Media Release – Anatomy of an Unproven Education Fad: There is No Evidence That Students Have Unique Learning Styles

Press Release, Education, Frontier Centre

Winnipeg, September 10, 2013: Today the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released Differentiated Instruction is an Unproven Fad.

With children heading into schools in most of the country this week, parents will soon after begin to hear about yet more unsubstantiated education fads that have become nearly norm in the country’s classrooms. One such fad is differentiated instruction. Frontier Centre research fellow Michael Zwaagstra points out in a new paper that differentiated education is just another trend pushed by well-meaning education activists.  None of the claims they advance on differentiated education are backed by evidence.

Differentiated education is premised on the notion that students have their own unique learning styles. For instance, it is claimed that some students learn best through visual, verbal, or tactile-kinesthetic means. Given that differentiated education enjoys widespread popularity, we should expect to see positive results if the approach were superior to traditional learning.  Such results have not at all materialized, shows Michael Zwaagstra. .

Zwaagstra outlines that there are significant problems with education in Canada. Rather than catchy trends, the author recommends a more traditional, proven approach. It includes coherent curriculum, sound lessons using direct instruction and purposeful reading and writing in every discipline.

In his dissection of differentiated instruction claims, Zwaagstra shows that content is more important than process.  “Students are most likely to understand an article if they know something about its topic,” writes Zwaagstra. “For example, a student who knows nothing about hockey is unlikely to comprehend an article describing last night’s hockey game. Similarly, a person needs to know something about parliamentary democracy in order to understand an article about why a federal minority government fell on a vote of non-confidence.”

About the author:

Michael Zwaagstra is a research fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy who specializes in education policy. He has extensive teaching experience at a variety of grade levels and currently teaches high school social studies in Manitoba. He received his B.Ed., P.B.C.E., and M.Ed. degrees from the University of Manitoba where he won several academic awards such as the A. W. Hogg Undergraduate Scholarship, the Klieforth Prize in American History, and the Schoolmaster’s Wives Association Scholarship. As an educator, Michael is a strong proponent of raising academic standards, holding schools accountable for their results, and expanding the educational options available to parents. His columns promoting common sense education reform have been published in major daily newspapers including the National PostWinnipeg Free PressSaskatoon StarPhoenix, and Calgary Herald. He is also a frequent guest on radio stations across the country. His best-selling first book, What's Wrong with Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them, was released in mid-2010.

Download a copy of Differentiated Instruction is an Unproven Fad here.


For more information or to interview the author, media (only) may contact:

Michael Zwaagstra
Research Fellow
Frontier Centre for Public Policy
(204) 371-5125