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Re: New Research Shows Learning Styles Are Nonsense

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  • literacyacrosscultures
    I went to the original article and read through it. It seems to reveal a rather predictable naive positivism about such research. I quote an excerpt here and
    Message 1 of 21 , Jan 3, 2010
      I went to the original article and read through it. It seems to reveal a rather predictable 'naive positivism' about such research.
      I quote an excerpt here and then discuss that.


      excerpt >> Nearly all of the studies that purport to provide evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy key criteria for scientific validity. Any experiment designed to test the learning-styles hypothesis would need to classify learners into categories and then randomly assign the learners to use one of several different learning methods, and the participants would need to take the same test at the end of the experiment. If there is truth to the idea that learning styles and teaching styles should mesh, then learners with a given style, say visual-spatial, should learn better with instruction that meshes with that style. << end of excerpt


      That wouldn't necessarily be a very good experiment because (1) it assumes learning styles are real, objective, identifiable at the outset (classic 'begging the question') and (2) that different learning styles only have to match learners and not the topic(s) being taught or the teacher teaching it. It also seems to take a leap of fancy over how any sort of assessment of 'learning' took place, and we might also add here, that we have to leap even further, if that particular concept of 'learning' is at all relevant to--at least in our case--second and/or foreign language learning (that is a big vexed issue in ELT, AL, SLA--is our learning part of 'general learning', 'language acquisition', a combination or something altogether different).

      Another factor that has to be taken into account in any experiment but not mentioned here would be age and brain plasticity. It seems a generally reported factor is that after the age of 20, very fast, over-learned mastery-type acquisition of any 'skill' becomes more difficult, and after 30 even more difficult. After 30 one is often best served exploiting the skills and talents one has already developed earlier in life and finding new applications for them. I think perhaps learning style and multiple intelligences rhetoric held out hope to we 'over the hill' learners might best exploit our current abilities to make new learning more profound.

      That doesn't mean learning is impossible after 30, but with one life to live you had best use it wisely in learning and re-training.

      Charles Jannuzi
      U. of Fukui, Japan
    • literacyacrosscultures
      Here is a tranche of info. you might find of use on Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences . I remember now back in the 1990s there was a lot of
      Message 2 of 21 , Jan 4, 2010
        Here is a tranche of info. you might find of use on 'Learning Styles' and 'Multiple Intelligences'. I remember now back in the 1990s there was a lot of discussion in education about learning styles, multiple intelligences, reading styles, and brain-based learning (which I have already alluded to earlier, about brain plasticity linked to age). It's interesting to note that these only tangentially relate to an earlier generation of popular thinking about learning that was dominated by 'constructivism' and 'social cognition', such as after Vygotsky. I guess the promise was that these new concepts would integrate with neuroscience. They didn't, since those who pursue neuroscience are for the most part totally separate from education and teaching and classroom learning.

        Also, for the most part 'learning theory' in education operates separate from ELT's academic cousin, SLA. Synthesis is possible, but I highly doubt those doing dominant SLA research on tasks are the least bit interested. So ironically enough SLA pursues a 'holy grail' on tasks but has not even really developed a stable concept of what 'learning' or 'acquisition' in SLA is. And since for so many L2 learners, learning and/or acquisition fails, stops, peaks well short of goals, etc., that is a very large issue. It's analogous, for example, to literacy issues like 'dyslexia', but with an even larger rate of failure than literacy (since MOST people in MOST literate societies with the educational infrastructure learn to read at functional levels in languages that relates to their spoken languages).

        See the links for full info; I have only very selectively excerpted here.

        This first link has a diagram that you might find useful to call up your own schema about learning theories. Unfortunately, it fails to link to explanatory pages of each sub-topic--I got only error pages.



        What Do People Mean
        by Learning Styles?
        Modality refers to one of the main avenues of sensation
        such as vision and hearing. I have only talked about
        modality-based reading styles because these are both the
        best researched and the most heavily promoted. The National
        Reading Styles Institute claims that it has worked
        with "over 150,000 teachers," and its advertisements seem
        to be everywhere. Furthermore, these notions of "visual"
        and "auditory" learners or "global" and "analytic" learners
        have been around for a long time and have found their
        way into a number of different programs, not just the
        NRSI programs.

        If you are to use a test, even an inventory like the one
        cited above, it should be reliable. If a test is reliable, that
        means you are going to get the same (or close to the
        same) results every time you administer it. If a test is 100
        percent reliable (or has a reliability coefficient of 1.0),
        then a person will score exactly the same on Thursday as
        on Tuesday. Perfection is tough to come by, so we generally
        want a reliability coefficient to be .90 or higher.13 If a
        test is not reliable, or trustworthy, then it is difficult to believe
        the results.This is a problem, not only with inventories,
        but with any measure that asks subjects to report
        about themselves.
        Reliabilities of these measures are relatively low. The
        self-reported reliabilities of Carbo's Reading Style Inventory
        and Dunn and Dunn's Learning Style Inventories are
        moderate, especially for a measure of this kind—in the
        neighborhood of the .60s and the .70s. Similar reliabilities
        are reported for the Myers-Briggs Inventory, another learning
        styles assessment.14 These are lower than one would
        want for a diagnostic measure. And, these scores are inflated,
        since for many items there is generally one answer
        that nearly everybody chooses. This would tend to make
        the reliabilities higher.
        The vagueness in the items may tend to make the reliabilities
        low.Again, how a child interprets each item will influence
        how it is answered, as with the "teacher direction"
        and "music" examples discussed earlier.
        Test-retest reliabilities are particularly important for a
        measure of learning styles. These moderate reliabilities
        could be interpreted in two ways. The test itself may not
        be a reliable measure of what it is supposed to measure—
        that is, a person has a stable learning style, but the test is
        not getting at it. If the test is not reliable, then the information
        it gives is not trustworthy.


