Dual Coding and Learning Styles

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Dual Coding and Learning Styles

By Megan Sumeracki

Dual coding and learning styles sound similar, but are not quite the same thing. While dual coding has scientific evidence backing its use, while learning styles has been repeatedly tested and shown not to improve learning.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post (see here), I have been working with a team of learning scientists and teachers throughout the country to apply key evidence-based learning strategies in the classroom. Along with two high school teachers from Memphis Tennessee teaching Biology and English, we have been implementing dual coding.

Dual coding is combining words and visuals such as pictures, diagrams, graphic organizers, and so on. The idea is to provide two different representations of the information, both visual and verbal, to help students understand the information better. Adding visuals to a verbal description can make the presented ideas more concrete, and provides two ways of understanding the presented ideas. Dual coding is about more than just adding pictures. Instead, the visuals should be meaningful, and students should have enough time to integrate the two representations (otherwise, cognitive overload could occur, see this blog). There is scientific evidence backing dual coding, showing that when we combine representations it is easier for students to learn and understand the material.

At this point, the discussion of visual and verbal information likely has at least a few readers thinking, “huh, this sounds like learning styles.” Surveys show that most teachers and those outside of education are familiar with learning styles. In a survey of average Americans, Yana Weinstein and I found that 93% of participants believed in learning styles (1). Surveys of other groups have shown 93% of UK primary and secondary school teachers (2), and 86% of college students believe in learning styles (3). All of this is to say, if you’re thinking about learning styles you’re probably not alone! Unfortunately, scientific research does not support the use of learning styles, and that is not for lack of testing the theory (4)!