Learning Styles vs. Learning Disabilities
Truth be told, learning disabilities (LD) are not easily explained. While they are “specific” to any number of areas of learning (such as reading, math and writing) they are also often overlapping or co-occurring, meaning that individuals with LD can have significant challenges in more than one area of skill development and performance.
Because learning doesn’t take place in a vacuum, social-emotional and behavioral issues often mask or exacerbate the effects of LD. And as individuals are exposed to new information, gain new insights and experience, and build their own menus of strategies to overcome or work around their areas of struggle, the impact of their learning disabilities can change, for better or for worse. Add a person’s overall personality and motivation and other factors like opportunities to expand one’s repertoire of effective accommodations (trying things out and see if they work) to the mix, and it’s clear that LD is not just one thing, is not easily captured in a simple explanation, and does not effect all individuals in the same way. Hence the appeal of talking about “learning styles” in the same breath.
Not Everyone With a Preferred Style of Learning Has LD
Look around at the people with whom you have regular contact, think about how they appear to organize themselves for learning, and how they seem to be able to accomplish different tasks with ease or with difficulty:
- “L” is a “phone person,” terrific at remembering names of people, and has a knack for keeping calendar dates, appointments and call-back numbers “in her head.”
- “S” dislikes talking on the phone, struggles to retrieve peoples’ names but never forgets a face, and writes everything down, most often remembering details without having to refer to his notes.
- “E” is annoyed by long explanations, has little interest in reading, and is a “hands on” person, preferring to ask for information as needed and “getting the job done” without sharing thoughts, pausing for reflection or asking for feedback.
Do any of these individuals have learning disabilities?
Determining whether a person has learning disabilities involves formal assessment and very careful documentation including investigations of prior school experience, response to instruction, skill mastery, information processing strengths and weaknesses, motivation and more. Information about learning styles can, however, be very helpful in orchestrating opportunities for success in school, at work and in the community.