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.

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