Informing my trainee teachers that learning styles had been debunked was like telling my 2 year old that Santa isn’t real (I’m yet to do the latter). They were shocked, in disarray and couldn’t understand why they’d had it drilled into them the year prior. I had no answer to this, but in revealing this to them, I also revealed something else that made me question how useful action research is. Before I continue, I would like to briefly digress and bring your attention to just two of many psychological bias we have:
Confirmation bias – ‘connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.’
Sunk cost fallacy – ‘the tendency to invest more future resources in a situation in which a prior investment has been made, as compared with a similar situation in which a prior investment has not been made.’
It transpires that one of the said learners had conducted an action research project on learning styles, specifically determining their students learning style and then going to extreme lengths to cater for these individual styles over several weeks. The teacher’s conclusion: catering for learning styles was in fact effective. Of course it isn’t inconceivable that this may have happened. When you want to see if something is going to happen, generally you look for it to (confirmation bias).
The thing is, this individual is not alone in conducting action research in their classroom. There are probably thousands of teachers across the country examining something at this very moment, probably concluding that another off the wall method of teaching is having a positive effect on learners, and perhaps they are right.
It’s just I take a bit of issue with this. These teachers don’t have a great deal of time to perform research in their classrooms and they probably don’t have a background in research either. So when they do action research, I question whether they experience a bit of the old sunk cost fallacy, coupled with a splash of confirmation bias – a recipe for disaster perhaps.
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t do research in our classrooms, but what I do suggest is that stronger links are forged with those that truly understand research and a collaborative approach adopted to ensure that we don’t create a cycle of bad practice.