Reminded again about the debunking of the learning styles myth, which still creeps into conversations with teachers … this time by a blogpost by Cathy Moore.
Reflecting on my own experiences: I have to say that the aspect of learning styles that feels intuitively accurate for me is about preferences and acknowledging that we are different. For instance, I discovered the other day that a close colleague and I totally differ about whether we prefer to get information from a visual or from text. Another friend would prefer to listen to text, while I prefer to read. I see myself as valuing visual and kinaesthetic experiences. These are just my preferences rather than being ‘learning’ specific. Perhaps it’s more about having choices when we are faced with input or with activity? I remember an early website from a uni in the UK, where you could choose the ‘look’ of the website which included different fonts – that’s a personal preference which relates to my perceptions and is why I quite like Rothko and my husband doesn’t. It’s not about the way we learn!
So how do we give our learners choices? Choice of tasks? Choice of platform or tool? Choice of different access to resources? Give them what they need to support their own learning.Give opportunity for practice. Some of my colleagues did research with language learners listening to chunks of text where they could control the speed at which they listened. Learners’ results in a test after listening showed that it didn’t seem to make much difference what speed they listened at. However, it did make a difference to how they FELT about what they were doing, as they responded in questionnaires to their listening experience. Being able to listen at a slower speed made them feel more comfortable about what they were doing. Which comes back to supporting learners by giving them autonomy in what they do. There’s the rub for me – finding the balance between ‘Do it this way which I know is good for you!’ vs ‘Do it however works for you’.
How do we get learners to engage with concepts? We store information in terms of meaning rather than in different sensory modes (the latter often being discussed as central to learning styles). So learners need to make meaning from what they are doing, which is one of Phil Race’s precepts as well. We need to give opportunity for our students to make meaning in relation to the concepts we see as central to the disciplines/fields/course we are working/teaching in.
Just for reference, below are the resources for debunking that Cathy Moore suggests in her post (see link at top)
- My post Learning styles: Worth our time? summarizes some studies and has extensive discussion in the comments.
- My post How to be a learning mythbuster has links to easy, approachable debunking articles to pass to clients or teammates.
- The Debunking Club has compiled several other resources. This TED talk in particular could be useful for your colleagues and clients. (I liked the TED talk)
- Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown et al. is a readable summary of research.
- Urban Myths about Learning and Education by Pedro De Bruyckere et al. debunks several myths.