Sunday, July 13, 2008

Learning Styles--Not!

Sorry for Borat-style "not!", but I just attended a conference where the term "learning styles" was used over and over. I don't pretend to know a lot about the subject, but I have to say that, at best, it is a very grey area.

Stahl (1999) notes in particular 1) the flawed assessment tools used in determining learning styles and 2) how learning styles "theory" has little practical to offer in the classroom:

"I have interviewed a number of teachers who have attended meetings of 200-300 teachers and principles, who paid $129 or so to attend a one-day workshop or up to $500 to attend a longer conference. They have found them to be pleasant experiences, with professional presenters. The teachers also feel that they learned something from the workshops. After I presed them, what it seemed that they learned is a wide variety of reading methods, a respect for individual differences among children, and a sense of possibilities of how to teach reading. This is no small thing. However, the same information, and much more, can be gotten from a graduate class in the teaching of reading.
These teachers have another thing in common--after one year, they had all stopped trying to match children by learning styles." [Different Strokes for Different Folks?]

Of course, I'm only citing one article, but that is one more article than the conference organizer's used to convince me of learning style theory.  There is nothing ground-breaking in the idea that EVERYONE learns best when confronted with a multiplicity of activities.  And there may be evidence that learning occurs most precisely when students find themselves obliged to work with methods that take them away from their metacognitive "comfort zone" because this forces them to contrast and compare.

There is a lot to say, of course, and this blog post is certainly not a review of all the literature, but, please, oh please, don't bombard me with learning style theory without discussing the negative literature on it or the negative side effects of perhaps wasting class time determining "how students learn."