Repeat back to me

Do tests of learning styles inform our understanding or reflect it?

Defenders argue that they can reveal hidden tendencies by asking a question that is once removed from the original line of inquiry. For example, instead of asking ‘Are you a visual learner?’ one could ask ‘Do you like to create mind maps?’. From these (relatively) oblique answers a pattern is discerned from which a generalisation can are inferred.

The trouble here is that, in many cases, it is pretty straightforward to see what is happening. If the mechanics are exposed it is easy to explicitly or implicitly manipulate your answers to achieve the desired result. A number of people that I know have done this while completing personality tests as part of selection processes in order to give the ‘right’ impression.

Equally, I may be a terrible judge of my own character. I may think that I love collaborative learning because I view myself as a cheery, convivial soul – and answer questions accordingly – and yet my peers may feel very differently about my preferences and abilities. Perhaps, as with some dating sites, my peers should fill our these learning styles inventories on my behalf?

Ultimately, those of us involved in education are schooled in the idea that you should not place excessive trust in one source. As with Brookfield’s Four Lenses judgements are more authoritative if they are cross-referenced (i.e. include consideration of student and peer feedback and theoretical literature). It would appear to me that learning styles tests only make use of one source and do so in a way that is open to abuse (willful or otherwise).

In this case, I suspect that it more ‘I think therefore I might be’ , rather than ‘I think therefore I am’.


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