Learning styles = astrology ?

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Prompted by Harold Jarche, I downloaded this free chapter (pdf) from Ruth Clark’s book on Evidence Based Training Methods. It provides some excellent provocative thinking especially around the whole industry that’s arisen around the notion of learning styles.

Clark compares this fixation with the idea of the four humours that preceded the discovery of circulation of blood. Basically she suggests there is no solid evidence base for these models, and some signifcant research to disprove them. I went to wikipedia and found a similar story.

I’ve long had a visceral dislike of these kinds of classification systems and the way people seem to present themselves as if they have to learn things in a certain way. We’re a lot more complex and versatile than these pigeonholes suggest. And I shudder to think of the money that is still being invested in profiling people and designing material around something that seems akin to astrology.

There are some other nuggets in the chapter too, and no doubt in the whole book. For instance, she delivers a fairly effective dismissal of the value of happy sheets at the end of courses. The evidence is that enjoyment is not a particular good predictor of learning value. But if you want the ratings anyway…

What factors are associated with higher ratings? The two most important influencers of ratings are instructor style and human interaction. Instructors who are psychologically open and available—in other words who are personable—are associated with higher course ratings. In addition, the opportunity to socially interact during the learning event with the instructor as well as with other participants leads to higher ratings.

Update: Stephen Downes has a few reflections on this with his usual clarity.

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