Baroness’s “nonsense” is someone else’s common sense

A British baroness has called research results “nonsense” that say people have individual learning styles to which teachers should key pedagogy (and I would also say, by logical extension, trainers and instructional designers, as well). Research is supposed to turn up reliable results, and I for one, would hope that research on learning styles based on how the brain works would hold up. Apparently, the learning styles question is far from settled.

Or is it? When I read the baroness’s beef (as reported) with learning styles, it is not really whether or not there are learning styles that she is really upset about. According to a Telegraph article, Baroness Susan Greenfield believes, “Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain. It is when the senses are activated together – the sound of a voice is synchronisation with the movement of a person’s lips – that brain cells fire more strongly than when stimuli are received apart. ” That fact brain cells work better together than separately even I can understand, but that fact does not seem to rule out that most of us are better at using some senses than others. That, to me, is common sense.

The practical question is this: what do we do with the concept of different learning styles when we prepare instruction? Some places in the UK, the article reports, let students run around in their own little world, dancing if that is their style, or perhaps spreading materials on the floor if that is thing. If this is the case, the Baroness also is upset with classroom management practices.

I subscribe to the “flexible repertoire” school, which I explain this way. We each have ways we prefer to learn, our learning style strengths, so to speak. We should use what we learn through out strengths to build our weak learning skills.

Maybe I can explain it using the example of putting something together I bought at the store. So, I bought a gadget packed with directions in 4 languages. Please note, I would call myself a visual learner: show me and I get it. Tell me and I am confused. That is why before I leave the store I ask the sales person to show me how it goes together. When I get home, I read the directions with a vision in my head of how it should work. It all comes back to me. I happily use my gadget.

In a classroom or training context, I would apply the methodology by exposing all learners to visuals, audio and text; not only showing audio learners audio presentations; only showing visual learners, visual presentations, and so on.

“We do students a serious disservice by implying they have only one learning style, rather than a flexible repertoire from which to choose, depending on the context,” says Frank Coffield, a professor at London University’s institute of education, as reported in the Telegraph. I believe Frank is right because that is what we will face in the marketplace for our skills, the “context” he speaks of.

While we should not label learners, as instructors, we should go the extra mile to package our information, our learning objects, in a number of different ways so that students may fully develop their repertoire of learning skills so they can put them to work in whatever content they find themselves later in life.


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