Apparently the argument around the effectiveness of the Learning Styles approach to education and training is still going on, as witnessed by a recent Quartz article which caught my attention:
You have probably run across the idea of Learning Styles somewhere, and if you are in the education or performance development field, you cannot avoid it. Quite a little cottage industry, with books, speakers, workshops, and articles, all designed to convince us that we learn best in one particular way.
Here’s a link to a relatively even-handed article for an overview: Learning Styles
PREFERENCE AND EFFECTIVENESS:
Maybe you heard this simple diagnostic question about learning styles?
Multiple Choice – Choose the option which you are most comfortable doing first when you open up a shiny new electronic gadget (think DVD recorder or computer):
1) Fire that puppy up and start pushing buttons.
2) Look at the item from every angle and try to visualize how it works first.
3) Read the manual while making notes, then follow the manual.
4) Ask someone you trust to walk you through the steps and answer questions.
The idea is that our choice reflects how we best learn something, but little evidence exists to support that idea. By the way, I go for “A” every time.
We do tend to choose one of the above ways of learning about that new toy. This might accurately be called our learning “preference”, and it might even be how we are most comfortable learning something new.
However, being comfortable with an approach does NOT equate to that approach being ideal or even a good choice for us. A preference to do something in a certain way is not the same as doing that thing effectively.
GROUP VERSUS INDIVIDUAL:
Also much if not most of our learning experiences occur in groups, and not by ourselves. Consider the burden on a classroom teacher or trainer to customize their teaching approach to match the individual’s learning style.
Address individual needs … absolutely. The real question is whether we buy the idea that a Learning Style preference equates to a Learning Style need.
You might think that this is one of those esoteric discussions that only professional educators really care about, but resolving this issue is important for all of us in several ways:
We have all been taught by someone at some time and so have or will be our children and grandchildren who will inherit the planet.
An unnecessary emphasis on learning styles will probably result in you and yours receiving a less than effective education.
WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK:
Most of us receive various types of training while engaged in our careers and professions. When training and performance development folks buy into the learning styles concept, they will structure training to meet those needs, and not concentrate on reaching adult learners in demonstrably more effective ways.
FADS AND FANCIES:
This is another unfortunate example of our society’s penchant for adopting questionable approaches, and not using research and critical thinking to analyze a solution to make sure it can really deliver what it promises.
As the article cited below notes, many organizations, along with many learning and teaching professionals, bought into this idea without much in the way of real support.
Here’s the current bottom line thinking about all this:
“The key for teachers is not to match the unit of content to the students’ individual preferences for learning—which would require that teachers have three different ways of teaching every unit of content—but rather to match the unit of content to the best way to create meaning for most students.”
Feeling rather full of myself for participating in the ongoing bashing of Learning Styles in the Heartland ….