The VAK learning style (and indeed others) has been extensively studied for over 30 years. Writing in 2007, Baroness Susan Greenfield (an eminent neuroscientist) said “The rationale for employing VAK learning styles appears to be weak. After more than 30 years of educational research into learning styles there is no independent evidence that VAK, or indeed any other learning style inventory, has any direct educational benefits”. And yet we are still confidently and authoritatively rolling this stuff out to people. According to Susan Greenfield, the practice is “nonsense” from a neuroscientific point of view: “Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain. It is when the senses are activated together — the sound of a voice in synchronisation with the movement of a person’s lips — that brain cells fire more strongly than when stimuli are received apart.”
In her 2010 book “Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals,” Ruth Clark also challenges the use of learning styles, “The learning style myth leads to some very unproductive training approaches that are counter to modern evidence of what works…The time and energy spent perpetuating the various learning style myths can be more wisely invested in supporting individual differences that are proven to make a difference—namely, prior knowledge of the learner.” (Clark, 2010, p. 10)
It seems that when an idea develops some ‘pseudo-scientific feel’ behind it, it runs and runs. I know that many will (and do) argue that it doesn’t matter that there no evidence behind it and that the discussion and the focus it engenders is more important and valuable; that as long as people derive some value from it that’s OK. I come across exactly the same argument from those still using certain psychometric instruments, such as MBTI, for which there is little or no validity at all. Whilst I agree that thinking about how best we learn, or how best to assess various personality characteristics and styles is valuable and helps to broaden our awareness and understanding, I can’t believe that it is good professional practice to promote models and ideas with no factual basis to them at all. I think it is good practice for us all as professional coaches running ethical practice to ask rather more frequently “so, where’s the evidence?”, “is that true/accurate?”, etc.
When we select tools and models to use with clients let us at least take the time to establish their credibility and worth. If we chose to use a tool or model that has as yet, little or no known weight behind it, let us at least be open and mindful of that and not ascribe greater credence to it than is merited.