Learning Styles: What Difference Do the Differences Make?
Charleston Law Review, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2011
40 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2010 Last revised: 4 Aug 2015
Date Written: September 10, 2010
As the legal academy contemplates education reform, many scholars are looking to education theory and best practices to guide curriculum and course design. This has resulted in the publication of several law journal articles discussing different aspects of learning theory, including learning styles. Broadly speaking, “learning styles” have been defined as “those cognitive, affective, and psychological behaviors that indicate how learners interact with and respond to the learning environment and how they perceive, process, store, and recall what they are attempting to learn.”
Most of law journal articles on learning styles presume the validity of the concept. The concept of learning styles is, and always has been, controversial, however. Many education psychologists and others involved in researching educational theories are highly critical of the notion that students possess fixed learning styles, which teachers must address so that the students can learn. In the last few years, two comprehensive literature reviews have been conducted to assess the theoretical and research bases underlying the spectrum of learning style theories. These two are just the most recent. And yet, many in legal education think of the existence of learning styles as being settled fact. They also think of them rather narrowly – primarily as a question of whether one has a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic style – although many different learning style theories exist.
In “Learning Styles: What Difference do the Differences Make?” I introduce the controversy surrounding the issue of learning styles and present the critical bases for the controversy. I explain that most disinterested researchers are particularly skeptical of the “matching hypothesis”; that is, that one must teach to specific styles. As the first article to address these issues in the context of legal education, this article presents a unique perspective for those who seek to enhance teaching and learning in law schools.
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