Can Knowledge of Learning Styles Be Used in Learning Design? A GP Strategies E-Learning Director Weighs In

A GP Strategies E-Learning Director Weighs In

The study of learning styles, or various approaches or ways of learning, isn’t new. According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, many people identify a particular method of “interacting with, taking in, and processing stimuli or information. Based on this concept, the idea of individualized learning styles originated in the 1970s, and acquired enormous popularity.” Read more.

However, some learning professionals disagree on the basis for this approach, as well as its efficacy. Julian Stodd, e-Learning Director at GP Strategies, opened this debate up to his network on LinkedIn, asking, “Does an understanding of ‘learning styles’ make you better able to design learning?” He was flooded with responses, many of them accompanied by well-reasoned comments. Ultimately 60% of respondents voted “yes,” and 40% voted “no.” 

He recapped the LinkedIn discussion with a thorough blog entry on his WordPress site. He elaborated on many of the main points raised (most of them by respondents who voted ‘no’), and concluded,

“In answer to the question, ‘Does an understanding of learning styles make you better able to design learning,’ the answer through the vote was ‘yes,’ but with substantial disagreement. What I take away from this is the following: There is value in understanding learning style, particular value in thinking about our own style and reflecting on how we respond to different stimuli and experiences, but learning styles in and of themselves should not be viewed as either predictive or definitive.

Personally, I remain more skeptical, but I recognize that there is value in the debate.”
Below is an overview of some of the main points raised by respondents who voted “no”:

Designing learning based on learning styles can actually restrict, rather than liberate, the learner.

? Universal design is a better approach. Put out many different sensory inputs, and let learners choose for themselves.

? It’s actually a courtesy to learners to allow them to access the same material in a variety of ways. This maximizes student learning.

? The more senses we engage, the better we learn (a commonly held view).

? The best way to design training and make it adaptable to the largest audience is to consider all the learning styles that may be encountered.

? “Learning styles” are often misused as “learner types,” which can lead designers to inadvertently label their learners.

Knowledge of learning styles can indeed be used, but not in the design of learning material based on specific styles.

? Knowledge of learning styles can benefit the individual learner in terms of self-awareness, but this knowledge should be used to improve and broaden one’s personal learning method, rather than to seek out learning that is based on one particular style.

? Knowledge of learning styles can help learning designers to recognize their own style preferences and biases, and enable them to design material with a wider variety of learners in mind.

There is a weak scientific basis for the practice of applying learning styles to learning design.

? There are no objective tests to identify a person’s learning style. Learning styles are self-reported and may reflect a bias against a few selective learning experiences, instead of the pattern of individual learning as a whole.

? Many learners express a preference for a particular learning style, but there is no evidence showing a connection between style preference and learning outcome.
See Julian’s full blog post here.