Learning Styles are for the individual, not group

NOTE: I left this comment in eLearn Magazine's, Why Is the Research on Learning Styles Still Being Dismissed by Some Learning Leaders and Practitioners by Guy Wallace. Since it wiped out most of my formatting, such as comments and quotation marks, I am posting it here for better readability.

Perhaps one of the best papers on learning styles is Coffield, Moseley, Hall, and Ecclestone's, Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review (PDF). While the paper does dismiss some types of learning styles and the importance that the recognized learning styles actually have when it comes to learning, it does leave a lot of questions opened.

One of the most profound statements in the paper, at least to me, is (p68):

“just varying delivery style may not be enough and... the unit of analysis must be the individual rather than the group.”

That is, when you analyze a group, the findings often suggest that learning styles are relative unimportant, however, when you look at an individual, then the learning style often distinguishes itself as a key component of being able to learn or not. Thus those who actually deliver the learning process, such as teachers, instructors, or trainers and are responsible for helping others to learn see these styles and must adjust for them, while those who design for groups or study them see the learning styles as relative unimportant.

In the next paragraph, the paper continues with this statement:

“For each research study supporting the principle of matching instructional style and learning style, there is a study rejecting the matching hypothesis’ (2002, 411). Indeed, they found eight studies supporting and eight studies rejecting the 'matching' hypothesis, which is based on the assumption that learning styles, if not a fixed characteristic of the person, are at least relatively stable over time. Kolb's views at least are clear: rather than confining learners to their preferred style, he advocates stretching their learning capabilities in other learning modes.”

While many find this as a reason to dismiss learning styles, I find it quite intriguing in that why do learning styles play a key component is some situations or environments, but not others? I think part of the answer is within this finding—a study that was conducted in the U. S. and Israel, found that when students' learning styles matched the teaching method they performed both more effectively and efficiently. But the authors of the paper seem too readily to dismiss it as the end the paragraph with this statement—“But even this conclusion needed to be qualified as it applied only to higher-order cognitive outcomes and not to basic knowledge.” (p67)

It seems logical that higher-order cognitive outcomes need more individual support (in this case matching the learning style the the correct learning strategy) than basic knowledge. Thus in some situations learning styles are important, while in others they are not.

Finally, in the paper's conclusion the authors note (P132-133) that:

“Despite reservations about their model and questionnaire (see Section 6.2), we recognise that Honey and Mumford have been prolific in showing how individuals can be helped to play to their strengths or to develop as all-round learners (or both) by means, for example, of keeping a learning log or of devising personal development plans; they also show how managers can help their staff to learn more effectively.”

Thus the main take-away that I get from the paper if that if you are an instructor, manager, etc. who has to help the individual learners, then learning styles make sense. On the other hand, if you are an instructional designer or someone who directs her or his efforts at the group, then learning styles are probably not that important. Note that I am both a trainer and a designer so perhaps this is why my take-away makes sense to me.


Kshitij KK Khurana said...

Accidentally discovered your blog... and am finding so much to read.

Is there a way I can get your new posts in email? If you look at your blogger widgets, there's a new one that you can use for it - people just need to input their email IDs and your posts get delivered thereon. Could you put that widget on? Please.

I am sorry for not commenting on the article... too overwhelmed with all the 'things' I want to read now. Thanks. I am an Instructional Designer.

Donald Clark said...

I looked for an email option but could not find one. If you know where it is located then let me know.

Kshitij KK Khurana said...

Thanks for responding. You could get into the back end of your blog. Click Layout... and click 'Add a Gadget' wherever you want to place this Gadget. Now, in the Gadgets list, there is one that says 'Follow by Email'. You have to select it and it gets displayed on your blog. I see this gadget on the topmost in the list (I am from India and I am not sure we have the same items and in that sequence). So, you could just check for the one that says Follow by Email.

This will help a number of your readers. It may even fetch you new readers. Thanks.

Donald Clark said...

I went to Blogger and there are no tabs or options for 'Layout' nor 'Add a Gadget'. My main choices are 'Settings' and 'Template' and neither of those options have those two choices.

Kshitij KK Khurana said...

That's very strange. Shouldn't be the case. Ok. I thank you for trying.

... but hoping you could take help and figure out :)

Donald Clark said...

I doubled check every menu on the page and none of them have the option for layout or gadgets. Maybe I have an old Blogger version, but if so, I'm not sure how to upgrade.

The only thing I can suggest is to use the RSS feed. I know Google Reader is a good way to get RSS feeds.

Apple's browser, Safari, has versions for both Mac and PC and it includes a good RSS reader that allows you to bookmark the page and put it in a folder. You can move the folder to the Bookmark Bar and it will notify you when there is a new post.

cwgrlvic said...

HI Donald,
I have a blog here that I created for Grad School about 3 yrs ago - to add the email option (and I know you are probably sick of this) is the Tab for Design- You have New Post, Edit Posts, Comments, Settings, then Design. That is where you will see Add a gadget - sorry if this is overkill ... Victoria

Donald Clark said...

These are the options I get when I first sign on to Blogger: Edit Posts – Comments – Settings – Template – Monetize – Stats.

I have clicked on all those options and none of them (at least from what I can see) show a "design tab".

Unknown said...

Hi...I enjoy your blog, and I also enjoyed your article and opinions on learning styles are for individuals and not groups. I do agree with you on your statement that instructors should keep learning styles in mind for individual learners, but I feel that instructors and trainers for groups cannot completely ignore or disregard learning styles when conducting a group training.

I have been in two career situations myself where I have encountered both types of training. I am currently a high school history instructor, and I previously worked for a software company where I did corporate training for employees and for community outreach programs. In a classroom setting for a high school I tend to vary my lesson plans in 15 minute intervals to try and reach as many different learning styles as possible. I also used this same practice when I did corporate training sessions. I would attempt to vary my instructions to reach several different learners. I would conduct my trainings into 20-30 minute intervals if necessary. I would use lecture, group work, Socratic method, etc... This seemed to work very well and it kept the employees being trained involved and interactive.

Most of the time, group trainings are ignored or found to be uninteresting by the people being trained because it is one person standing up and releasing information by lecture or by overhead Power Points. Most adults attention span tends to be about 30 minutes while an adolescent is 15-20 minutes. It only makes sense that trainings for adults should vary there trainings to fit the needs of the learner.