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Posts Tagged ‘styles

The voice in the podcast excerpt belongs to Dr Paul Penn, author of the book, The Psychology of Effective Studying

In the short clip, Penn explained what the most popular understanding of learning styles was. He also declared that:

You’re as well off knowing someone’s star sign as you are their learning style if you want to help them learn.

Reaction 1: Ooh, burn! 

Reaction 2: Here is why no educator worth their salt should waste time on learning styles.

Links to full podcast episode: [Apple] [Google] [Spotify]

Reaction 3: I agree with this tweet, #DieLearningStylesDie. 

Yes, 71!

That is not an exclamation of the number seventy-one. It is the factorial of 71, i.e., 71 x 70 x 69… etc.

71! is a huge number. The factorial calculator puts this at: 850,478,588,567,862,317,521,167,644,239,926,010,288,584,608,120,796,235,
886,430,763,388,588,680,378,079,017,697,280,000,000,000,000,000.

Can you imagine having to individually address this many different number of, say, learning variations among your students?



Well, you would have to if you blindly buy in to learning styles. According to this 2009 article by the Association for Psychological Science, there are 71 different models of learning styles.

If you take learning styles seriously, you would have to address every style in each model. 71! If you do not, you are ignoring a style that supposedly best suits that learner.

Thankfully for you, the same article categorically debunks learning styles based on the poor research designs of studies that claim to support learning styles.

This does not mean that people do not learn differently. They do, but not in the way that proponents of learning styles insist.

One takeaway from this old not not-cited-enough article is that it is both irresponsible and impractical to try to teach by learning styles. These have not been empirically established and there are far too many to address for every lesson.

Another takeaway is how some practices go unquestioned because they seem plausible. Why are questions not asked about the validity of learning styles? Perhaps teachers (and even teacher educators) do not know what they do not know. That is, they have not kept up with the research.

A teacher should not reach the age of 71 to realise that learning styles are a myth. That teacher would have retired by then. She would not be able to put her energies into better approaches or mentor younger teachers by modelling reflective and critical thinking.

This is the best tweeted nugget so far about the myth that is learning styles.

I have ranted so much against this pseudoscience so much that I wonder if I look like a crazy doomsday crier on the street. Nevertheless, here is yet another resource that summarises some evidence against this still propagated myth.

There was nothing new in the article for me about the debunking of learning styles by researchers in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. But I did find out that learning styles are not peddled as test items in teacher preparation in the USA states of Arizona and Indiana. These are the same states where I got my Masters and Ph.D. respectively.

I used to wrongly teach learning styles to preservice teachers before I pursued my higher degrees. I have been practically at war with this pseudoscience as a professor after I got my Ph.D. and as a education consultant now. I see how I might have been influenced to switch to the right side.

But back to the article. The author declared:

Sound professional judgment requires that the best available knowledge gained through empirical research be integrated into practice. Teachers are professionals whose influence on human lives cannot be overstated. It’s critical that they make instructional decisions informed by evidence.

The author followed up with actionable steps:

  1. Follow the research. He likened progressive teacher preparation to medical schools that no longer teach and test bloodletting.
  1. Prepare research-savvy teachers. To the author, this was like doctors who would not “blindly accept what pharmaceutical representatives market to them to inform treatment decisions”.

Both are good points. But what is the harm in letting teachers try to address learning styles? The author argued that teachers would not only be wasting their time, they would also not focus on more productive and effective strategies.

Think of it this way. It is one thing to read your horoscope and then laugh it off as creative storytelling. It is entirely another to take astrological predictions seriously and plan your life around them.

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.”

Video source

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

Video source

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.

This tweet reveals a battle we rage in education. It is not the text or the link in the tweet; it is the image.

What is the battle about? Learning styles and the ignorance it perpetuates.

Why battle? Learning styles are very much alive and even celebrated. This despite research that has debunked it and the APA that recently made a statement against it.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently posted an article about how many people still believe in learning styles even though these have been debunked.

A cognitive psychology educator posted five-tweet thread to see how commonly accepted learning styles were in the top ten schools of education in the US.

He followed up with a blog entry to show how he discovered that eight out of ten of them had information about learning styles on their website. This information was supportive of or neutral about learning styles. Only one, the
“Teachers College of Columbia University produced an article which portrayed learning styles as a myth or in a negative manner”.

I agree with him. We should stop beating dead horses. The learning styles horse is very much alive. Where is my stick? Ah, here it is.

Anyone who still thinks that the VAK (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) typology is valid should watch the video below.


