Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learning Styles is an Excuse

One of the things I've been saying for quite awhile now is that the ideas of learning styles is overstated. While we all have strengths and weaknesses, interests and things we couldn't care less about, these are trivial in comparison with the ability to learn when we need to.

The notion that learning styles, strengths in auditory, visual, kinesthetic or some 70 other proposed tactics towards learning are so profound that we should structure teaching around them is nonsense and recent research is backing that up. A review of the literature on learning styles has shown them to be statistically flawed, meaning there is little to no evidence for the learning styles notion. The report even goes so far as to note that in the few tests that did have statistical significance, some contradicted the learning style theory.

In my opinion, it's long past time to dump this. Even if there were some validity to it, I don't think employing it has helped. In fact, I think it has the potential to do far more harm than good because it has provided a convenient excuse that students can and will employ that is virtually impossible to argue against. Beyond simple grades, it teaches students that everything should be catered specifically to them, a lesson many take with them in life later creating a sense of entitlement and inflexibility.

So instead of flexing the curriculum to the (imagined) strengths of the student, we need to teach students to be flexible thinkers. They need to be forced to develop mental muscles that may not be immediately easy to them and produce well rounded thinkers instead of pigeon-holed into a learning style that can be used as an excuse for failure.


Laith said...

To be honest I think part of the issue is that learning styles is too focused and used backwards.

I do think that some people are better and absorbing spoken vs written or such.
However as you point out it shouldn't be an excuse. Instead it should be used to focus the student on where they need to work on.

In other words if you learn better from spoken then you need to determine what you need to do in order to better absorb from written (ie specific note taking style or something)

Personally I tend to get more from written material than spoken lecture. So I came up with ways to focus myself better to get the most out of that.

but I don't think there are nearly as many 'learning styles' as the theory purports.

Samantha Raper said...

I think that one of the largest factors of learning styles that has been largely ignored is that they have always been considered learning style *theories*, meaning they may not necessarily be scientifically true.

As you said, these have been used far too long as excuses for students and it's time that we make students well-rounded by teaching in a way that is more "mixed up" as the article states.

Stephen Uitti said...

Motivation is important. Learning to read well enough to read for enjoyment leads to doing well in related skills, such as composition. Why stop there? We need history for enjoyment, a 2nd language for enjoyment, math for enjoyment, and so on.