Too many people have been talking about learning styles research lately for me to try to cite them all here. Many have commented on the Learning Styles Don’t Exist video, for example. Via Karyn Romeis and Stephen Downes, I found two lengthy reviews of learning styles research:
- Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning
- Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice
These are two related reports with some shared content. The first is a literature review of 13 often-cited learning styles; the second summarizes that research and focuses more on how it can inform practice.
There’s a lot here, and it’s all still percolating in my brain, but I wanted to record some ideas from the second document.
Consistency, Reliability, and Validity
- Much of the learning styles research is weak, failing on external reviews of consistency, reliability, and validity. Some models are better than others though.
- Of the 13 models reviewed, only 1 passed all the psychometric measures: the Allinson and Hayes Cognitive Style Index.
- Two models reviewed passed 3 of the 4 measures: Apter & Vermunt
- Dunn and Dunn (the VATK model which is probably the most familiar in the US) passed an external review for predictive validity but not internal consistency, test-retest reliability, or construct validity.
- Research is sometimes generalized to contexts inappropriately. Even if something works in higher ed, it might not work in corporate training or vice versa.
- Learning style inventories don’t always transfer well across cultures or socioeconomic classes; they may not fare well in translation.
- There isn’t one universal model of “learning styles” that ties everything together, and the researchers don’t agree with each other.
Application of Research
- The research that exists is often misapplied.
- Claims of what research shows and the effects of using specific methods are “overblown.”
- Even when learning styles are shown to have a significant effect, that effect size isn’t as large as some other strategies. Teaching metacognition skills, for example, has a greater effect. So does formative assessment.
- Researchers and theorists don’t agree whether it’s better to match teaching style to learning style or not–the research has been inconclusive.
- Using any learning style model makes people too eager to label each other.
So what am I going to do about it? I admit that I accepted the idea of learning styles unquestioningly when I got my education degree. There’s certainly a common sense feel to some of the systems. The Dunn and Dunn VATK model has become sort of “folk wisdom” among teachers and even the general population. But is that really enough for me to use it in my own instructional design now?
I’ve got a couple of ideas of what to do next. These are my own learning goals, so to speak.
- Keep reading and following the conversations. There’s a lot going on in multiple different directions, but I need to try to pull some threads out and make sense of them for myself.
- Be skeptical of everything I’m reading in the conversations. There’s too much misinformation, misunderstanding, and misapplication. What sounds intuitively “right” may not actually be true, or at least not useful.
- Learn more about the Allinson and Hayes model (Cognitive Style Index) mentioned in the literature review.
- Don’t worry about this too much. In terms of instructional design, learning styles are not the most important thing for me to think about. I can focus my energies on a lot of other things without stressing too much about adhering to a specific model.
I’m curious what others are doing. Are these conversations on learning styles affecting what you’re designing right now? Or have you only strengthened your resolve for your prior position?