#ocTEL Week 3 Explorer Activity 3.4: Learning styles

There are many theories about learning styles that define and describe the different ways learning occurs. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory is based on experience and conceptualization. The learning modalities theory examines the pathways through which learners give, receive, and store information through the senses, and consists of three modalities: visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory states there are at least eight different realms of intelligence and learners use at least one or two for most effective learning to occur. Gardner also states that our culture emphasizes two realms primarily in most learning situations.

Recently, the status of Kolb’s theory has been called into question. Other learning style theories have their detractors, too (see, for example,  Pashier et al (2008) Learning styles: concepts and evidence). There has not yet been a determination on whether learning style theories are valid, let alone which theory is ‘correct’. By drawing on them we are not implying any single theory is valid in all circumstances – we are using them as tools to think with, particularly for distinguishing different learning affordances.

OK, I need to start by admitting that I wasn’t really aware of the debate around learning styles and was quite taken aback by the virulence of some of the comments I read. This is because I have been a great believer and supporter of Kolb since being introduced to his LSI over 15 years ago. I and my colleagues have used it as a “safe” means of introducing the idea of diversity among culturally homogeneous groups of students. We have tried to base our courses/classes on its principles in the hope of allowing students to arrive at a form of “complete learning” by going around the cycle. I think we have so much integrated this into our practice that we do it now in a fairly unconscious way.

At the moment, I am working on a big project where learning styles will again be one off the centre pieces, still as a way of introducing the idea of diversity but also in order to help students better understand the learning the process and how it impacts them individually and when they work in groups.

In the course of preparing this project, I came across what was a new profile for me on the Learning from Experience website: http://learningfromexperience.com

The Kolb Educator Role Profile: http://survey.learningfromexperience.com/ according to the blurb provides:

“… a personalized report of your results and an interpretative guide to aid you in applying the results to your work as an educator. The KERP was created to help you clarify the role you prefer to take in helping others learn. This role includes your educational philosophy, your teaching style, the goals you set for learners, and the practices you use to promote learning. “

I took this survey, as did a number of my colleagues, and, although we haven’t yet had time to really debrief this in any detail, the first reactions were that there was at least a lot of “face validity” in the instrument and we all spontaneously identified with our profiles as they were presented. Here is what the model looks like:

KERP

Here is my profile:

KERB Grant

I will try and take the time to look into the different posts on the topic of learning styles to make sure I have a balanced judgment on the subject. From what I’ve seen so far, it would seem to be that much of the argument is about:

1)    How “scientifically” valid the models are.

2)    How accurate and reliable the instruments used to measure the models are

3)    How they are used in class preparation and organization

I enjoyed Moira Sarsfield’s blog post abouty the question: http://eforenhancing.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/learning-about-learning-styles/

This, via a response from Rose Heansey, led me to this interesting blog post by Steve Wheeler which seems to nicely sum up the arguments: http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/convenient-untruth.html

Moira then had a follow-up to this which led off in a direction I hadn’t come across before but which looks very interesting. This is the idea of the Universal Design for Learning: http://eforenhancing.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/declaring-udl-universal-design-for-learning/

This is an idea which is included in this week’s resources to check out and which I will be looking into a bit later.

Just to finish with learning styles, at least for the moment. I think the debate is going to continue for some time to come. Having read some of the different arguments and positions I am feeling more comfortable with the way in which we use learning styles which certainly doesn’t pigeon-hole students or try and impose certain methods on them. We have always been clear in our minds that there is a strong contextual element – at different times, in different places, for different objectives, people will favour learning in different ways. To be complete, if we are to follow Kolb, people will have to go through the different segments of the learning cycle and will spend more or less time in each part. Allowing students to approach learning from different directions, using different technologies etc. would seem to be one way of allowing them to choose the path through the learning cycle that is most suited to them in a particular context.

Anyway, still lots to think about and learn.

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