I read some one’s Blog today and they referenced Learning Styles.
I had to take the way-back machine to the Summer of 2001 to find an article published in my firm’s newsletter “Pursuing Performance” regarding Learning Styles.
I had asked Sigmund Tobias to write an article regarding some controversial comments he had made at a Masie conference at Disney World earlier that Spring. His article follows.
But first…from the collective wisdom of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – 5/8/2007 –
It is commonly believed that most people favor some particular method of interacting with, taking in, and processing stimuli or information. Based on this concept, the idea of individualized “learning styles” originated in the 1970s, and has gained popularity in recent years. A learning style is the method of learning particular to an individual that is presumed to allow that individual to learn best. It has been proposed that teachers should assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student’s learning style.
There Is No Such Thing As “Learning Styles”
By Sigmund Tobias
Claims for adapting instruction to learning styles, of course, assume that there are stable, replicable interactions between measures of learning styles and instructional methods. A number of reviews of ATI research (Tobias, 1989; Corno & Snow, 1986; Gustaffson & Undheim, 1996) have reached fairly similar conclusions about the types of interactions that have been verified by research. These reviews suggest that students with limited prior knowledge of a domain, or lower ability, require substantial instructional support in such forms as better organization of the content, increased feedback, provision of prompts, and similar instructional augmentations in order to learn optimally. Students with higher levels of prior knowledge, or higher ability, are optimally instructed with lower levels of instructional support.
Unless I, and the other reviewers of research in this area, have missed the publication of tons of replicated findings, there is no evidence of stable interactions between learning styles and instructional methods. Why then do otherwise knowledgeable educators and educational researchers persist in making unverified claims for learning styles? I can only conclude that they adhere to what Jeanne Chall (2000) in her last book called a romantic, as opposed to rational, view of education. Chall cites other romantic notions that have little verified empirical support, such as the whole-language approach to reading instruction, open education, and discovery learning, to name only a few. Sometimes an idea may appear so logical, and/or so deeply related to the values held by individuals, that it becomes an article of faith. Believers cling to their fancies irrespective of research findings. I wish they would develop a similar fixation about the Brooklyn Bridge, because I would love to sell it to them again and again.
Some adaptations to learning styles may lead instructional developers to teach concepts using multiple illustrations. In such practices, the instructional material may illustrate concepts, presumably the complex ones, in different ways, leading learners to form multiple representations. The designer may assume that the multiple illustrations work because learners choose the representation that is most congruent to their learning styles. It is probably more accurate that such instruction is effective because the multiple illustrations induce learners to devote more time to these concepts. Of course, more studying time leads to increased learning, as all the research on allotted and engaged time has amply shown. Clearly, however, there is no basis for attributing such enhanced learning, if it occurs at all, to learning styles.
The issue of adapting instruction generally, as well as adapting media, to student characteristics is dealt with in several chapters of a recent handbook (Tobias & Fletcher, 2000) sponsored by the American Psychological Association’s Division of Educational Psychology (Division 15).
Sigmund Tobias is a Distinguished Scholar at the Division of Psychological and Educational Services of the Graduate School of Education, Fordham University at Lincoln Center. He may be reached at:
113 West 60th Street, New York, NY 10023-7484
212-636-6448, Fax: 212-636-6416
Chall, J. 2000. The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom. New York: Guilford
Corno, L., & Snow, R.E. 1986. Adapting teaching to individual differences among learners. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp. 605-629). New York: Macmillan.
Gustafsson, J.-E., & Undheim, J.O. 1996. Individual differences in cognitive functions. In D. C. Berliner & R.C. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology (pp. 186-242). New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.
Tobias, S. 1989. Another look at research on the adaptation of instruction to student characteristics. Educational Psychologist, 24, 213-227.
Psychology, 35, 389-390.
Tobias, S., & Fletcher, J.D. (Eds.) 2000 Training and Retraining: A Handbook for Business, Industry, Government, and the Military. New York: Macmillan Gale Group.
Learning-styles theories have been criticized by many. Some psychologists and neuroscientists have questioned the scientific basis for these models and the theories on which they are based. Many educational psychologists believe that there is little evidence for the efficacy of most learning style models, and furthermore, that the models often rest on dubious theoretical grounds. According to Stahl, there has been an “utter failure to find that assessing children’s learning styles and matching to instructional methods has any effect on their learning.”