Posted tagged ‘learning styles’

My blogging year in the rear-view mirror

8 December 2015

As the year draws to a close, I like to reflect on my blog posts.

I invite you to scan the list below and catch up on any that you may have missed. It’s never to late to comment!

Rear-view mirror

Thank you everyone for your ongoing support.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

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Collateral damage

4 August 2015

The L&D community may be divided into two camps: (1) Those for whom the mere mention of learning styles makes their blood boil; and (2) Those who are inexplicably unaware of the hullabaloo and are thus oblivious to the aforementioned boiling of blood.

All the things meme guy

Credit: Based on original artwork by Allie Brosh in This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult, Hyperbole and a Half.

The antagonism stems from the popularity of learning styles in the educational discourse – not to mention vocational curricula – despite a lack of empirical evidence supporting their effectiveness when incorporated into instructional design. The argument is that in the absence of such evidence, don’t waste time and money trying to match your teaching style to everyone’s learning styles; instead, divert that energy towards other, evidence-based pedagogy.

This is sound advice.

Nonetheless, I urge my peers not to throw the baby out with the bath water. By this I mean regardless of the existence or impact of learning styles, a phenomenon that enjoys universal recognition is that of learner preferences. And I fear it may be an unintended casualty of the war on learning styles.

For example, a deduction from the literature might be that a teacher need not tailor his or her delivery to meet the needs of the audience. Since learning styles are bunk, I can do what I like because it won’t make a difference anyway. Such a view is conveniently teacher centric, and it flies in the face of the thought leadership on learner centeredness that we have advanced so far. Sure, the deduction may be unreasonable, but extremists rarely listen to reason.

However, a more insidious factor is the dominance of the literature on formal learning. Studies of the impact of learning styles are typically based on teaching in a classroom setting, often in the K12 sector. Furthermore, the statistics are based on scores achieved via formal assessment. Yet we know in the workplace the vast majority of learning is informal.

Let me illustrate my concern here with a personal example. When I need to find out how to perform a particular task in a particular software program, I strongly prefer text-based instructions over video. I’m annoyed by having to play a clip, wait for it to load, and then wait for the presenter to get to the bit that is relevant to me. Instead, I prefer to scan the step-by-step instructions at my own speed and get on with it.

Now, if only video was available and I weren’t such a diligent employee, I might postpone the task or forget about it all together. Yet if you were to put me in a classroom, force me to watch the video, then test my ability to perform the task – sure, I’ll ace it. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the learner’s preference hasn’t been taken into account in the instructional design, and that can affect his performance in the real world.

If you don’t agree with me, perhaps because you happen to like video, suppose a manual was the only form of instruction available. Would you read it? Perhaps you would because you are a diligent employee.

Isn’t everyone?

All the things meme guy, sad

Credit: Based on X all Y (Sad) In HD by CanineWritter, in turn based on original artwork by Allie Brosh in This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult, Hyperbole and a Half.

In case your blood is beginning to boil, let me emphasise: (1) Learning styles appear to have no significant effect on learning outcomes; and (2) The nature of the content probably dictates its most effective mode of delivery.

If we assume that learning styles are highly correlated with learner preferences – indeed, for some they are synonymous – then we might be tempted to conclude that learner preferences have no significant effect on learning outcomes. I consider this a false conclusion.

Indeed in a controlled environment, learner preferences don’t really matter. The participants are forced to do it whether they like it or not, or they somehow feel obliged to comply.

Outside of the controlled environment, however, learner preferences do matter. We sometimes see this in formal settings (which is why universities enforce a minimum percentage of lecture attendance), but it appears most starkly in informal settings where the learner is empowered to do it or not. If they don’t like doing it, odds are they won’t.

So we need to be mindful of the interaction between pedagogical effectiveness and learner preference. An experience that your learners love but is ineffective is ultimately worthless. But so too is an experience that is effective but your learners loathe.

As a profession we need to aim for experiences that are both effective and liked by our audience – or at the very least, don’t turn them away.

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1

22 November 2011

Well I have finally bitten the bullet and published a selection of my blog musings in paperback form.

The book is entitled E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1 and my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of themes in the modern workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1•   social media
•   learning theory
•   pedagogy
•   instructional design
•   learning styles
•   blended learning
•   informal learning
•   mobile learning
•   augmented reality
•   virtual worlds
•   cloud computing
•   self publishing
•   employee engagement
•   corporate social responsibility
•   religion
•   the future of e-learning

The book is available now at Amazon.com.

