In recent years in education there has been an increased focus on the use of a learning styles model in the classroom. The basic idea behind learning styles is that if a teacher matches their style of teaching delivery to a learner’s preferred style of processing, learning is promoted. So, for example, if a visual learner is presented with visual information then learning should increase, according to the learning styles approach. Similarly, if an auditory learner is presented with information delivered in an auditory mode, then learning should be improved. However, Pashler et al. (2009) found that there was close to no research evidence at all to support the existence of learning styles. Despite this, it remains a widely popular approach in public perception and in educational practice.
An alternative model, dual coding, presents a more promising approach for both research and practice. Dual coding suggests that there are two separate pathways for encoding information into memory, one verbal and one visual. A significant amount of research has shown that if verbal information is presented alongside visual information, the effect is additive and memory storage capacity increases. Unlike learning styles, dual coding has the potential to impact learning because it goes to the core of how the human brain remembers things, with the left hemisphere being responsible for most language function while the right is responsible for most visuo-spatial reasoning and processing (Gazzaniga, 2005).
According to the dual coding model, if both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are activated at the same time, the combined power of using both hemispheres will increase our ability to retain information without driving us into cognitive overload. Dual coding suggests that all learners, regardless of their preferred style, will learn most efficiently when they encounter visual information layered upon language, offering a promising area not only for future research but also for practical application in the classroom.
Ideas for classroom practice:
- Teachers should always keep in mind the need to supplement information with visual resources and be aware of the impact this can have on children’s retention of material.
- PowerPoint presentations should only contain key words or phrases for overarching themes and predominantly feature visuals that relate to the concepts being discussed verbally (e.g. charts, graphs, pictures, drawings, videos, and any other visual cues that support the topic being taught).
- Teachers could also create group activities in which pupils match written concepts to corresponding visual images. If, when teachers sit down to plan lessons, they look at the academic language involved and find and pair images with key words, this could serve to improve children’s learning and retention.
Gazzaniga, M. S. (2005). Forty-five years of split brain research and still going strong. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6(8), 653-659. doi: 10.1038/nrn1723
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.