Learning Styles: Fact?

Doug Peterson HeadshotPosted By Doug Peterson

Are learning styles fact or fiction? There’s a lot of debate on this subject, so I’d like to join in by  presenting each side of the case: the pros in this post and the cons in my next post.

I am fascinated by the idea of learning styles, especially in the context of eLearning and instructor-led, web-based classes (where while delivered live, you don’t have physical proximity/motion/interaction between the instructor and the students).

Here are some points that favor the idea of learning styles.

This short article explains the concept nicely: Different people learn best in different ways, and effective teaching takes this into account. While as many as 71 different learning styles have been proposed, the four most common are:

  • Visual: the learner learns best by looking at things – charts, graphs, pictures, videos, etc.
  • Auditory: the learner learns best by hearing things, for example, listening to lectures or podcasts.
  • Tactile: the learner learns best by touching something.
  • Kinesthetic: the learner learns best by doing something.

Hence a visual learner, for instance, will learn better when the material is presented visually; they will not learn as well when the material is presented as a lecture.

Taking this into account as an instructor, I could design my course to accommodate all of these styles. For example, if I’m putting together an eLearning module, I would include lots of graphics and short bullet points for the visual learner. I would also include audio narration for the auditory learner. (The visual learner could turn off the audio.)

It’s a little tough to incorporate a tactile element in eLearning, but depending on the subject matter, perhaps I could have participants create an origami widget. And for the kinesthetic learner, the origami widget exercise might be useful since it is at least a little bit of movement.  At the very least, I could break my course into several very short chunks so that the kinesthetic learner could get up and move around between chunks. Or maybe I could assign a lab where they have to go to the local office supply store and research some prices–or something like that.

Wow. That’s a lot of work.

And it may not be worth it.

I’ll tell you why in my next post.

One Response to “Learning Styles: Fact?”

  1. rick says:

    Doug, if you tell us it’s not worth it, I’d agree with you. I’m still waiting for empirical evidence demonstrating that when we match our design to people’s preferred learning styles that they perform better on assessments than when we provide learners with designs dissimilar to their preferred learning styles. I have never seen anyone publish anything that demonstrates the value of matching design to preferred learning style.

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