I keep hearing queries and statements about learning styles, so here’s a slightly edited (but still not particularly diplomatic :) response to a recent query about learning styles (as I also posted to ITFORUM, a great discussion list if you like academic discussions on learning technology like I do):
Rubbish. Yes, mix types of media and experiences to match learning tasks and maintain motivation, but not for ‘styles’.
I have very strong thoughts on personality type and learning: I spent 2+ years leading a team developing a system that adapted learning on the basis of individual differences.
I’m not a psychometrician, but I have a PhD in psych, and I studied the learning styles literature (including Jonassen & Grabowski’s non-critical compendium “Handbook of Individual Differences in Learning & Instruction” or somesuch) for several months to create the plan for that systems, and I then got to hire a psychometrician and a senior cognitive scientist (Valerie Shute, who’s work with Patrick Kyllonen at Brooks AFB is probably still the best cognitive psychometrics stuff going, she did her PhD at UCSB with Dick Mayer) to back me up.
Essentially the existing learning styles stuff is not sound, and that’s not just my reasonably-well informed opinion, but the result of a research study (warning, PDF) done in the UK.
And apparently another one as well, check out Wikipedia’s entry, which is pretty good, too.
Great way to raise awareness of differences, don’t get me wrong, but most instruments (that is, assessments) are flawed, and misused. There’s good stuff you can do, but few limit themselves to that. Go to an ASTD conference expo, and you’ll see a veritable plethora of ‘learning styles’ assessments available to ‘improve’ your organization.
My take-home is as with multi-cultural learning: do the best job for the content, and if that’s counter to a person’s learning style, help them learn to process or cope with different modalities. Your thoughts?