Sunday, July 29, 2007

Learning Styles: Complete and Total Crap

And it's high time someone says so publicly, even if that someone is in Britain.

"The rationale for employing Vak (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) learning styles appears to be weak. After more than 30 years of educational research in to learning styles there is no independent evidence that Vak, or indeed any other learning style inventory, has any direct educational benefits."


Some of us will never forgive Howard Gardner for writing that rubbish (I'm in British mode now), nor can we forget the so-called education professionals who foisted it upon our profession above and beyond what Gardner himself posited.

Good pedagogy requires that material be taught in a way that makes it accessible to students. That way is not necessarily the way that's most comfortable for the student; rather, it's the way that's most appropriate for the subject matter. Trying to learn trig using your musical or kinesthetic "intelligence" would be a colossal blunder. Of course specific applications in specific instances can be found, but on the whole, if you want to learn trig, you should learn it as it's been effectively and efficiently learned and taught for centuries.

So kudos to Baroness Greenfield! And kudos as well to Professor Coffield, who gets the final word in the linked article and in this post:

Frank Coffield, a professor at London University's institute of education, who reviewed 13 models of learning styles, insists that the approach is theoretically incoherent and confused.

"As well as Vak, I came across labelling such as 'activists' versus 'reflectors', 'globalists' versus 'analysts' and 'left brainers' versus 'right brainers'. There is no scientific justification for any of these terms," he said.

"We do students a serious disservice by implying they have only one learning style, rather than a flexible repertoire from which to choose, depending on the context."

6 comments:

Tony said...

"Complete and Total Bollux" may be a better title.

Chanman said...

In today's education circles, I have been looked at like a wild-eyed heretic when I tell my colleagues that I think the "multiple intelligences" theory is a load of horse dung.

Even Gardner admitted that he called them "intelligences" because if he had simply called them "talents", he wouldn't have been published.

I still think back to my credential program and I remember how absolutely starry-eyed the instructors were toward Gardner's MI Theory.

I totally adhere to how to best teach the subject matter when I am teaching my history classes, not how to best appeal to the differing "talents" of my students.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I would like to think that this breath of fresh air would be winds of change. Somehow I think that it will be ignored as a matter of self preservation for the educrats who run the colleges of education. Surely, however, we can depend on our union since it is so in tune with the needs of its members. I, too, have refused to bend my teaching to accommodate the perceived needs of the individual learner. I will continue to use the best method to teach all of the students in my history classes. Interesting post.

Loni said...

I agree with you here, but not for the same reasons.
Gardiner pointed out that intelligence is subjective, relating to the context in which it is applied. For an aboriginal hunter, spacial and kinesthetic "intelligences" are far more important than his ability to do math problems. In our culture, reading and basic math are skills needed to succeed in even the most menial of professions. Yet people in both cultures share one goal: feeding themselves.
So does this mean that "intelligence" as a whole is not important to the aboriginal hunter, or that he is less intelligent than a person from our culture? No, rather his life demands a different type of intelligence for survival.
You write a lot in this blog about how intelligence, or moreover measures of intelligence, are good indicators of how much a person will succeed. What is intelligence? What is success? They have different meanings depending on where you are.
Our society demands that one know math and literature and how to acquire knowledge of these subjects through books and lectures. This can be boring at times, but if you're a student who grew up "experiencing" knowledge, only to get to college and find that the professor is just going to stand there and talk, you aren't well prepared.
Likewise, if you're a student who knows nothing but books and numbers, you aren't going to do well in a hunter-gatherer situation either.
I'd like to think that public education is a multi-cultural, multi-intelligence-embracing experience for everyone, but it's not. Although I was only given a small scope through which to view the world, I'm glad I was taught how to succeed in this culture, and it's my personal job to ensure that my perspective is not kept so narrow.

Darren said...

Loni, your picture *was* better =)

What Gardner called "intelligences" are really nothing more than "strengths" or "skills" or "abilities". His use of the word "intelligence" was calculated--he himself has said that if he'd merely called them "talents" that his book wouldn't have been published. Referring to these skills and talents as intelligences made him a rich man and was just enough to fool gullible and mamby-pamby educators who eat up stuff like that.

Your hunter-gatherer may have use for different skills than you or I do, but intelligence (IMHO) is more about creativity, inventiveness, resourcefulness, and cleverness than it is about having learned a bunch of facts--although having a large amount of facts at your disposal makes it much easier to be resourceful.

Intelligence is as much about systhesis as it is about memorization.

Joel said...

As a band director, I suppose I do use most of the multiple intelligences. I hate having to identify them, because they are all so interconnected in what I do anyway. Glad to know my theory that it's all merely bunk is slightly stronger after this article.