Monday, 30 July 2012

Forget learning styles

This morning I responded to a LinkedIn discussion on learning styles, questioning the interest.  In my blog post of 4 May I noted that “Honey and Mumford’s learning styles theory, along with the competing theory of Colin Rose, has been widely discredited, at least in academic circles”, and cited this handy compendium of evidence and comment debunking the learning styles myth.

Let me showcase one useful quote, from Harold Stolovitch:

There is so much press about learning styles. First of all, it's hard to even pin down what this construct is. Is it preference, habit, or inborn trait? The general definition is that a learning style is a mode of learning that is most effective for a person. It helps the individual obtain superior learning results. However, more than 25 years of research on this and related themes have not provided any form of conclusive evidence that matching the form of instruction to learning style improved learning or even attention”.

I confess to my own complicity in this.  Two of the tools highlighted in my 2011 book, 101 Learning & Development Tools, are about learning styles.  It’s only in the last year I’ve come to understand that this is pop science at its worst, akin to claims that women can’t read maps and men never listen.

The real question is why use of learning styles “theory” persists.  As Allison Rossett perceptively puts it:

What interests me is why. Why have generations of educators glommed on to learning styles when the research is settled or pretty darn so? Seems to me that's the interesting morsel here”.

I hope it’s just that not enough work has been done to highlight, to communicate, how wrong-headed styles thinking is (the research work has been done), and people need time to break the habit.  I’d hate to think it means many L&D practitioners are like butterfly-brained new age gullibles, latching onto any seductive nonsense regardless of the evidence base.

I think learning styles models are useful in getting people to think about how they learn, and what motivates them.  No more than that.  And even then, they should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.


econnectbd said...

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econnectbd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
myladyswardrobe said...

PGCE Training programmes (primary, secondary and Post 16 levels) are all pushing Learning Styles as some kind of panacea to help students and pupils with their learning.

Schools drill it into the pupils heads that they all have "specific" learning styles - pupils know it very well, and they can be very vocal and reluctant to the point of refusal, when faced with any kind of work that is not in their "learning style".

The sooner this theory is ditched, the better.

Ken said...

Thanks for the comments (econnectbd, I hope you don't mind me deleting your duplicate post).

Interesting to see what seems to be greater awareness of the truth among children's educationalists. In my field, adult learning & development, the myths persist.

Fiona said...

Thanks Ken for a really interesting post. Thanks for the links too - so agree with Harold S that stimulus variation is the most important thing about learning styles. Love the six universal principles. Many thanks again.

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