By Shelley A. Gable
At first, learning styles seemed to be a hot topic because theorists were interested in defining various style typologies and prescribing instructional implications. Hence, we have a lot of literature describing modalities, brain hemisphere preferences, Kolb’s styles, Gregorc’s styles, and more.
Lately, a lot of folks are writing about the fallacy of learning styles. The idea is that no one can find an empirical study that supports the need to cater to learning styles. Many of these folks also point out that we typically design workplace training for large audiences, negating the need to design for specific learning style preferences.
So, is it worth learning about learning styles?
I vote yes.
I can’t think of a situation where I would design training to cater to any single learning style, because of the fact that workplace training is typically for a large audience. However, I do believe that my awareness of the various typologies, and the preferences that exist, helps me design variety into training.
I used to diligently design for different types of learning styles, for the sake of making sure that the training would be effective for just about any type of learner. I’d try to create a balanced mix of individual and group activities, explanations that tap into both concrete and abstract thinkers, experiences that could please convergent and divergent types.
I still try to create this balance of experiences, but now it’s not so much out of a desire to reach every learner. After all, for most of us, our learning capability isn’t limited to a single quadrant on a typology grid. I may prefer to solve a problem on my own, but I am capable of attempting to do it with a group.
I still aim to create a mix of experiences simply because we know that reinforcing a concept from multiple angles is good for learning. If you think of long-term memory as a network, you can imagine how we can more effectively cement new knowledge if we connect to it from multiple directions. Doing so makes us more likely to foster improved retention and recall.
So in my mind, designing for a variety of learning styles isn’t necessarily about trying to reach a lot of different types of learners. Rather, it’s about trying to reinforce content for every individual learner in multiple ways.
Where do you stand on the learning styles debate? It’d be fun to see other perspectives!