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This is in response to Revamping Lesson Plans.

Friday, January 8, 2010
Write To The Editor Reprints

Dear Peter:  As an old time trainer and designer of management training programs (many years ago) I agree with the article with the exception that we should never forget that regardless of the media, adults learn according to the old rules of the use of learning strategies that involve hearing, hearing and seeing and hearing seeing and doing.  Each has a higher success rate in the learning process.  In addition, a theory that I have long held is that "story telling" is a powerful learning tool.  

Recent articles in Talent Management magazine are touting something we have known for decades and even centuries.  People learn from the experiences of others and the more we share out experiences, the more likely people are to learn from the successes and the failures of others.  I am surprised that this has suddenly been a newly discovered process when it goes back to Socrates and was the fundamental way people learned until the printing press was created.  

In short, we always seem to be discovering new strategies and processes that we have known for years and years, but moved on to the new "fads" that we always have to have on the front burner.  One of the problems in HR -- faddism!  

Ron Pilenzo, PhD, SPHR

Hobe Sound, Fla.

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Another stunning article by Peter ... his material so often invites us to re-consider "truths" and see things from an entirely different perspective.  He is a true asset to you, and an even better gift to us!

Have a Jolly January!

Judy Clark, SPHR

HR Answers, Inc.

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A quick comment on the article noted above. I too read the actual "Learning Styles" research article and came away with a slightly different perspective on the purpose of the article and an even more involved interpretation of the facts.  A brief summary is provided below:

1. The original article was looking to determine if it is worthwhile for educational institutions to spend time and money to test individuals for learning style (defined here as one's learning preference, not their actual learning aptitude) using one of the many commercially produced assessments and then to develop and match students to specific types of learning programs based on that learning style/preference.

The authors' interpretation of the research they reviewed suggests that there has not been sufficiently strong methodological studies to prove that this matching process is worthwhile: 1) because these researchers want to see a specific type of research approach (a scientific cross-over analysis) for such studies, and 2) they can't find any studies that promote the use of the commercially sold learning style tests.

2. The authors also say that the above evidence does not suggest that the idea of learning aptitude does not exist. Something omitted in the 'Revamping Lesson Plans' summary. 

In contrast, they note that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that specific ability differences do actually exist: verbal comprehension, word fluency, number facility, special visualization, associative memory, perceptual speed, and reasoning.

And, that providing learning treatments adjusted to provide access to multiple aptitudes (i.e., auditory and visual together) or compensate for deficiencies in aptitude can lessen the learning burden of the student and allow them to be more successful. Those without any significant deficiency will do fine either way.

3. Their final/additional conclusions:

a) Their study suggest that evidence to use learning style tests in schools or learning organization to group and design and instruction is weak because learners are not really aware of what their actual aptitude is unless really tested for this by objective assessments. ... basically the learning-style questionnaires are a bit of bogus industry.

b) That being said, they DON'T BELIEVE THAT THE SAME KIND OF INSTRUCTION IS MOST USEFUL IN ALL CONTEXTS WITH ALL LEARNERS. Teaching different skills, requires different approaches (i.e., teaching essay construction should be quite visual and hands on, while learning some basic facts could be auditory) ...

c) They also say that "it is undoubtedly the case that a particular student will sometimes benefit from having a particular kind of course content presented in one way versus another.

One suspects that educators' attraction to the idea of learning styles partly reflects their (correctly) noticing how often one student may achieve enlightenment from an approach that seems useless for another student" ... likewise, psychological factors such as your belief in your locus of control or your cultural background and previous knowledge can also affect the learning burden.

Thus they support the use of instructional manipulations (such as mixing auditory, visual, etc.) to lessen the learning burden of all students. This is not just for those with disabilities, but those with different aptitudes.

d) Finally, they suggest that with better research we may actually find a way to link some type of assessment of learning style and instructional approach.  Their main concern with studies that do show such a link is that they don't follow what they believe is a solid methodological approach.

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Until such research finds strong correlations "It seems especially important to keep all avenues, options, and aspirations open for our students, our children, and ourselves. Towards that end, we think the primary focus should be on identifying and introducing the experiences, activities, and challenges that enhance everyone's learning." The ability to allow for manipulation of learning materials to meet various learning needs was also alluded to.

Best Regards,

Marlene R. Lundy Ph.D. (Ed., Teaching and Learning)

Maersk Line Learning

Learning Project Manager


Peter responds:

Dear Marlene,

Thanks for your note.  You're certainly right that the article says much more than I can convey in an 800-word column.

As you probably know from reading other scientific papers, authors are careful not to go past what they can actually show.  No single test or any set of tests can completely reject the claim that there are learning style differences.   That's true of testing any hypothesis.  

If you're looking for effects in a population, unless you can everywhere test all aspects of the effects, it is impossible to rule out completely.  That's what the authors here mean when they say that they cannot rule out that learning styles differ even though they find no evidence.

I doubt very much that their view is that there are different "types" of scientific evidence.  There is persuasive evidence from well-designed studies, and there is data from poorly designed studies that does not count as evidence. 

It isn't a political judgment.  Learning styles, of course, are not the same as saying that different content should be delivered differently to the average student.

As I mentioned in my 800-word column, there obviously are learning differences across people as we know at a minimum that there are learning disabilities.   When the authors here said that they don't believe the same instruction is useful everywhere for all learners, they also are clear that they have no idea and no evidence to suggest what instruction would be useful in which contexts for which learners.

So this statement is another academic caveat:  It's hard to say that somewhere matches aren't possible. 

It is also worth noting that if you have no evidence as to which approaches work best for which types of people, the sensible thing to do is not to try to guess but rather shoot for the median approach that works best on average.

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