July 01, 2007

Learning styles? Rubbish!

Harold Jarche shares his scepticism of the learning-styles theory, and I must say I tend to agree. Simple logistics is one objection I have. It sounds great, benevolent and taking into account students' individual differences and needs, but read this and see if you still agree with it.

The list he offers, tho, has much in common with the principles of instruction espoused by many who subscribe to Multiple Intelligence Theory.

Use Cast's Universal Design Principles:

* Multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
* Multiple means of expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know,
* Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.

Here, for example, is an extract from an article by Thomas Armstrong, a long-time proponent of MI in education and the author of a number of books on the subject:

One of the most remarkable features of the theory of multiple intelligences is how it provides eight different potential pathways to learning. If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, a graduate school instructor, or an adult learner seeking better ways of pursuing self-study on any subject of interest, the same basic guidelines apply. Whatever you are teaching or learning, see how you might connect it with
  • words (linguistic intelligence)
  • numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence)
  • pictures (spatial intelligence)
  • music (musical intelligence)
  • self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence)
  • a physical experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence)
  • a social experience (interpersonal intelligence), and/or
  • an experience in the natural world. (naturalist intelligence)

For example, if you’re teaching or learning about the law of supply and demand in economics, you might read about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of your own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there's very little supply, your stomach's demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing?").

You don’t have to teach or learn something in all eight ways, just see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways interest you the most, or seem to be the most effective teaching or learning tools.

Here are a couple of old but fun-to-read critical articles of the learning styles theory: Learning styles don't matter (the whole heterodox site is worth investigating), and Do learner profiles enhance learning?

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