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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learning Styles (Not)

There is reason for skepticism about the idea of learning styles. What makes a style relevant is the nature of the material to be taught, not the individual differences among learners. I've always been skeptical about this, frankly.

17 comments:

Spanish prof said...

Even if there was scientific evidence behind the idea of "learning styles", I never understood how you are supposed to cater to all the different learning styles you "supposedly" have in a classroom. I guess this type of things is one of the reasons why I dislike teaching methodology classes so much in grad school.

Jonathan said...

The idea is not to do all of one thing that favors only one kind of learner, mixing it up as it were. Some subject matters, however, are inherently visual (art history?) so there are limits to how much you could accomodate, even if it were a valid concept.

cinemanovo said...

That's why you have different professors. If you have a "learning style" and know it, then use that to come up with ways of studying, not as an excuse not to work in all courses.

Whether or not I personally accommodate the alleged visual learners who abound totally depends on whether I have a smart room or money / time / patience to make slides and stuff or not. Complaints about lack of color slides each day, to accommodate the "visual learners" (who seem to present themselves as disabled), and about the boringness of chalk, me tienen sin cuidado. But, I do always have a huge variety of different types of *assignments,* which I claim matters more.

nicoleandmaggie said...

From what I got from the NPR story (I haven't done any more research on this), it isn't that people don't have different learning styles, it's that we don't actually know whether or not people have different learning styles because all the work is theoretical and none of it empirical.

I will say that I have in my life had a couple of students who would be termed "global learners" if we believed in learning styles and they are DIFFERENT. I teach a math class and they just cannot follow a sequence of steps to save their souls. Yet... sometimes they'll take a cloud of information and just spit out the correct answer (repeatedly on problems of the same type). I am not set up to teach them. I cannot even follow their thought processes.

profacero said...

I am sure there are different learning styles. I am sure mine are strange. But that's *my* responsibility, it seems to me, not the "teacher's."

Shedding Khawatir said...

They way I've heard it most often explained is that there are different learning styles and individuals differ not in absolute style, but in the relative strength of these styles. So a visual learner can and does learn things in an auditory manner, they may just not be as strong at it. As Jonathan says, the important thing is to vary things in teaching and assessment so you are not favoring a particular strength all the time. The reason to think about it is that most teachers teach they way they learn, and it's good to be aware of this.

Jonathan said...

That's a fair statement. I think what people object to is the sense of entitlement. When you tell someone s/he is a visual learner, or encourage someone to think in those terms, then it creates excuses. Almost all of us are visual to some extent; almost everyone has some capacity to learn through verbal instructions, etc... Mixing it up is good pedagogy simply because it reduces boredom and evens out some of those stylistic differences.

cinemanovo said...

But. Everyone seems to think it's visual vs. auditory. I think that's terribly superficial. It doesn't address what Nicole and Maggie are talking about at all.

I don't know that people teach the way they learn, I think they teach as they've been taught. I find it hard to believe that people who teach don't think about this, about communication, about audience, and this is why I hate being exhorted about it all: HOW do you these ed consultant with whom we are now saddled, know I don't think about what I am doing and that I am on some sort of weird autopilot from the 50s? What most of these types seem to assume one is doing, I've never even experienced in kindergarten, it's so freakin' antiquated -- let alone experience in college, or try myself!!!

Jonathan said...

Good points. I think visual is almost the default now with the prevalence of evil powerpoints. Nobody talks about kinetic learning, for example, so the idea of a style gets reduced to a simplistic binary.

Jonathan said...

Also, is "visual" as in reading text the same visual as in looking at images or film clips? Is auditory in watching film or listening to music the same as auditory in listening to a boring professor lecture?

Shedding Khawatir said...

It's not visual v. auditory, those are just common examples of learning styles. The number of styles and their names just depends on what model you are using, and as I said, no one relies on only one style. It is also as much about how you need to process information as how it is presented. For example, to learn the information in a text, highlighting, reading aloud, recopying the passage, doodling, walking around would all be indicative of different learning styles and given learners would use different combinations most effectively. In terms of presenting information, visually, for example, would cover powerpoints, writing on the blackboard, using different colored paper, anything visual. If a student says they need powerpoint because they are a visual learner, they simply have a poor misunderstanding of what "visual learner"--they may do better with something visual, but it does not have to be powerpoint. Finally, all of these are tools, which makes them separate from teaching quality--you can use any of them well or poorly.

profacero said...

What they mean specifically when they say they are visual learners is that they do not look at the book or the course materials when not in class, and they want to be lectured at from the book, using slides of it.

In math in college - calculus, differential equations, linear algebra - the professors taught that way. To me it seemed pointless since we had the textbook, so I didn't go to class. Read the book though, did the problems, got As.

I fail to see that reading the book is less visual than having someone read it to me from a slide. Also I'd go to the study sessions with the TAs, and they'd do proofs on the board, and I fail to see how that is not visual.

In FL classes now, being "visual" includes not being able to understand the audio part of a video segment, not being able to understand audio while reading a typescript of it, and certainly not being able to understand audio on its own. It also means not being able to understand questions like what's your name unless the question is also written on the board and, in some cases, parsed in English.

Visual learners can hear English, they're just not able to hear foreign languages. They have poor recall, too, and need multiple choice tests so as not to come up with any sentences of their own. They learn this in high school, from their parents, and from their pastors and they earnestly tell me that there is no way they can converse in a foreign language, they can only learn to read and then select correct answers, because only that is as visual as they need it to be.

Jonathan said...

I love your sarcasm.

profacero said...

Mais sérieusement. Most professors I ever had didn't use the board -- I mean, people teaching 1,000 students in lecture halls had visual aids, but most others just got up and talked; I took notes and learned to visualize; I now have a virtual blackboard in my head, high comprehension and recall of what people say, and the ability to speak without notes or almost without notes. If I'm concentrating well on an issue can go to a meeting and not take notes but write down accurate minutes later.
These are learned skills, not some innate "style."

Jonathan said...

I can do the same kind of thing. I can talk about anything I know without notes, develop a multi-part outline in my head and write it down later, etc... Not only that, the older I get the better I am at those things.

Jonathan said...

Or you could require visual learner to turn in only elaborate drawings.

profacero said...

I have actually challenged them to do that. Most find they cannot but a couple did a good job. I got a nice painting / collage of Romance de la Luna, Luna ... a graphic novel of La noche boca arriba ... an accurate to period map of Luisito's wanderings through the Madrid of Miau ... and most amazingly, a tabloid broadsheet about the events in Luces de Bohemia. !!!