This month’s theory is learning styles. The theory of learning suggests that people learn in different ways, and that diagnosing how someone learns is useful in designing and delivering an education that does not prize one style over another.
For example, it could be that some people are psychologically or culturally disposed towards lectures as a teaching format. A course designed around a programme of lectures would be the ideal way of them to be introduced to new ideas, to reflect on those ideas and to formulate ways in which they can be applied. Others might prefer a more ‘active’ learning style which allows them the opportunity for do something in order to make sense of it.
I decided to take a free online learning styles inventory to see what kind of learner I am. It reported that I was a ‘visual learner’, as opposed to an auditory or tactile learner. There are two immediate responses to this. The first one is: is this correct? Is there such a thing as a visual learner and, if so, does it best describe me? Furthermore, am I to be trusted in making an accurate assessment of my own preferences?
For example, a friend once introduced me to a Viz questionnaire that satirised the popularity of magazine surveys. It asked one question: do you like dogs? If you answered yes it proudly diagnosed that you were a dog person, and that you were the type to favour long walks in the countryside, the throwing of sticks and the company of an obedient chum. You were most emphatically not a cat person. If you answered no it declared that you were the type of person that didn’t like dogs, and didn’t like wet fur or doggy prints on the carpet. The point is obvious. These surveys tend to repeat back to you what you think about yourself, but in a codified way so that you imagine that something profound has been said.
Equally, even assuming that this is a worthwhile exercise what exactly do I do with this information as a student? Do I accept that this is who I am and or do I confront those areas of relative deficiency? Also, what is a teacher supposed to do with this information? Do you ensure that each programme has a mix of different activities so that every student is equally favoured and disfavoured? This pushes you into a reactive role where you design your teaching around the habits of your students rather than the outcomes that you think best describe what it is that the students should be able to demonstrate?
I’m going to try and answer those questions in my next posts. I’m also going to look at one of the most popular learning style models: the 1984 Kolb LSI (Learning Style Inventory) to see whether it is more robust.