Monday, 13 March 2017


Some original research on learning styles was recently published in the Guardian online. You can read the details here. For quite a number of years, teachers have been encouraged to foster individual learning styles in their classes. This is based on the premise that children do not all learn the same way. The belief is that if we allow our students to study in ways that best suit their personalities and views of the world, they will acquire knowledge and skills more effectively.

I have never been entirely convinced of this. I often wonder how such a methodology squares with the prescriptive demands of an examination syllabus (such as Cambridge AS and A-levels). It strikes me that the approach works best in primary schools, where the boundaries between subject disciplines are less rigid than at the higher levels of secondary education.

According to this new research (and there are some heavy hitters involved in it, including neuroscientists, psychologists and professors of education) employing learning styles in the classroom has no measurable beneficial effect, and, in many instances, is actually detrimental. I suspect that in the interests of popular journalism, the case is overstated in the Guardian article. Moreover, I further suspect that very few good teachers slavishly follow one approach to teaching; they employ a variety of skills and methods to ensure that quality learning takes place.

At KY, all our teaching and learning is tied directly to CIE examinations. This means that a specific body of knowledge must be covered over a limited time frame, from which students must be able to extrapolate, interpret or analyse data and/or opinions in order to respond to detailed examination questions. This does not allow much room to cater for learning style differentiation.

I think there's more to it than that, though. I strongly suspect that many students at our college already demonstrate preferred learning styles in their choice of subjects. A Chemistry, Biology or Physics student at A-level may wish to employ a kinesthetic approach because of the practical requirements of laboratory experimentation. In my own English Literature classes, conversely, we spend a lot of time discussing meanings and use of language, which suggests an auditory style. Students probably know this before they choose a subject in the first place - indeed, they may be unconsciously choosing it because of their inherent preferences.

During my career, I have seen many changes in educational philosophy. When I first started teaching English in London in the 1970s, formal grammar was considered hopelessly outdated. With the arrogance of youth, I disagreed and continued to teach parts of speech, syntax, parsing and the correct use of subordinate clauses. An external inspector told me that I was a good teacher, but that the content of my lessons made me something of a dinosaur. Grammar, these days, is now firmly back in fashion.

The point is, of course, that I didn't spend all my classroom time teaching grammar, any more than a modern day teacher concentrates solely on learning styles. If there is any one system that we encourage at KY, it is holistic education - educating the whole person and, in our case, with one end in mind: excellent results in CIE examinations, enabling our students to attend the best universities in the world.

This is our last week of this semester's first half. I hope all of you enjoy having your sons and daughters home next week. They have to hit the ground running when they return to KY, as trial examinations will start immediately. I wish them all every success. Trial exams are the "dress rehearsal" for AS and A-levels, which start at the end of April.


  1. I belief that ' trial exams ' act as as a barometer to gauge the performance & ability of the students before the actual CIE A level exams .My personal advice is do not take it lightly & I wish all the best to all the candidates in your trial & the CIE A level exams .

  2. Thanks for your encouragement. Believe me, we take trial exams very seriously indeed.

  3. Hello Dr Paul. Is there any possibility that the college would offer Computer Science as a subject for the upcoming intakes? I strongly agree that it will be a benefecial subject for future engineering students as their degree revolves around programming a lot. Thank you Dr Paul, your views are much appreciated.

  4. Thank you for your comment and question. Most UK universities no longer recognise Computer Science as a valid A-level. This is why we stopped offering it two years ago. Such a situation occurs from time to time. Take the case of Law. Many KY students wish to train as lawyers, and the subject is offered at A-level. However, few universities recognise it as a worthwhile choice, preferring English Literature or History. While we encourage IT as an extracurricular activity at KY, students intending to do Engineering at university are better advised to have Maths and Physics as part of their subject combination. Moreover, the best British Universities, such as Imperial in London, require Further Maths at A-level as a prerequisite.