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Educational concepts: learning styles


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eSTEeM seminar around educational concepts held at the Open University on 2 Feb 2012

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Educational concepts: learning styles

  1. 1. eSTEeMexploring the frontiers of STEM education Educational concepts: “learning styles” Elizabeth FitzGerald (née Brown) Institute of Educational Technology
  2. 2. What’s the idea behind learning styles?• Different people have different ways of learning• If we teach in a way that’s consistent with a student’s learning style, he/she should learn better• Lots of different models; reports from Coffield et al 2004 mentions over 70 – analyses 13 in detail• Best known is VAK (visual – auditory – kinaesthetic/tactile)
  3. 3. How did it come about?• Aim to improve student/employee learning and performance• Idea that we can provide differentiation in a more sophisticated way than ability or prior knowledge (i.e. streaming/beginners-intermediate-advanced)• Impetus by government to develop the necessary attitudes and skills for lifelong learning, particularly in relation to ‘learning to learn’ and self-supported study• Increased availability and use of multimedia resources has helped
  4. 4. Examples of learning styles Reflector Activist Theorist Pragmatist
  5. 5. Learning styles• Visualiser/imager vs. verbaliser• Global vs. sequential• Reflector/reflective vs. activist/impulsive• Convergers vs. divergers• Pragmatist vs. theorist• Field dependence vs. field independence• Concrete vs. abstract• Left brain vs. right brain
  6. 6. Learning style models• Dunn + Dunn• MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Inventory)• Kolb’s experiential model / Honey + Mumford• Ridings CSA (Cognitive Styles Analysis)• Herrmanns brain dominance theory• Multiple intelligences (7 or 9?)• Biggs SPQ (Surface Processing Questionnaire)• Field dependence vs field independence• VAKT (Visual/Auditory/Kinaesthetic/Tactile)• Wholist/holist vs analytic Which is “best” and how should it be used?
  7. 7. Example of use• Research into personalised e-learning, matching user’s learning style profile with course resources/materials appropriate to that style• Classroom teaching geared towards particular ‘types’ of learning (or groups of learners)• Sometimes used for aptitude tests or for career planning
  8. 8. Positive aspects of using learning styles (the ‘pros’)• We’ll come back to this in a bit…
  9. 9. Problems with learning styles (the ‘cons’)• They don’t really work… (yup, none of them)• Theoretical incoherence and conceptual confusion• Temporal instability of preferred ‘style’• The danger of labelling students• The variable quality of learning style models (reliability; validity; consistency)• Unwarranted faith placed in simple inventories• No clear implications for pedagogy• Low effect size; Hawthorne effect; problems with bias• The reality of commercial gain
  10. 10. Distribution of visual/verbal learning style preferences in 10-11 year old children 14 12 Number of pupils 10 Time 1 Time 2 8 6 4 2 0 11 9 7 5 3 1 -1 -3 -5 -7 -9 -11 Learning style visual verbal
  11. 11. Distribution of sequential/global learning style preferences in 10-11 year old children 18 16 Time 1 14 Number of pupils Time 2 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 11 9 7 5 3 1 -1 -3 -5 -7 -9 -11 Learning style sequential global
  12. 12. (Hattie 1999, taken from Coffield et al, 2004)
  13. 13. Positive aspects of using learning styles (yes, there are some!)• Self-awareness and metacognition: increase self-development by talking about different models but also their relative strengths and weaknesses• Help learners play to their strengths but also help their development as a good all-rounder• A way to engage in dialogue about learning and new/alternative forms of support and personalisation  increased motivational effect on students
  14. 14. Take-home message• Learning styles, if they do exist, are not useful as a means of individualising or differentiating learning/teaching materials for students• The models used are highly variable in quality and most are highly flawed (methodologically, scientifically, pedagogically, theoretically etc.)• Even if they did work, the effect size is very small• They might be useful for encouraging students to engage in metacognition and dialogue around learning
  15. 15. In your class there is a serialist pragmatist kinaesthetic learner (who isalso field-dependent, not to mention his MBTI), primarily aconvergent thinker, high on logico-mathematical intelligence but lowon linguistic intelligence, working in a pair with another student whois a holist, reflector, primarily visual and field-independent... who isalso chronically shy (no-one mentions that).Even assuming that such things can be assessed with some validityand reliability, which is itself far from clear — what are you going todo about it? There are, after all, thirty other students on the course,each of whom could be described in similar terms. Two-thirds of themare female and one-third male (two of whom are gay).Five of the class are from ethnic minorities, two are dyslexic, one isvisually impaired, and three are clinically depressed (although onlyone of them knows it). Six are "mature" students — at least, they arechronologically over 25.
  16. 16. References• Brown, E. J.; Brailsford, T. J.; Fisher, T. and Moore, A. (2009). Evaluating learning style personalization in adaptive systems: quantitative methods and approaches. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies (Special Issue on Personalization) 2(1) pp. 10–22.• Brown, E. J. (2008) PhD thesis: The Use of Learning Styles in Adaptive Hypermedia.• Coffield, F., D. Moseley, E. Hall and K. Ecclestone (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning & Skills Research Centre.• Coffield, F., D. Moseley, E. Hall and K. Ecclestone (2004) Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice. Learning & Skills Research Centre.• YouTube video: “Learning Styles Dont Exist” (Prof. Daniel Willingham: (7 mins long)