Little_Mavis' rants and musings

Are “Learning Styles” redundant?


I know learning styles as such have been discredited, even though they are still peddled in places and insisted upon in some schools, but different people do absorb information  in different ways.

One of the things is disliked about my PGCE was when the Psychology lecturer put the information on the board in the form of a mind-map. I disliked them; I also disliked presentations where we were given the handouts after the presentation so that we would concentrate at the time rather than reading the handout.

I like my information in lists. This seems to be a long standing preference as I discovered when I was clearing out the cupboard under the stairs recently. I found some O Level English Lit work. Apparently, back then, I lost marks for giving my answers in the form of “notes” (numbered lists) instead of in continuous prose.

I also like using presentation handouts to make additional notes on during the presentation. Writing down the extra information that I find interesting or useful helps me to remember more.

When I taught IT Key Skills, I was teaching the same skills and basic knowledge to a wide audience ranging from A level students to Musical Theatre students by way of Art and Sports Studies. This meant I needed a range of content and approaches to deal with the different interests and requirements of each group. (and for my own sanity). I had fought off concerted efforts from various members of the management team to deliver a standard course and assignment as this seemed to run counter to the purpose of Key Skills. Also it would be terminally boring.

To help students keep track of what they needed to put in their portfolio I checklistproduced a checklist. It went in the front of their file.

The external verifier objected to these. She said students should be using the official log books. We did, but we actually filled these in at the very end under strict supervision using exact guidance as they were generally incomprehensible to the students. So, we continued to use my checklist but removed them before the verifier’s visit.

Some students (noticeably Art, Media and Performing Arts students) preferred a more visual, holistic way of doing this so I produced an alternative.

diagramI also removed these before verifier visits as I assumed the same would apply. One sheet was left in accidentally and, amazingly, (to me) she loved them. Said we should give them to everybody. So we did. Some students used them, some preferred the check lists, though we still removed these. You could make a good guess as to which they would prefer. Diagram with arty types (as above), checklist with A level students, especially the scientists. There was, of course overlap. I supplied the students with what they wanted.

I still prefer lists, but at least I can see that the two are the same information presented in different ways but tailored to the needs of the student.

In constructing different ways of presenting the information, I learned to organise my thoughts in ways other than the list based format.

What does this tell us?

  • Different students do absorb information in different ways. Presenting information to them in only one way may disadvantage some, especially if the teacher uses only the method they prefer.
  • Not everyone recognises that the information you are giving out in different forms is the same so presenting it like this is non-obvious way of reinforcing
  • You always to what the external verifier wants.

Author: littlemavis

Retired teacher. (also Information Scientist, Export Sales Assistant, Sales Administrator, Computer Programmer, Software Support Specialist) Worked in Sixth Form college and recently as support in a primary school.

4 thoughts on “Are “Learning Styles” redundant?

  1. I think that it is critical that educators know about, and understand, learning styles. Being aware that students learn in / react to different stimuli will help teachers to design effective learning materials and activities that provide equitable, interesting, and fun learning experiences.

    I am not so keen to see learning styles questionnaires used with students as a study support tool. Perhaps there are good examples of them being used well in this way – but I am yet to be convinced. I feel this approach can at best be a waste of time. At worst in can pigeon-hole students into thinking they learn in one particular way, rather than opening them up to adapt and try different things.

    • Thanks for the comment, and yes, questionnaires tend to be filed away and bnever consulted anyway, which may not be a bad thing overall. Learning styles have a bad name because of over-simplification and poor application. It can be turned into merely a tick-box exercise; I think (hope) all teachers vary the style of delivery and present information in different ways. I think one of the important things is to recognise your own bias.

      • That’s a really good point about knowing your own bias. Like you I’m a list person. I need to force myself to think about presenting more info visually.

  2. Really like this. I do use Learning Styles in my training, as I know from training people learn differently. As an extreme Activist, I need to be careful it’s not all mind maps and exercises.

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