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.