Video source

A few people were blindfolded and had to guess who other people were and what they looked like just from the sound of their voices.

Proponents of any “learning style” inventory paint themselves into a corner because we are all visual learners (unless we are visually-impaired, of course). We are also auditory, kinaethetic, and other learners.

We are not predisposed to learning a certain way. Each of us might have learning preferences, but we also adapt to contexts. For example, there are times when only the written word or audio recordings is available. At other times, physical activities need to be performed and not just watched or listened to.

Extreme proponents of “learning styles” argue that teachers should provide what learners prefer. Not only is this impractical, doing that spoon-feeds instead of challenges students to learn new skills, e.g., active listening, improvising.

I say we stop supporting the charade is learning styles. It is time to remove that mask and to see the messiness of learning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

 
Here is another example of why propagators of “learning styles” do schooling and education a disservice.

An NBC correspondent highlighted a quote from a WaPo article:

For some context, here is an excerpt from the article

Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings. 

Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Say what you want about “learning styles”. If you are a teacher and what you say is not informed by research, then you dig you and your students into a hole. These “learning styles” become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you do not like reading words, here are lots of pictures instead. If you cannot listen attentively to someone, go outside and do something that somehow teaches you the same thing.

“Learning styles” can become an excuse to label yourself or someone else so that you or they do not have to try to learn something else some other way.

Do you and your students a favour and educate yourself on the fallacies of “learning styles”. Read this tweet storm — a response to an uncritical and irresponsible vendor — for a start.

You do not even need to read the research. Just question your conscience and logic — is it right and helpful for any learners to grow up with a limited set of tools and skills?


Video source

The video above highlights how “learning styles”:

  • have no research evidence that show that they improve learning
  • waste the time and effort of teachers who try to cater to different styles
  • label and limit people into believing they learn only or best in certain ways

Admit your bias, take the first difficult step of learning what research tells us, and unlearn “learning styles”. Your first step is any of the resources I have shared in Diigo, the articles mentioned in the tweetstorm, or the TED talk embedded above. Read, watch, or listen; choose your learning preference, but do not call it a learning style.

Learning is often difficult. If it was easy, it probably is not learning. Giving in to your uninformed bias that kids have “learning styles” may be easier, but that does not make it right.

Since some people would rather watch a video bite than read articles, I share SciShow’s Hank Green’s 2.5 minute critique of “learning styles”.


Video source

From a review of research, Green highlighted how:

  • the only study that seemed to support learning styles was severely flawed
  • students with perceptions that they had one style over others actually benefitted from visual information regardless of their preference

This is just the tip of the iceberg of evidence against learning styles. I have a curated list here. If that list is too long to process, then at least take note of two excerpts from recent reviews:

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine:

… 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.

In their review of research on learning styles for the Association for Psychological Science, Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork (2008) came to a stark conclusion: “If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated.” (p. 117)

In Deans for Impact, Dylan Wiliam noted:

Pashler et al pointed out that experiments designed to investigate the meshing hypothesis would have to satisfy three conditions:

1. Based on some assessment of their presumed learning style, learners would be allocated to two or more groups (e.g., visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners)

2. Learners within each of the learning-style groups would be randomly allocated to at least two different methods of instruction (e.g., visual and auditory based approaches)

3. All students in the study would be given the same final test of achievement.

In such experiments, the meshing hypothesis would be supported if the results showed that the learning method that optimizes test performance of one learning-style group is different than the learning method that optimizes the test performance of a second learning-style group.

In their review, Pashler et al found only one study that gave even partial support to the meshing hypothesis, and two that clearly contradicted it.

Look at it another way: We might have learning preferences, but we do not have styles that are either self-fulling prophecies or harmful labels that pigeonhole. If we do not have visual impairments, we are all visual learners.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Learning is messy and teaching tries to bring order to what seems to be chaos. The problem with learning styles is that it provides the wrong kind of order. Learning styles has been perpetuated without being validated. A stop sign on learning styles is long overdue.

There are not many circumstances in which doing the same thing differently is innovative. This might be one exception.


Video source

Why do I make this exception an example of innovation? The singer is obviously talented in several ways. While he has taken someone else’s song and applied the identities of others on them, he has taken enough creative license to make the mix his own.

Likewise moving from PowerPoint to Google Slides or Prezi is not innovative. But opening the Slides or Prezi for public comment or collaborative construction could be. The innovation is not in the tool or the delivery. It is in the human endeavour.


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