Monday, May 21, 2007

Learning Styles as Fortune Telling

My research into understanding the role of learning styles in e-Learning continues. I'm struck by why I find this topic so interesting. As a practical person, I tend to avoid theory. But in my quest for an informal M.Ed, I've got to get into theory a bit, right? Somehow this is an easy starting point. And it's kind of controversial, which makes it fun.

I was pointed in the direction of a good article on learning styles from Harold Stolovich via Guy Wallace.

Steven Stahl, Different Strokes for Different Folks? A Critique of Learning Styles American Educator (Fall 1999) American Federation of Teachers.

"The reason researchers roll their eyes at learning styles is the utter failure to find that assessing children's learning and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning."

Rather than segregating learners by different styles where they will receive "one-dimensional instruction", we should instead create "multidimensional instruction" using a variety of activities and presentation modes.

Learning Styles and Fortune Telling: We like learning styles because we get a flash of recognition
; we see ourself as a pattern. It's like reading our daily horoscope.

Reliability of learning styles test is generally pretty low. A 1.0 rating is 100% reliable. The author cited two learning styles tests which came in at .60 and .70. This is consistent with my own experience taking learning styles tests. My answers were influenced by my mood, how I wanted to be perceived (by others, by myself), my fatigue level.

"The other possibility is that learning styles may change from month to month, or even week to week."
I would also add that learning styles may change from topic to topic and level of expertise.

"Rather than different methods being appropriate for different children, we ought to think about different methods being appropriate for children at different stages in their development."

From the perspective of the adult learner, I think it's appropriate to think of skill level in these terms: a novice might have a different "learning style" from an expert. So when designing e-Learning courses, think about the skill level of your audience and present to their "current abilities and the demands of the task they have to master next."

Clark & Mayer address this a bit in e-Learning and the Science of Instruction when talking about closed navigation vs. learner control. Novices should be given less control, while experts should have more options and open navigation. "Program control gave better results during initial learning, while learner control was more effective at alter stages." (p. 236) Navigation isn't really about "learning styles" per se, but it is clearly about program design.

Harold Stolovich's take on the subject of learning styles, is that, yes, we all have different styles and approaches, but that these aren't the main thing we should be focusing on as designers of learning.
"Best to apply universally sound methods to enhance learning. Vary activities to maintain interest and attention. Provide support and control mechanisms to help learners "stick with it." This way, you address all learning styles."

The EduTech Wiki also has a good overview on learning style theory.

And on that note, I think I'm pretty much done now with my learning styles assignment. For the moment.


Howard Solomon said...

There are myths and then there are useful myths. Learning styles may fall into the latter category. If, in thinking that there are such things, we design additional redundancy into instruction, we get material presented in multiple ways so that the one most convenient to the learner at the moment of learning is more likely to be available.

Annabelle said...

Gamification bakes in different player styles. Same game can be played in different ways. Different aspects can motivate different kids. The same kid may play the game in different ways on different days. Nice :)

Peter Rawsthorne said...

I really like this post, because I too have an interest in learning styles... I really liked a tweet from a while back that said their was close to 7 billion learning styles, one for each person on the planet. I'd agree.

I think the learning style most important is described in the first paragraph of this post. It's a persons interest in the subject, it is hard to know why exactly the interest is there, it just is. This is what needs to be encouraged in all people and to have infrastructure and approaches that encourage this... encourage them to find their interests and assist them in developing their own learning style.

Annabelle said...

Rather than thinking of "learing style" I think of how to motivate kids to learn through one gaming system. Gamification bakes in different player styles: Achievers, Socializers, Explorers, and Killers. Different aspects of a system can motivate different kids. The same kid may play the game in different ways on different days. Nice :)