I reported about a conversation on LinkedIn badly defending learning styles. And, the subsequent post came out. Sad to say, it doesn’t do anything better, and instead is yet another bad example of reasoning. It’s a ‘collective mind losing’ redux!
So it starts out saying that those of us who decry learning styles maintain that they don’t exist. That’s not exactly what I said, at any rate. Here’s what I said (and recited in yesterday’s post):
Sure, learners differ, no one who’s taught can say otherwise. But, identifying how they differ, reliably? Er, no. And that we should adapt to learning styles? Again, not what research says.
Most frustrating, the arguments goes back to the claim that it’s about different opinions. That’s a complete mischaracterization. That’s just not helpful in having a debate.
And there are claims to have research that says otherwise. But then they don’t materialize. He has opinions. They’re not the same ;).
Then, he goes on to claim that the response won’t be a literature review, a theory discussion, or written as a journal post. OK, so instead an incoherent screed that tilts between blaming the attackers and then citing anecdotal stories? Um, again, that’s an odd choice to defend against scientific studies.
There are two data points. One is a learning styles advocate who basically recanted. Yet this seems to be taken as support for learning styles??!? The other is a quote by Coffield et al that misconstrues the overall study. In short, no evidence at all.
Oddly, midway through the post, the article starts saying those of us who expect a good rebuttal won’t like the argument. So the argument is now going to start? And again the claim that this is about opinion. Again, opinion is fine about things that are aesthetic choices with no consequences. Here, it’s about orgs trying to spend money sensibly and assist their employees in a scrutable way. I wouldn’t want my doctor or plumber using bad science, nor do I want my L&D team doing the same.
Finally, what is cited, are two people (one named, one unnamed but purportedly a learning company exec). Who, apparently, believe learners have preferences. Yet we’re not claiming otherwise. What is demonstrable is that preferences have essentially no benefit in learning. That point isn’t addressed.
And then there’s this claim, which is fundamentally wrong: “If you can identify the learner’s style, you can tailor content to meet that need.” First, you can’t reliably identify a learner’s style, there isn’t a viable instrument. Second, there’s no benefit to tailoring content to that need. Coffield, et al, and Pashler, et all, and now further studies have reliably, repeatedly, documented this. Check out the Guild’s research report, for instance.
And again a mischaracterization of the opposing viewpoint. It’s certainly possible that we will, one day, reliably identify learning styles, and even find ways to adapt to it. But right now we don’t, and claiming to the contrary is equivalent to selling ‘snake oil’ (see Will Thalheimer’s brilliant introduction to my myths book). You’ll waste money and possibly damage learning and learner. Most importantly, we have a viable alternative: design for the learning outcome! There are good reasons to include multiple media, but they have nothing to do with learning style.
The final ‘nail in the coffin’ against learning styles? Argument by analogy: SATs, gorillas, Einstein, and inventions that were doubted before proven true. With support like this, learning styles shouldn’t be so hard to kill…
What’s important is to see through this sort of argument. On one side, you have claims that it’s about opinions, and there’re several cited to support it. On the other hand, there’re clear pointers to research that’s looked deeply into and across this issue. We must be better than this!
And if my complaints seem disorganized, that’s because they follow the ‘flow’ of the original article. The whole argument is specious! There’re mischaracterizations of the alternate argument, a lack of supporting evidence despite claims to the contrary, and sloppy thinking. It’s on a par with flat earth, anti-vax, and other non-scientific beliefs. For goodness sake, please pay attention to the science, not illogical deniers.