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Posts Tagged ‘myth

It has been said that there is a fool born every minute. There might be a similar reproduction rate for charlatans.

Recently, I received a snail mail flyer from one such charlatan, an “enrichment” centre. How do I know that it was a charlatan? It offered, amongst other things, the following: 

I share partial screenshots of the flyer that featured the debunked theory of learning styles and curriculum booklets supposedly enabled by augmented reality (AR).

This set of links and my summary are enough authority on why learning styles are a myth. I will say no more because they are a waste of time and energy.

The use of AR is sneakily seductive because even “highly engaged parents” will a) not know what exactly that means, and b) be fooled by bells and whistles. 

I would wager that most parents have not heard of frameworks like TPACK by Mishra and Kohler (2006) (PDF from Mishra) or about Kirshner et al’s (2004) educational affordances of technology. If they did, they might realise that the pedagogy has not caught up with the technological hype.

Someone from the “enrichment” centre might know of these frameworks. But they ignore critical practice and educational research in favour of distraction with a new and shiny object.

Extraneous tuition and “enrichment” are already rooted as shadow schools in Singapore, so parents are willing to pay for them. There is a saying that a fool and his money are soon parted. I can only hope that more parents engage with knowledge of critical practice and rigorous research. They and their kids will be richer for it.

Some education heroes critique and share on TikTok.

Dr Inna Kanevsky is my anti-LSM hero. LSM is my short form for learning styles myth.

In her very short video, she highlighted how teachers perpetuate the myth of learning styles despite what researchers have found.

In the Google Doc she provided, she shared the media and peer-reviewed research that has debunked this persistent but pointless myth.

If your attitude is to ask what the harm is in designing lessons for different “styles”, then you are part of the problem — distracting the efforts of teachers and promoting uncritical thinking and uninformed practice.

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This video debunking the learning styles myth does not bring up anything new if you have been keeping up with the research on it.

However, the issues are explained by a popular science educator and YouTuber. Perhaps his manner and his reach will create a greater awareness among students and teachers alike that they are wasting their time and effort on a myth.

I am constantly on the lookout for resources that are relevant to courses that I facilitate. 

One series of modules on ICT for Inclusion is a few months away, but I already have more new resources than I can share in the short time that I have with my students. So I embed just some of them here.

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The first two videos highlight the ways that various technologies enable differently-abled folk to live their lives. I like that they are local examples and will connect with my learners.

The third video is of a well-known YouTuber. He is not a local lad, of course, but he represents a faction of people who do not consider their “disabilities” to be disabilities. It reinforces my message that we need to focus on what students with special needs can do or might do, instead of what they cannot.

I am also reminding myself that I have a reflection on the myth that is learning styles. I curated several resources and linked them one to another after I kept hearing more and more pre- and in-service teachers tout this falsehood.

Rising above, what I have done illustrates the difference between merely bookmarking or collecting resources, and actually curating them. It is easy to collect and just as easy to forget that these resources exist. It is more difficult but far more meaningful to see how they fit together to teach a lesson or two.

Not a semester goes by when I meet preservice teachers, inservice teachers, or future faculty who swear by learning styles. Every semester, I try to correct such errant thinking.

Someone taught my latest batch of educators the learning styles myth and I felt duty-bound to say otherwise even though my modules were not about that. For me it was like knowing that a bridge ahead was destroyed and I had to warn the travellers blindly heading towards it.

I have a time-tested collection of resources that refute the learning styles myth better than I can. But I also offer my perspective.

Learning preferences are not learning styles. A student might prefer to watch a video instead of read a book, but that does not mean you give in to that preference if the learning outcomes are about reading.

Styles are impractical treatments. A teacher who has been taught to apply styles might prepare lessons based on visual, auditory, and psychomotor (VAK) “styles” because this supposedly optimises learning for three categories of students. The matching styles with strategies is called the meshing hypothesis. This is not only impractical over time, it is also insufficient and self-fulfilling.

Why insufficient? It practitioners are to take styles seriously, they need to cater to all learner differences. There is currently between 70 to 80 style inventories now. Even if we take the lower end, there are 70! (70 factorial or 70x69x68…x1) possibilities. Even if a teacher elects to focus only on VAK, such effort is not pragmatic over every lesson.

Why is focusing on styles self-fulfilling? Imagine being identified or labelled as a visual learner. If that is supposed to be your style and it is catered to, there is no incentive to develop the other ways of learning. Such learning is not only incomplete and irresponsible, a learner also becomes what s/he is labelled, just as easily as s/he grows to accept being called the class clown or teacher’s pet.

