Saturday, January 21, 2012

The "Learning Styles" Fallacy

As I have taught my graduate students over the past few semesters, it is surprising how many bring up learning styles as a valid frame of reference for a trainer or an instructional designer. A learning styles approach assumes that different people learn more effectively in different ways; for example, people view themselves as "visual learners" or as "kinesthetic learners."

The Fallacy
While this theory seems to make some sense, there is actually little or no empirical evidence that learning styles are a legitimate way to view learners when designing instruction. This has been reported on in some news sources, (for example here or here), which are based on this research study. The researchers in this study conclude that there is currently no evidence supporting the use of learning styles when creating training and designing instruction.

What to do?
So, if learning styles don't give a good foundation for creating instruction or training, what should we consider? This is an important question and there is an answer: To have the greatest chance of designing and delivering effective instruction, trainers and instructional designers need to base their instruction on research-based principles and instructional theories. (I've described how good instructional designers use these and other "tools" in a previous post entitled What is Instructional Design? part 2).

Here is a very short list of instructional theories and principles that a trainer or instructional designer can refer to when considering how to design and develop high quality training and instruction:
  1. Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction. These best practices are based on decades of research. They provide specific steps to take when delivering instruction to a learner.
  2. Merrill's First Principles of Instruction. A more current theory of instruction, these principles prescribe effective, research-based methods for teaching complex skills and knowledge. I describe these principles in more detail in a previous post entitled Merrill's First Principles of Instruction.
  3. Principles of e-learning.  Clark and Mayer (2011) summarize these principles extremely well. The share how to create online training and instruction that adheres to best practices based on the evidence.
There are many, many more resources out there, but these provide a basic foundation for implementing instruction that is based on evidence instead of on unfounded ideas.

What Would You Add?
What else would you add to this list? What other research-based practices are available to help budding trainers and instructional designers create effective learning experiences for their learners? Do you agree that learning styles should be eliminated from our vocabulary as professionals and scholars?
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