Saturday, December 3, 2016

Learning Styles and Optimizing Learning

"Learning Styles: Concepts and evidence," Psychological Science in the Public Interest, V. 9 No 3, December 2008, by Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork examined whether or not there was scientific evidence to support the "learning-styles" practice of matching the format of instruction to the learning style of the individual learner.

They authors described what evidence would be appropriate to validate the learning-styles practice. For distinct learning styles A and B, learners with learning style A should learn better with an instruction/intervention with learning style format A than with instruction/intervention with learning style format B, and vice versa: learners with learning style B should learn better with instruction/intervention of format B than format A.

The authors were actually more generous in what they considered acceptable evidence. But simply finding that learners A did better with intervention A than with intervention B was not sufficient--it was also necessary to show that learners B did worse with intervention A than with B.

And at that time (December 2008) the authors found no evidence base to justify incorporating learning-style practices. And in 2016, there still has been no adequate evidence to justify the use of learning-styles practices.

Among professionals who research learning, there is consensus that it is not effective to teach towards the learning style of the individual student. Yet across the K-16 spectrum there are ardent adherents to the learning-styles practice.

From the opening of Philip M. Newton's "The Learning Styles Myth is Thriving in Higher Education," Frontiers in Psychology, 15 December 2015, "The existence of ‘Learning Styles’ is a common ‘neuromyth’, and their use in all forms of education has been thoroughly and repeatedly discredited in the research literature. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that their use remains widespread."

Both Newton and Pashler et al. acknowledge that people can readily identify with a preferred learning style and that there is validity to the identification. But there still is no evidence that learning is enhanced by identifying a student's learning style and providing instruction geared towards that style.

The promotion of the learning-styles practices is not an innocuous indulgence. Not only does the emphasis on learning styles take time and resources away from proven effective interventions, the emphasis on learning styles can potentially reinforce a fixed mindset and steer students away from certain leaning challenges and academic paths.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"Unjustified use of Algebra 2"

The U.S. Department of Education organized a meeting (“California Math Convening: Gateways to Access – May 31, 2016”) to discuss California's use of Algebra 2 (a.k.a. Intermediate Algebra) in higher education. The meeting was held at the chancellor's office of the California State University (CSU) system. The participants included representatives from the CSU, the University of California, the California Community Colleges, K-12 educators, and educational policy organizations.

The meeting was the DOE's response to a September 30, 2015 letter from Christopher Edley, Jr., to the Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education. The letter begins with:
“I write to request that your office investigate the educationally unjustified use of Algebra 2 as a gateway course by all three segments of California’s higher education system: the University of California system; the California State University system; and the California Community College system. There is evidence to suggest that, in varying ways, these institutions have adopted policies and practices that impose a disparate impact on protected groups in violation not only of the equal protection clause of the California State Constitution, but also in violation of federal regulations implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
The letter cites the success of Statway, a project of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as evidence that Intermediate Algebra is not actually necessary for success in completing math requirements for baccalaureate degrees in some majors. The letter concludes with:
“If there are villains here, they are the indifference and inertia that confirm and perpetuate unequal educational opportunity. I believe this discrimination is, for the most part, without animus. Regardless, the injury is real.” 
At the meeting, Christopher Edley Jr. explained that neither intent nor a history of practice would be considered relevant when determining if there is a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The presence of both Catherine Lhamon and also the Under Secretary U.S. DOE, Ted Mitchell, made abundantly evident that the DOE wants California's higher education community to recognize and address the issue.

Another speaker was William McCallum, mathematician with numerous distinctions including being one of the three lead writers of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM). Bill explained that because College Algebra was the de facto mathematics requirement in U.S. baccalaureate granting institutions at the time of writing the CCSSM, the document needed to include the math that would lead to College Algebra, namely Algebra 2. He commented that it is  inappropriate for colleges or universities to cite the CCSSM to define what is currently needed to be college ready--it makes no sense to argue against modifying college math requirements based on the content of the CCSSM, as the CCSSM were created trying to reflect what the earlier college math requirements had been.

The U.S. DOE evidently intends to hold another such meeting in 3 or 4 months to check on what progress has been made.