        Learning styles are various approaches or ways of learning[1]. They involve educating methods, particular to an individual, that are presumed to allow that individual to learn best. It is commonly believed that most people favor some particular method of interacting with, taking in, and processing stimuli or information.[citation needed] Based on this concept, the idea of individualized "learning styles" originated in the 1970s, and has gained popularity in recent years.[citation needed] 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[2][3]. The alleged basis for these proposals has been extensively criticized.[citation needed]


        Learning-style 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. Writing in the Times Educational Supplement Magazine (29 July 2007), Susan Greenfield said that "from a neuroscientific point of view [the learning styles approach to teaching] is nonsense".

        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.[26] According to Stahl,[27] 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." Guy Claxton has questioned the extent that learning styles such as VAK are helpful, particularly as they can have a tendency to label children and therefore restrict learning.[28]



        The theory of multiple intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983 to more accurately define the concept of intelligence and to address the question whether methods which claim to measure intelligence (or aspects thereof) are truly scientific.

        Gardner's theory argues that intelligence, particularly as it is traditionally defined, does not sufficiently encompass the wide variety of abilities humans display. In his conception, a child who masters multiplication easily is not necessarily more intelligent overall than a child who struggles to do so. The second child may be stronger in another kind of intelligence and therefore 1) may best learn the given material through a different approach, 2) may excel in a field outside of mathematics, or 3) may even be looking at the multiplication process at a fundamentally deeper level, which can result in a seeming slowness that hides a mathematical intelligence that is potentially higher than that of a child who easily memorizes the multiplication table.

        Lack of empirical evidence

        Some critics argue that many of Gardner's "intelligences" actually correlate with the g factor, supporting the idea of single dominant type of intelligence. For example, Carroll (1993) argued that verbal comprehension, auditory processing, visual perception and ability in logic and mathematics all correlate with each other and are actually subsets of global intelligence. This gives further support for a theory of a single type intelligence.

        A critical review of MI theory argues that there is little empirical evidence to support it:

        "To date there have been no published studies that offer evidence of the validity of the multiple intelligences. In 1994 Sternberg reported finding no empirical studies. In 2000 Allix reported finding no empirical validating studies, and at that time Gardner and Connell conceded that there was "little hard evidence for MI theory" (2000, p. 292). In 2004 Sternberg and Grigerenko stated that there were no validating studies for multiple intelligences, and in 2004 Gardner asserted that he would be "delighted were such evidence to accrue" (p. 214), and he admitted that "MI theory has few enthusiasts among psychometricians or others of a traditional psychological background" because they require "psychometric or experimental evidence that allows one to prove the existence of the several intelligences" (2004, p. 214)." (Waterhouse, 2006a, p. 208).

        The same review presents evidence to demonstrate that cognitive neuroscience research does not support the theory of Multiple Intelligences:

        "the human brain is unlikely to function via Gardner's multiple intelligences. Taken together the evidence for the intercorrelations of subskills of IQ measures, the evidence for a shared set of genes associated with mathematics, reading, and g, and the evidence for shared and overlapping "what is it?" and "where is it?" neural processing pathways, and shared neural pathways for language, music, motor skills, and emotions suggest that it is unlikely that that each of Gardner's intelligences could operate "via a different set of neural mechanisms" (1999, p. 99). Equally important, the evidence for the "what is it?" and "where is it?" processing pathways, for Kahneman's two decision-making systems, and for adapted cognition modules suggests that these cognitive brain specializations have evolved to address very specific problems in our environment. Because Gardner claimed that that the intelligences are innate potentialities related to a general content area, MI theory lacks a rationale for the phylogenetic emergence of the intelligences." (From Waterhouse, 2006a, p. 213).

        A number of articles have surveyed the use of Gardner's ideas and conclude that there is little to no academically substantiated evidence that his ideas work in practice. Steven A. Stahl found that most of the previous studies which claimed to show positive results had major flaws:

        Among others, Marie Carbo claims that her learning styles work is based on research. {I discuss Carbo because she publishes extensively on her model and is very prominent in the workshop circuit...} But given the overwhelmingly negative findings in the published research, I wondered what she was citing, and about a decade ago, I thought it would be interesting to take a look. Reviewing her articles, I found that out of 17 studies she had cited, only one was published. Fifteen were doctoral dissertations and 13 of these came out of one university—St. John's University in New York, Carbo's alma mater. None of these had been in a peer-refereed journal. When I looked closely at the dissertations and other materials, I found that 13 of the 17 studies that supposedly support her claim had to do with learning styles based on something other than modality.[16]

        However, with regards to Stahl's "major flaws", authors such as Lawrence Soley [17] have noted that the academy may not be the corporately-unbiased information source that it once was. Hence, those who are not towing the 'acceptable line' may be silenced from publishing in 'peer-refereed journals'. Along these lines, Sleeter (2005) asserts the following with regards to corporate involvement in education efforts in particular:

        "Teachers generally have some awareness of the process by which standards in their own state were set, but little or no awareness of the agenda-setting role that has been played behind the scenes by the business community, including the National Alliance for Business and the Business Roundtable ... The business community ... painted the sense of crisis that emerged during the 1980s through the various reform reports ... In 1989, the Business Roundtable devoted one of its annual meetings to "synthesizing business-led reforms of the 1980s into a high-stakes testing agenda" ... Standards, assessment and accountability emerged as the three components most central to its school refrom plan. The organization then systematically applied pressure on states in those three areas. No Child Left Behind ... (was) passed by Congress and signed into law in 2001..." (p 18-19)[18]

        Charles Jannuzi
        U. of Fukui, Japan
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