“You need to include learning styles to show how you’re going to differentiate for each learner”
This is a comment that a learner on my course received from their employer last week. I often hear comments about learning styles and still have to challenge the beliefs of teachers and learners about it… IT’S 2016 god damn it!! It’s almost as if the whole notion is being recycled, rather than trashed.
It was over a decade ago that Coffield et al (2004) critically reviewed the literature on learning styles, examining in detail 13 of the most influential models. Apart from the fact that they could find no credible evidence for the utility of any model, during their research they stumbled across a whopping 71 models of learning styles! Let’s imagine that every learner had each of these types of learning style (imagine each was dichotomous), then according to DeBruyckere et al, that would be 2 to the power of 71 combinations of learning styles, or in other words:
Two sextillion, three hundred sixty-one quintillion, one hundred eighty-three quadrillion, two hundred forty-one trillion, four hundred thirty-four billion, eight hundred twenty-two million, six hundred six thousand, eight hundred forty-eight.
Let me remind you that there are only 7.2 billion people on earth. So the numbers don’t quite add up. Moreover, if you wanted to cater for every individual need in your classroom, it would be a pipedream.
Apart from the aforementioned, there are two other main problems with learning styles according to Debruyckere et al.
- Most people do not fit one particular style – we’ve all done the tests haven’t we… eagerly waiting to find out what our label is, only to find that we are a bit of everything.
- The methods used to assign learning styles are inadequate – Due to the fact that all learning styles inventories are self reported, depending on how you feel that day will determine the result. i.e. I have just read a cracking article in the paper, would I be more inclined to think of reading activities more favourably?
Despite the distinct lack of evidence for them and the problems associated with determining so called ‘styles’, they are still at large in the teacher training text books and on teacher training qualifications. I kid you not. There has been a name change in some of the literature to ‘learning preferences’, but this has done nothing to reduce the myth, rather the terms are conflated.