Banging head, brick wall

While on the look for something else I came across this rather lovely little piece on the delightfully well organised and accessible Excellence Gateway website: Introduction to Learning Styles. Did anyone note the sarcasm there? I need a sarcasm mark.

The article (admittedly a little dated, judging by the reference to ILT Champions), has the enticing heading “What are learning styles and do they matter?” and the equally enticing heading “Is it useful to think about learning styles?” (to which my answers are cobblers, no and definitely not). These headings would suggest a bit of a discussion around the theory and practice of learning styles, what evidence there is and so on. And we have lots of stuff about what they are, followed by a long breakdown of the two biggest names in learning style theory sales: Dunn & Dunn ($5 a shot), Honey & Mumford (£8-11 a head), as well as the lesser known Riding & Rayner (£22 for the book on Amazon).

What it doesn’t do is answer the “Do they matter?” question. This ispartly because it can’t answer that question, but also because it probably daren’t as this particular theory is so deeply entrenched in definitions of good practice. My animosity towards this nonsense has been well documented on this blog, so I really won’t go much further….

Except to say two things: apart from the descriptions of the three theories (and we should be thankful they don’t go near VAK) the whole thing is full of carefully placed words like may and might and somtimes . It even describes the process as “imprecise”. Hardly suggests commitment to the theory really.

The second point, which actually did astonish me, was that after basically rubber stamping the whole moneyprinting business, then goes and links to an article in the Guardian and the two reports by Coffield et al (2004) which systematically reviewed and largely dismissed the idea of learning styles as a useful theory. A link at the bottom then takes us to a link page (so very in the style of the Excellence Gateway). Unfortunately those links no longer work, but here’s the research report and this is the follow up “Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say about practice.” The Pashler piece I referred to before is equally dismissive.

It astonished me because the piece was largely supportive of LS theories, yet could only refer to research which generally criticised it. At what point exactly do teachers stop accepting this kind of rot from educational policy makers, and start actually reading research? Oh good grief.

In the meantime, read the brilliant Ben Goldacre on another bit of non-science peddled to teachers, Brain Gym (in his book Bad Science or online here.) It’s refreshing and worth reading.


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