Top 5 things I hope not to hear in 2011

11 January 2011

The title of this article is self explanatory, so here goes…

1. Death by PowerPoint

If you mean “death by bullet point” then say that instead.

PowerPoint is just a tool. A poor tradesman blames his tools.

2. I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn

…if we’ve never met.

LinkedIn even tells you “Invitations should only be sent to people you know personally”.

Take the hint.

3. Dear Twitter

Twitter isn’t the Batcomputer.

It’s a bunch of people, many of whom would be delighted to help you.

Try “Dear friends” or even #lazyweb – it’s cute.

4. Learning styles don’t exist

The research doesn’t say that.

It says there isn’t sufficient empirical evidence to prove whether they do or don’t exist.

What you do with that pearl of wisdom is another story.

5. If Facebook were a country

We’ve heard this 600 million times already.

How many of these so-called “users” are actually second account holders, imposters, gags, pet dogs and rubber duckies?

Regardless, yes, Facebook has millions of users.

We get it.

Sheesh!
 

Style counsel

9 August 2010

Sometimes I am a contrarian thinker.

Not because I enjoy antagonism – I don’t. I just don’t trust the echo chamber.

And the echo chamber has been giving learning styles a beating.

So I ask you: is that beating warranted?

The theory

VAK is perhaps the most popular model of learning styles used in the corporate sector today:

  • V stands for “Visual”. These people learn best by seeing.

  • Eye

  • A stands for “Auditory”. These people learn best by listening.
    I would suggest they also like talking.

  • Ear

  • K stands for “Kinaesthetic “. These people learn best by touching and feeling. They are doers.

  • Hand

Relatively recently, some theorists have added an “R” to the model (VARK) to represent people who learn best by reading and writing.

It is important to note that all learners exhibit a mixture of V, A, R & K learning styles. One, though, is usually dominant.

The challenge

Critics of the theory don’t seem to challenge the existence of learning styles, but rather what the instructor does about them.

Conventional wisdom dictates that if the learner is primarily visual, you should show them lots of pictures. If the learner is primarily auditory, you should talk to them and open up discussion. If the learner is primarily kinaesthetic, you should give them opportunities to practice and “have a go”.

But an increasing number of educationalists disagree. They maintain that the nature of the knowledge that is to be learned will not necessarily match the style of the learner. For example:

  1. Teaching someone the shape of a country – Obviously this must be done by showing the learner the shape, regardless of whether or not they are a visual learner.

  2. The shape of Australia drawn on a blackboard

  3. Teaching someone to ride a bike – Obviously this must be done by getting the learner onto the seat and pushing the peddles, regardless of whether or not they are a kinaesthetic learner.

  4. Father helps his daughter get onto a bike

In other words, your teaching style should be informed by the nature of the content, not the learning style of your audience.

I think this is short sighted.

The counter challenge

I agree that to teach someone the shape of a country, you should show them that shape. No argument there.

However, I’m prepared to go further for non-visual learners:

  • For auditory learners, I suggest talking about the shape. Suppose the country is Australia; describe the Gulf of Carpentaria at the top end, which sweeps up to the northern tip at Cape York; then invite the learner to describe similar observations.

  • For kinaesthetic learners, I suggest doing something with the shape. Give them a globe or an atlas and challenge them to find it. Give them some Lego and ask them to build it.

Australia on a globe of the world

Same goes for teaching non-kinaesthetic learners how to ride a bike:

  • For visual learners, I suggest demonstrating how to ride the bike. Let them see how it’s done before they give it a go.

  • For auditory learners, I suggest talking to them both before and as they ride. Give them plenty of hints and tips. Provide continual instructions.

Father teaching his daughter to ride a bike

My point is: while the nature of the content may dictate the dominant teaching style, that doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate apparently incompatible learning styles. It just takes a bit of imagination.

The evidence, or lack thereof

Of course I haven’t undertaken an exhaustive review of the literature. After all, I have a day job!

However, the research I have read about thus far has underwhelmed me, and the notion that a lack of evidence somehow invalidates the theory really grates me.

I would love to see a statistically rigorous experiment based on the country and bike scenarios – a study that investigates the learning of both knowledge and skills, cross randomised to cover the various combinations of teaching and learning styles.

