Back in my college neurobiology class, I learned an analogy that has stuck with me. Imagine a "spark" (chemical electrical) traveling down a neuron. It needs to jump a gap (synapse) over to the next neuron and have enough umph to keep that charge rolling though and over the next gap. This is how information is passed along from neuron to neuron and eventually to the nerves. The more often that pathway is travelled, the more "greased" the pathway becomes until the pathway is well established and easily travelled. This explains why new skills are difficult at first and become easier the more we practice. Repetition is the key here. Practice makes perfect!
I've always believed that students learn best when they are having fun (i.e. fully engaged) and when they hear it, see it, do it, think about it, write it, and teach it.
I recently participated in a lively discussion in LinkedIn where Dr. Jolly Holden weighed in with some evidence against the idea of teaching to a learning "style". Dr. Holden is presenting at Interactive Learning Technologies Conference this week. Here is the evidence he quoted (reprinted with permission):
"FYI...for those of you interested in the research on learning styles, here are the results from some of the studies:
•“Research conducted over the last 40 years has failed to show that individual attributes can be used to guide effective teaching practice” and “…[research] reveals that most learning style instruments have such serious weaknesses (e.g. low reliability & poor validity) it is recommended their use in research and practice should be discontinued.
• "Review of 150 studies found none supported learning styles. The mind is so complex and malleable that variance within a person is so great as to make the point [learning styles] moot.” Busted Learning Myths, Chief Learning Officer Magazine, Feb 2012
• Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Student. (Dec 15, 2009). Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Matching-Teaching-Style-to/49497/
• In summary, there is little evidence that knowledge of one’s learning styles is a benefit to learning and, “based upon the most thorough review of experimental studies known to date, there is no evidence in favor of the learning style hypothesis, per se, that learning is more effective when teaching matches the learner’s style”. Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Retrieved fromhttp://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf
• “The theory of learning styles is attractive, and it sounds like common sense. It is also convenient, offering a rationale of escaping accountability and getting rid of responsibility.” Learning Styles Fray: Brilliant or Batty? Performance Improvement, Vol 49, Number 10 , 2010
• Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. (2004). Learning and Skills Research Centre, Department for Education and Skills. Retrieved from http://www.leerbeleving.nl/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/learning-styles.pdf
• “learning styles‘ theory appeals to the underlying culture's model of the person ensures the theory's continued survival, despite the evidence against its utility. Rather than being a harmless fad, learning styles theory perpetuates the very stereotyping and harmful teaching practices it is said to combat.” Australian Journal of Education, Vol. 54, No. I, 2010, 5-17
• “verbalizer-visualizer measures failed to produce significant attribute treatment interactions (ATIs). There was not strong support for the hypothesis that verbal learners and visual learners should be given different kinds of multimedia instruction”. Massa, L.J., & Mayer, R., 2006. Testing the ATI hypothesis: Should multimedia instruction accommodate verbalizer-visualizer cognitive style? Science Direct
• “Based on several decades of empirical evidence, matching learning activities/ strategies with specific learning styles does not often result in improved learning.” Howles & Jeong 2009. Learning Styles and the Design of E-learning: What the Research Says.
• Research reveals that most learning style instruments have such serious weaknesses (e.g. low reliability & poor validity) it is recommend their use in research and practice should be discontinued. Investigations of the properties of a variety of scales have revealed that even the most widely used are inadequate in this regard. Australian Journal of Education, Vol. 54, No. I, 2010, 5-17"
" FYI...I teach cognitive science/learning theory at the graduate level, and have read several learning theory books, none of which refer to learning styles as a theory. That said, when conducting research on learning styles, a hypothesis is developed to see if there is a [statistical] relationship between learning styles (the independent variable) and learning outcomes (the dependent variable). The purpose of hypothesis testing is to see if one variable [learning styles] has an effect on another variable (learning outcomes).
The genesis of learning styles is that if you can design instruction that matches a student’s “style”, they should learn better. The assumption is once you identify a specific style, you can design instruction that best fits the style: The visual learner will understand best when information (content) is presented to the visually;The auditory learner will understand best when information is described to them orally; and, the kinesthetic learner will understand best when they can touch/fell the what is being presented to them. These are statements of predictability, per se, you are predicting learning outcomes based upon learning “styles”. However, the overwhelming body of research has not revealed a compelling argument as to the impact of learning styles and their effect on predicting learning outcomes.
One of the major problems with "identifying" learning styles is the low validity and reliability scores of the instruments used to identify specific learning styles. This raises serious doubts about their psychometric properties. In other words, if the tests used to identify learning styles are not reliable or valid, then any conclusions or results based upon them are suspect."
Laura Davis is an entrepreneur and educator. Her background covers teaching, school management, and community development work.