I have to control a certain negative backlash against the continuous focus on learning styles in teacher education. Although my ISWo course hasn’t really started yet, I’m trying to get ahead a little cuz I know work is only going to get more hectic and demanding as the course progresses. So I have been into the course page numerous times; finding the Moodle interface attractive to look at but a little slow to navigate (new names for places I understand the function of but our LMS doesn’t call them that or doesn’t have those features). I wish we had been able to choose Moodle but that’s another story!
So back to learning styles and why they bug me. When I was working on my Masters, we did a lot of reading, reflection and studying about learning theories and discovered that many of the artifacts that we have been calling “theories” were based on one person’s observations and beliefs, not on any body of actual research. There are some that were based on limited research but many of them would never make the cut if we applied the actual scientific definition of a “theory”.
Same goes for learning styles. The Brits did a very comprehensive survey of many learning styles and a thorough analysis of 13 models in 2004 and their findings were that the models should be chosen with care and not overinterpreted or used to avoid encouraging a student to learn to modify their approaches to deal with different environments. Their recommendation is one I have taken to heart: use with caution.
So all the aforesaid is just to show you that I recognize my strong bias as I clicked on the link to the Richard Felder and Barbara Soloman Learning Styles Inventory. Although I struggled with wanting to argue with someone about the artificial simplicity of asking me to select one of two responses to simplistic, uni-dimensional questions, I get the drift. I was pleasantly surprised by the actual analysis that appeared once you completed the inventory. I appreciated the emphasis on suggesting strategies to help me adapt my preferred learning styles to the environment in which I find myself. So, they took the wind out of my sails – who says an old girl can’t learn something new eh?
While studying at UBC, they encouraged us to use the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (developed by Daniel Prat and John Collins) which I thought had some good points in that it encouraged us to look at our beliefs and approaches as teachers first and made us explore student-type perspectives afterward. Again, you guessed it, I struggled with the leading questions and simplistic structure of the questions, but it did spark discussion which is OK if that’s what it’s used for – not as some type of diagnostic or labelling exercise.