Until a corpus of solid science convinces me otherwise, I shall remain open minded.

Are we missing the point?

If the matching of teaching styles to learning styles is shown categorically to have no significant effect on learning outcomes, that’s fine – but I would counsel against throwing VAK out the window.

At the very least, a learning style represents a personal preference.

If you can accommodate your learner’s preference, then you are going to boost their enjoyment of the learning experience. That’s called engagement, and it’s sorely missing from a lot of workplace training.

Think about it: if you marry your pedagogy to your content, who does that suit?

It sure ain’t learner centered.
 

The power of pictures

21 June 2009

Pictures…

piggy bank, courtesy of RAWKU5, stock.xchng

Diagrams…

User acces permission : diagram, courtesy of activeside under Creative Commons, Flickr

Charts…

advanced pie 3, courtesy of svilen001, stock.xchng

They don’t just look pretty. They can also be a useful means of delivering extensive information to your audience in a concise format.

For example, how would you explain the GFC to your colleagues? Via a thousand words of text, or via one of these infographics:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

On the space of one page, these graphics do a good job of explaining the key concepts of a complex and convoluted situation.

Multimedia summaries

The power of pictures has been recognised in educational psychology for a long time.

For example, back in 1996, Richard Mayer and several of his colleagues from the University of California, Santa Barbara studied the effects of a multimedia summary (a sequence of annotated illustrations depicting the steps in a process) on learning how lightning is formed. [Ref]

Through a series of experiments, the researchers found that the students who read a multimedia summary on its own recalled the key explanative information and solved transfer problems as well as or better than the students who read the multimedia summary accompanied by a 600-word passage. Both groups of students performed as well as or better than the students who read the text passage on its own.

I consider these results important because, not only do they support the idea of pictures enhancing learning, but they also suggest that an infographic can achieve similar learning outcomes whether or not it is accompanied by a relatively large amount of text.

The researchers interpreted their results in terms of their “cognitive theory of multimedia learning”, which draws heavily from cognitive load theory. They proposed that lengthy verbal explanations may in fact distract the learner with unnecessary information, which adversely affects their cognitive processing and thus their learning.

In contrast, a concise infographic provides only the important information. This reduces the cognitive load, making it easier to process and to “learn”.

 Text ain’t half bad

Courtesy of raffit, stock.xchngI’ve professed my support of text in a previous blog article, so before we all abandon tedious words in favour of flashy infographics, I caution that text will always have its place – especially to explain the details.

For example, the multimedia summary studied by Mayer may have been sufficient for first-year science students, but probably not for meteorology majors. Those guys need the detail, and text is usually the most efficient way of providing it.

However, I still feel that pictures can be a useful pedagogical device for students who aspire to be experts. In particular, by using an infographic as an advance organizer or pre-reading, the instructional designer can promote a mental model of the domain.

This approach enables the student to devote their cognitive efforts to processing the initial conceptual framework, prior to following it up with more substance once a broad understanding of the main concepts is achieved.

My two cents’ worth

So, in summary, here is my reflection on the power of pictures:

• Pictures look pretty. Use them to increase engagement.

• A picture paints a thousand words. Use one to replace wads of text.

• An infographic is a concise means of delivering the key concepts to novice students.

• An infographic can provide experts-to-be with an initial conceptual framework, which can subsequently be “filled in” with further detail.

Putting it into practice

I decided to put my ideas into practice and create an infographic for my workplace.

So, using nothing more than Microsoft PowerPoint and some clipart, I created a customer-centric explanation of what we do:

Click to enlarge

I feel this picture would be a useful addition to our inductions, to explain to new recruits up-front the overall purpose of our company.

The graphic may also act as an introductory piece for our product training, placing it into context for the learner.

The graphic might even act as an attractive desk poster to reinforce the key messages on a day-to-day basis.

I’m sold, give me more!

For more smokin’ hot graphics about a whole range of topics more interesting than finance, visit 40 Useful and Creative Infographics.

If you can’t find any relevant pictures, create your own!

The Unteachables

16 January 2009

The UnteachablesDifferent people have different learning styles, so it’s important that we apply this fact to our delivery models.

An excellent illustration of this concept is provided by The Unteachables, a BBC documentary currently showing in Australia
on the ABC.