Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Speak of the Devil...

Last week my class discussed learning style inventories and how they can potentially help adult learners understand how they learn in order for them to make more informed choices when pursuing continuing education and professional development. As a function of that coursework I began thinking about how to use mixtures of these inventories (which is an improper term I think; "learning personality test" makes more sense even if it's longer) to help adults of different ages considering continuing education of some sort, be it entering an undergraduate program, a certification, or post-graduate studies.

Then I read Donald Clark's latest this morning. With seemingly psychic timing, he put up a post about learning styles. Now, of learning styles he is not a fan. So his was a post directly challenging the content of my prior week's studies. Donald and a few commenters pose a good counter-point. For example, how does one tailor a history class to the kinesthetic learning style? The point is that the two clash so directly, and because of this the concept of learning styles is rendered inoperable, and perhaps empty. I'm not quite willing to go that far, but the point is salient.

The point I had to add to the discussion was that technology partly solves the learning styles/no learning styles argument. Elearning 2.0 allows for increasingly rapid development, so adding audio for sound learners, visuals for visual learners, etc. is not as difficult as it has been. To add to that, learners with specific disabilities must necessarily employ different styles of learning than others.

Donald appears to disagree with the instructor-focused critique that learning style supporters concentrate on. This is certainly fine, as instructors aren't always going to be the weak point in the classroom. But neither are learners, and while certain subjects can't be taught certain ways, traditional models of instruction appear to be becoming less effective. I can't count the number of times recently that I've heard people say they don't want to be talked at in a college class. This is a sticky issue, and the question could be asked that for the individuals who say, prefer podcasts to in-person lectures, are they not just doing the same thing a different way? Is podcasting really a different style of learning than lecturing since both are one-way? Podcasts fit adult learning design considerations, but is that all?

I look forward to understanding this debate further.


  1. I've been collecting links and articles on the Learning Styles debate. They're here if you're interested:

    One recent piece has a really interesting twist on Learning Styles. Instructors may find it more effective to focus on the subject's 'teaching style' than to focus on learners' styles. Each Learning Objective may have an optimal 'teaching style':

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  3. Thanks for your comments. BunchberryFern, I will take a look at those, thanks.

  4. Paul,
    Interestingly, learning styles and emotional intelligence always stirs up controversy in the instructional design world. While I believe over-tailoring a course to address a specific learning style can actually impede learning, I think it's valuable information for the learner. Understanding how one learns is a great tool for personal development. I would hope that most adult learners could harness this information to improve their study skills and boost learning.