Learning styles have strong intuitive appeal. Many of my students will declare that they have a particular learning style (almost always identifying themselves as visual learners). Yet, the evidence for the validity of learning styles is very weak.
Now, a study published in Learning and Individual Differences reports that learning styles might not be fixed, but may change in response to context:
“In medical schools the learning environment changes from scholastic to teaching-on-the job during clerkships. Alterations in learning style during clerkships were studied and are reported. This study investigated whether practical training results in alterations in learning style and whether later career preference was related to learning style. Prior to and at the end clerkship students filled in a learning style inventory based on Honey and Mumford. One-hundred-twenty-seven students at the start and 189 at the end of clerkships were included. Activists were found to be predominant. Pragmatists were scarce. At the end of clerkships a reflective orientation emerged. Prior experiences resulted in higher activists’ scores; the effects disappeared later on. Later career choice was of major influence in respect to extend of pragmatism, reflective observation and concrete experience. It can be concluded that in medical students initially a more activist learning style is seen. A more reflective style develops during the clerkships. An initial effect of former experiences disappears. Clerkships add to the individual repertoire of learning style/personality features. Differences related to career preference persist. The influence of vocational training on learning style as related to later foreseen medical career is limited.”