evidence in support of

practices based on learning styles needs to document a specific

type of interaction between instructional method and assess-

ments of an individual’s learning style. Basically, evidence for a

learning-styles intervention needs to consist of finding that a

given student’s learning is enhanced by instruction that is tai-

lored in some way to that student’s learning style.

Naturally, it is undeniable that the optimal instructional

method will often differ between individuals in some respects. In

particular, differences in educational backgrounds can be a

critical consideration in the optimization of instruction. New

learning builds on old learning, for example, so an individual

student’s prior knowledge is bound to determine what level and

type of instructional activities are optimal for that student. Many

research studies (see, e.g., McNamara, Kintsch, Butler-Songer,

& Kintsch, 1996) have demonstrated that the conditions of in-

struction that are optimal differ depending on students’ prior

knowledge. Later in this review, we summarize some of the ev-

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