Learning Styles Myth

Nov 27, 2020


You may not be able to use machine-learning algorithms, but you can entertain and engage learners while appealing to a broad set of learning styles.

I’m learning to speak Spanish. I wanted to say, “I’m trying to learn Spanish.” But, I deserve more credit than that. I can say things like, “There is a bear in the swimming pool,” and “My cat never showers in the morning.” I’ve been asked why I am learning a new language and why I am learning Spanish. Strangely, I don’t have a good answer for the first question, and the answer to second question is Spanish is the language I am most likely to use. I am using DuoLingo on my phone and have practiced every day for 275 days in a row! DuoLingo uses a calculated approach to teaching 38 languages to over 300 million learners.

Believe it or not, there is a bit of controversy about learning styles, the “preferential way in which the student absorbs, processes, comprehends and retains information”. We are most accustomed to the big four: Visual (seeing images, maps, and graphics), auditory (hearing lectures and having conversation), kinesthetic (exploring through hands-on experiences), and reading/writing (using books and notes).1 The assumption that learning styles are set at birth and students are therefore dependent on the ability of teachers to accommodate their primary learning style is now being challenged. Instead, research suggests learning styles are “malleable, overlapping and more determined by environmental factors”.2

Regardless of your belief, DuoLingo believes we learn through:

  1. Entertainment: Learning is easier with bite-size lessons that “feel more like a game than a textbook.”3 I can’t tell how excited I was to finally get to the Diamond League or earn 10,000 gems. Practice streaks, quirky sentences, and effort-based advancement keep learners going back for more. How can you incorporate fun into your lessons at work?
  2. Balance: Using both an implicit approach allowing users to discover language patterns on their own and an explicit approach offering specific explanations on grammar and pronunciation.3 This combination allows for variety and flexibility. What can you allow your employees to discover on their own and what needs specific content?
  3. Story: In addition to the bi-lingual podcasts, DuoLingo presents unexpected story lines that test reading and listening comprehension, all while presenting new vocabulary. Harvard Business confirms that story creates engagement, appeals to all learners, and “conveys learning that sticks.”4 What can you teach through parable or legend?

At one time, it was believed that inherent learning styles could “predict academic and career success”.1 Now, a variety of teaching methods are leveraged to create a rich and enticing experience. DuoLingo utilizes machine-learning algorithms to present the best level of difficulty to each learner. DuoLingo also leverages reward and entertainment, balances implicit patterns with explicit rules, and incorporates surprising stories to accommodating all learning styles. I need you to know that I can, in fact, politely request food at a restaurant and follow directions to the airport-- in Spanish. What is your learning style? I learn best by having fun!

Sources: 1 Teach.com: Learning Styles: All Students Are Created Equally (and Differently.); 2 American Psychological Association: Belief in Learning Styles Myth May Be Detrimental; 3 DuoLingo: Approach; 4 Harvard Business School Publishing: What Makes Storytelling So Effective for Learning?

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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