JC: Learning Styles, ha ha ha

Holy cow. What a hysterical post by Jay Cross. The post provides a summary of the new 186 page report, “Learning styles and pedagogy post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review.” I agree that this particular body of research is all but worthless (you have to see the list of style dichotomies Jay has extracted from the report). My question, though, is can anyone point to an area of educational research that does much better?

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  • Nick Kearney December 28, 2005, 4:44 pm

    In this report that Jay describes they do point out some glaring errors. And the report is damning; it doesn’t just question the research, but also the usefulness of the whole concept. (I thank Jay for the style of his post, because that is what made me go and look). As regards other areas of edcuational research, you ask us to point to areas of educational research that do better? Could you explain a little further in to what you mean by “worthless”.

  • John H. Curry December 30, 2005, 12:34 pm

    I agree with Dave that it is worthless. As stated in the Cross review, the sheer number of dichotomies alone show that there are serious problems with the research. Beyond that, however, I have a problem with this type of research (into learning styles) because it is all too often treated as absolute. Allow me to explain: As we know, most teachers either don’t take the time or don’t have the time to read real research. Instead they go to some inservice where someone tells them what to think. In this case, they go to some workshop where someone espouses the glories of knowing what learning style best serves each student and how that will change the world in the classroom. So the teacher then takes someone’s learning style inventory and administers it in the classroom. Then they tell each student, “David, you are an auditory learner,” or “Nick, you are a visual learner,” or “John, you are a tactile learner.” Everything breaks down from here. What if Nick gets in an accident and loses his sight? Will he never learn again? Of course not. It’s a preference. Perhaps Nick prefers visual organizers in his learning. But what happens is that Nick then comes into my course and after a lecture comes up to me and says, “Dr. Curry, I had a hard time following you today. Could you please write on the board more? You see, I’m a visual learner.”

    What happens with this learning styles research is that my kids, your kids, they’re all being told how they learn, and consequently, they believe it. I have the same gripe with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Too many people are trying to figure out what type of intelligence each child has than to do what Gardner initially wrote about: Using multiple points of entry.

    So, whether or not I agree with the learning styles research as a valid body of research (which I don’t, but hey, I guess tenure is tenure), I have a bigger problem with the misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the significance of it. It seems to me it causes bigger problems altogether.

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