Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Learning styles? Feh...

Just came across the following very interesting paper.  Abstract viewable here.

Paschler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. 2008. Learning Styles:  Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9 (3) : 105-119.

The idea behind learning styles (or "multiple intelligences") is that different people learn differently.  Some are visual, some are auditory, some are kinesthetic or tactile, and others learn best from the written word.  Students can take a learning styles inventory - basically a multiple-choice test that scores them in those different areas to see what their dominant learning style(s) is(are).

Teachers, from kindergarten to graduate school, are then urged, by educational "specialists" to be aware of the learning styles of our students and tailor our teaching to meet these needs.  Sounds good, right?

Well, like many of the fads in education that come and go over the years, the concept of learning styles seems to be lacking some substance.  To quote the authors of the study on 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 just wish research on teaching and learning were based more on sound scientific studies rather than feel-good bullshit.

I don't really worry about it in my geology classes anyway.  Students who learn best from the written word have plenty to read, students who are auditory learners get it from my lectures, students who like tactile/kinesthetic things get to handle rocks and minerals and climb on rocks during field trips, and visual learners get lots of pretty PowerPoint pictures of geologic things to view during lecture.  It's all good.

Quite honestly, if students want to succeed in college they better learn how to adapt to different professor's teaching styles not expect everyone to spoon-feed them material in a way that makes them feel comfortable.  Learning is not opening your mind and allowing someone to pour in knowledge.  Learning takes some effort and sometimes requires you to be uncomfortable.

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