Learning styles ignore context. If a task is necessarily psychomotor, e.g., swimming a particular stroke or riding a bike, are visual and auditory learners supposed to rely on imagery and sounds of the same? No, the task necessitates the strategy, not the supposed optimal style.

Now consider an argument from the special needs angle. A visually impaired person cannot help but rely on auditory and tactile learning. But this does not mean that the learner has a style. The circumstances necessitate the reliance on non-visual forms of learning, but no reasonable person would call those forms learning styles.

If the logic against learning styles is not enough, consider what research says about this stubborn myth. Drawing from some resources I have shared before:

The American Psychological Association has come out against learning styles. The APA went so far at to say that “many parents and educators may be wasting time and money on products, services and teaching methods that are geared toward learning styles.”

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The TEDx video above was of Dr. Tesia Marshik, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who highlighted how learning styles:

  • had no research evidence that show that they improve learning
  • wasted the time and effort of teachers who tried to cater to different styles
  • labelled and limited people into believing they learn best in certain ways

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In the SciShow video above, Hank Green highlighted how:

  • the only study that seemed to support learning styles had severe flaws in its design
  • students with perceptions that they had one style over others actually benefitted from visual information regardless of their preference

This SciShow video and educators Dylan Wiliam and Donald H Taylor cited the work of Pashlar et al (2008) who declared this:

… we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above, which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.

I share the thoughts of Willingham et al (2015) when they concluded: “Learning styles theories have not panned out, and it is our responsibility to ensure that students know that.”

Catering to a supposed inherent style does not necessarily optimise learning. Sadly, learning styles are a myth perpetuated by teacher educators and workplace trainers who do not keep up with critical research and reflective practice. They are easy to latch on to because the pseudo science is a low-hanging fruit that preys on our innate perception of individual differences.

I like a good joke as much as the next person.

For me, a good joke is a turn of phrase that is smart, observant, and above all, true to life. So I laughed at what one local satirist shared on Twitter.

But I stopped chuckling almost as soon as I started. The image was not hashtagged as satire and was meant to simulate a serious message from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

To be clear, the graphic is fake. It does not originate from the WHO, which has actual images busting myths about COVID-19.

I know that some will get the joke, but there are others who might propagate the image out of context and without checking for a source.

We do not need to add a “joke” to the existing dump of misinformation and disinformation. All these spread faster than COVID-19 and infect our capacity to think critically. But there is an inoculation — myth busting fuelled by skepticism.

I tweet-shared this opinion piece yesterday because I thought it was timely and well-written for lay folk.

I agree with almost all of it. Almost.

The authors’ example of 21st century edtech pseudoscience was DVDs on the Mozart Effect and Baby Einstein. I get the valid arguments against the DVDs — their benefits were for older learners, temporary, or scientifically proven to be ineffective. But how are DVDs “21st century”? What person in current “early childhood” knows what a DVD is?

They also make this statement:

Raising a successful child in today’s world does not require special technology, toys or other products because we know that the brain is a social organ thriving on basic human communication and daily social experiences – conversations, stories, gestures, demonstrations, walks, hide-and-seek, doing things together, holding the lift door for a neighbour, helping granny with her grocery bag, exchanging words of encouragement.

I agree that there is no need for special technology. But this does not mean NO technology. The everyday and mundane technology include their parents’ phones and eventually their own. Kids need to be taught how and when use them meaningfully, powerfully, and responsibly. We must embrace such tools rather than reject them under a blanket statement.

You cannot make this up. There is no need to.

The tweet above aptly illustrates how learners today can be savvy, but neither smart nor wise.

I do not mean to say they are stupid. They are simply ignorant because they have not learnt new ways of seeing and doing things. Over time with smart teaching and wise counsel, our learners might gain new perspectives and habits.

They must be taught or they must have good models to emulate. They are learning machines as we are. But they are not magically or mysteriously digitally native. The “digital native” is a myth.

No educator worth their salt benefits from buying into this myth. Making false assumptions about the learners will be frustrating for both students and teachers. The teachers will have heightened and unrealistic expectations of their students, and the students will not learn optimally with technology-mediated pedagogies.

I have met and tried convincing my fair share of administrators and teachers who do not process Prensky’s claims of the so-called “digital native” more critically. I am quite certain most have not even read this original work in 2001. That is a long time to believe and implement policy blindly.

I urge anyone who has not questioned the use and assumptions of “digital natives” to read this excellent critique, Digital Natives: Ten Years After, by Apostolos Koutropoulos. A friendly debate over lunch is not going to cut through over a decade of hardened myth. Perhaps a slow but deep burning will.


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