Saturday, December 19, 2009

Learning Styles--No Scientific Basis

I'm skeptical about the whole global warming thing, and have been for quite some time. I've also been skeptical about some educational dogma, specifically "multiple intelligences" and "learning styles". Joanne's blog has pointed me to the current issue of Psychological Science In The Public Interest, which contains an article about learning styles. I'll quote from the abstract:

The term "learning styles" refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Proponents of learning-style assessment contend that optimal instruction requires diagnosing individuals' learning style and tailoring instruction accordingly. Assessments of learning style typically ask people to evaluate what sort of information presentation they prefer (e.g., words versus pictures versus speech) and/or what kind of mental activity they find most engaging or congenial (e.g., analysis versus listening), although assessment instruments are extremely diverse. The most common—but not the only—hypothesis about the instructional relevance of learning styles is the meshing hypothesis, according to which instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preferences of the learner (e.g., for a "visual learner," emphasizing visual presentation of information).

The learning-styles view has acquired great influence within the education field, and is frequently encountered at levels ranging from kindergarten to graduate school. There is a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks for teachers, and many organizations offer professional development workshops for teachers and educators built around the concept of learning styles.

The authors of the present review were charged with determining whether these practices are supported by scientific evidence...

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. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number.

Of course, no such article could be printed in such a magazine without the caveat at the end: more research is needed.


ChrisA said...

I have not seen any evidence of "meshing" in math instruction, it's more the school districts chosen "learning style" or the highway. I'm thinking of heading out with my little sign that says "Math is not an essay test". Sorry to get off topic.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Like I wrote over at Joanne Jacobs' blog, the real question isn't whether learning styles are a fraud but why the public education system is addicted to such frauds or as I refer to them, edu-crab.

Mrs. Widget said...

I'm ready for my next workshop, because one of our consultants keeps harping "your worst students are kinesthetic learners."

"okay sparky, how do I kinesthetically teach the Gettysburg address?"

Darren said...

It's not a tough question, Allen, and it's easy to answer one of two ways:

1. The people who push this stuff are soft-brained, actually believe it because it feels right, and wouldn't know good science if it bit them in the butt. They also believe in AGW. OR
2. The people who push this stuff do not believe it, but know they can push it on soft-brained educrats and teachers.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Under the assumption that "soft-brained" means stupid, how come the folks stupid enough to be taken in by edu-crap are smart enough to have so much influence over the public education system? They must be pretty smart stupid people if they can so often get their way over the resistance of smart people.

Also, why are there so many soft-brained people working in public education?

Either there's some selection process at work, winnowing out the competent and intelligent or there isn't.

If there is such a selection process at work it seems to be systemic since edu-crap has been offered and sought for most of a century and all across the nation wouldn't you agree? That is the implication of your hypothesis. What's systemic to the public education system and drives the process to select for soft-brainedness or against hard-brainedness? And how's the trick accomplished? What's the actual selection process and how's it work?

Darren said...

There are people in the world who operate more on emotion than on logic, who "feel" more about stuff than they "think" about it.

In some circumstances we call them "liberals".